Tag Archives: SNAP

The SNAP-ping Turtles Attack: Food Stamp Fraud Myths and Legends

Food Stamps

Among the most depressing of the many Republican attacks on people who are the least able to defend themselves are the ones snapping away at the SNAP program, aka Food Stamps.  It’s even more depressing that the attacks are based on myths and urban legends.

The attacks are continuous.  As of April 16, 2016 approximately 41,000 lost access to food assistance as a result of the Walker Administration’s work rules, although his department of Health Services admits it doesn’t track people who find work on their own. [WEAU]  Another 1,000 will lose access to food assistance in West Virginia. [Dpost]  Add yet another 5,000 in Georgia who’ve lost access because of work rule changes. [USAPP] Louisiana hacked off the access for 30,000 in late 2015. [AJA] And, then, of course, there’s the viral display of the lady who took it upon herself to embarrass a fellow human being for using assistance to feed his children.

The tantrum, if true, illustrates the extent to which the myths and urban legends about the food assistance programs have become part of the Republican narrative about food stamps and the people who use them.

One of the more persistent myths is that there is an abundance of food stamp fraud, and the fraud is the result of misuse of the assistance by the recipients.  

First, the food assistance program is actually one of the most efficient and honest programs in government.  And, most of the fraud is on the part of retailers, NOT the customers.

“SNAP fraud has actually been cut by three-quarters over the past 15 years, and the program’s error rate is at an all-time low of less than 3 percent. The introduction of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards has dramatically reduced consumer fraud. According to the USDA, the small amount of fraud that continues is usually on the part of retailers, not consumers.” [HC.org]

Even during the last Recession, SNAP problems were miniscule: “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, and despite the recent growth in caseloads, the share of total SNAP payments that represent overpayments, underpayments, or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2011.” [CPBB]

The USDA, which administers the program has taken notice of the allegations of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” continually leveled at the assistance, and presented a report in 2013:

“The report indicates that the vast majority of trafficking – the illegal sale of SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items – occurs in smaller-sized retailers that typically stock fewer healthy foods. Over the last five fiscal years, the number of retailers authorized to participate in SNAP has grown by over 40 percent; small- and medium-sized retailers account for the vast majority of that growth. The rate of trafficking in larger grocery stores and supermarkets—where 82 percent of all benefits were redeemed—remained low at less than 0.5 percent.”  (emphasis added)

More specifically, most of the fraudulent use can be attributed to these small retailers:

“While the overall trafficking rate has remained relatively steady at approximately one cent on the dollar, the report attributes the change in the rate to 1.3 percent primarily to the growth in small- and medium-sized retailers authorized to accept SNAP that may not provide sufficient healthful offerings to recipients. These retailers accounted for 85 percent of all trafficking redemptions. This finding echoes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that suggested minimal stocking requirements in SNAP may contribute to corrupt retailers entering the program.” [emphasis added]

However, the lady in the supermarket screaming at the customer, is probably thinking  it’s the food assistance recipient who commits most of the fraud and not the retailer.  She’s likely not concerned that the USDA has initiated rules to sanction 529 retailers, and permanently disqualifying 826 outlets for trafficking in benefits, or falsifying their applications.  Or, that in 2012 the USDA reviewed more than 15,000 stores and permanently disqualified nearly 1,400 for various program violations. She’s also not likely concerned that the USDA has expanded the definitions of fraud to include newer schemes. [USDA]

snapping turtle

Let’s conjecture that the screaming-mimi is associating food assistance with lazy do-nothings who are eating from her hard earned sacred tax dollars. Again, she’s wrong.

Using Nevada (pdf) as an example for the moment, the median income of SNAP recipients in the state was $20,479 per year, or about $1700 per month, and 49% of the households had at least one person working in the previous 12 months; 29% had two or more workers, and only 21.8% had no one working in the previous year.  Why might the person not be working? Try acknowledging that more than 1/2 of SNAP beneficiaries nationally are either children or the elderly. [StoH]  And, no – they are not undocumented individuals: “Undocumented immigrants are not (and never have been) eligible for SNAP benefits. Documented immigrants can only receive SNAP benefits if they have resided within the United States for at least five years (with some exceptions for refugees, children, and individuals receiving asylum).” [StoH]

On a national basis, children account for 44% of food assistance, the elderly and the disabled account for another 20%.  That leaves 36% who are non-elderly, and not disabled, of whom 22% have children to support and feed, and 14% are childless.  [CBPP]

SNAP recipients Those interested in the SNAP statistics for every Congressional District in the nation can find the pdf files here.

Those interested in living in the fact based universe will also find that far from munching on the taxpayer’s dime, every $1 dollar in food assistance generates $1.80 in economic returns to the community. [USDA]

snapping turtle However, we can publicize every FAQ, every article, every report, in the land and there will still be screamers at the Wal-Mart who are convinced that low-life no-gooders mooching on the dole are taking their earnings and wallowing in sin and sloth.  The right wing echo chamber has done a good job of vilifying children, the elderly, the disabled, and the down on their luck to find an excuse to cut spending for at risk citizens. 

snapping turtle

The snapping turtles have also done a good job of associating African Americans with food assistance programs.

“The 2013 data shows, white people are nearly three times less likely than African-Americans to live in poverty; yet, white people claim more food stamps.  According to the data, not only do white people benefit from food stamps, they also benefit from not having politicians and cops target and malign them as lazy, unproductive welfare queens who take advantage of a social safety net. As the chart indicates, racist ideas about welfare have come to overshadow statistical facts that reveal that the face of food stamps is in fact white.” [AnHQ]

There is support for this conclusion  in Nevada statistics.  In Congressional District One 58% of food stamp recipients are white, in Congressional District Two 80.3% are white, in Congressional District Three 66.3% are white, and in Congressional District Four 52.9% are white.  According to the Census Bureau Nevada District 1 has a population of 693,623 of whom 380,587 are white; District 2 has 697,426 residents of whom 580,111 are white; District 3 has a population of 734,973 of whom 499,767 are white; and District 4 has a population of 713,077 of whom 470,799 are white. As much as the popular right wing mythology may want to reinforce the narrative of the Welfare Queen it just doesn’t fit with the statistical reality.

snapping turtle  When statistics don’t fit … try ideological mythology. Food Stamps make you dependent on Government, and dependency is evil incarnate because it is a disincentive to work.  This, flat out, makes no sense at all.  For example, I live in an area with a public water system. Does hooking up to the water system mean that I’m lazy and have no incentive to walk to the spring for the daily bucket? Or, that I should have to dig my own well, and install my own septic tank?  Perhaps this is plausible if I live far enough from my neighbors to put in a septic system, but I don’t so the result would be “my septic tank next to your well.”  Not a pleasant nor hygienic prospect.  Do public roads make me a lazy dependent? Does having a police department make me less independent – should I have to hire my own rent-a-cop?  Maybe in some radical libertarian  landscape no one depends on anyone else, but this is only a fairy tale of dystopian proportions.  Not a land in which any rational soul would want to reside.

snapping turtle

There’s another element not often discussed in polite circles – good old fashioned selfishness.  The trick is to make selfishness acceptable. Perhaps some of the snapping turtles harbor an unhealthy notion that someone out there somewhere is taking money out of their shells, someone who is undeserving of assistance.  I’d be willing to bet that a right wing snapping turtle would never agree that food assistance should be denied to an octogenarian, or to a disabled person, or to a small child, or to a young mother trying to keep food on the table while going to school to complete her education. So, the “undeserving” must be meanly labeled.  They’re Lazy, they’re druggies, they’re people who “have too many children.”  (I’m particularly appalled at the argument which goes: “They” have too many children,” while the next contention is that funding for family planning must be eliminated.)  The line “I saw people at the food bank who are driving better cars than mine,” illustrates the issue.

This example is a visceral reaction – not a questioning skepticism.  Is the vehicle the only asset of any significant value in the entire household?  Does “better” mean newer? If so, then what was traded in to buy it? The comment better illustrates a definition of poverty that would have only the totally destitute ‘deserving’ of assistance, not someone with a functioning vehicle, an air-conditioner, a television set, a refrigerator – as if these consumer items weren’t a necessity in modern American life. Define poverty harshly enough and all manner of selfishness can be justified.

snapping turtle

There’s one myth justifying selfishness we can dismiss. The one that says we should drug test SNAP recipients to see if they’re worthy.  Seven states spent more than one million dollars on drug testing welfare recipients only to discover that there wasn’t a reason to do it in the first place.  Missouri spent $336,297 testing 38,970 recipients to find 48 positive tests. (0.123%) Oklahoma spent $385,872 on tests for 3,342 people and got 297 positives. (11%) Utah’s results were less rational, 9,552 people were tested and 29 were positive. (3.03%) Kansas screened 2,783 persons, with 11 positive results, a 3.95% result costing $40,000. Mississippi tested 3,656 persons and got 2 positive drug tests. Tennessee tested 16,017 people and got 37 positives.  Arizona tested 142,424 persons and got a grand total of 3 positive results. [TP]  Not that it will put much of a chink in the armor of the snapping turtles, but the numbers certainly don’t justify the expense or the rationale for selfishness underlying the testing.

snapping turtle forbidden

I’d like to see the day when (1) Congressman Sludgepump launches his canards about SNAP recipients being lazy moochers, and a reporter asks if he knows the demographics of the recipients in his District, or  when (2) State legislator Gloomcryer decries the possibility of drug use by food stamp beneficiaries and he’s challenged to cite statistics to support his contentions, or when (3) we finally become outraged at the outrageous duplicity and mendacity of the Snapping Turtles. 

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Filed under conservatism, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, public health, Republicans

Rep. Cresent Hardy Keeps Digging

Stop Digging

Nevada’s own Congressional Representative from Bundyland can’t seem to get his mind around why he’s drawing so much fire from Democrats for his insensitive and inane comment about disabled people.

“Hardy, asked about the speech after a House vote Thursday in Washington, said he did not remember making the comment and suggested it was altered or taken out of context.

“I would like to have it analyzed,” he said. “People try to manipulate things. I’ve seen that happen early on.” Hardy was referring to the flap during the 2014 campaign when video surfaced in which he agreed with Mitt Romney’s infamous comment about 47 percent of people living off the government.” [LVRJ]

This is one better than only using the old cliché, “I was taken out of context.”  Without engaging his brain before putting his mouth in gear, Hardy posits not one but three possibilities.  (1) I didn’t say it. (Wrong: It’s been recorded – anyone can record anything these days without a Reel-to-Reel set up.) (2) It was altered. (Nice try but probably not – it was too ‘good’ all by itself.  Or, (3) It’s being “manipulated.”  There’s no need for manipulation, of any kind, Representative Hardy just cranks up his mouth, inanity ensues.   However, as the LVRJ article reports, Hardy isn’t finished:

“My nature is to defend those who can’t take care of themselves, that’s what I believe,” he said. “I’ve always been a strong supporter of people to be able to get help when needed.”

“People get paid to distort the truth and try to manipulate things,” Hardy said. “That kind of conversation never went on. I think the Democrats ought to be embarrassed.”

If anything, he said, people with disability should be angry at being used by Democrats “to sell their game.”

“People get paid to distort things,” he said. “I’m the No. 1 target, folks.” [LVRJ]

Merciful Heavens, Representative Hardy (R-NV4) has donned the cloak of victimhood, swathing himself in self pity, and begs us to ask his forgiveness for being so mean to him as to call out his hypocritical and mean-spirited remark.

Let’s move back to that first comment above (“My nature is to defend…”) and see if his actions and associations match his assertion.   First, Representative Hardy is a Republican, and his Republican majority in the House had the following ideas about how to develop a budget; they would:

“… propose major spending cuts to programs such as Medicare, health care subsidies, food stamps and the Medicaid program for the poor and elderly to produce a budget that’s balanced. Such cuts, if actually implemented later, would likely slash spending by $5 trillion or so over the coming decade from budgets that are presently on track to spend almost $50 trillion over that timeframe.” [CBS]

So, Representative Hardy favors cuts to Medicare, a program for those over 65 years of age, who prior to the program were denied private health care insurance or could only purchase it at exorbitant prices, and therefore “couldn’t take care of themselves.”  Food Stamps?

The SNAP budget took a 5% whack in 2013, and another round of cuts in the 2014 Farm Bill. The winners in HR 2642 were the farmers, especially corporate farming, and the losers were those who depend on assistance to put food on their tables at meal time. [NYT]  It appears that those cuts were insufficient for Republicans, so they proposed another round of cuts in 2015. [Slate]  Depending upon which GOP proposal is studied, the cuts range from 8% to about 15% in the SNAP program.  If a person is supportive of others being able to get help when needed, then why would that self-same individual advocate for proposals which do precisely the opposite?

Medicaid? CHIP? Nevada, which did expand Medicaid coverage after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, isn’t exactly overly generous with the income eligibility requirements.  A family of four trying to pay for housing, food, clothing, transportation, and utilities out of $2,643 per month is going to be hard pressed, and pressed even more harshly if there are medical bills to pay.  Non-surgical treatment for a broken leg runs about $2,500. [CH]  Thus, Junior’s one accident on the soccer field would almost wipe out the family income for the month.  So, why, if Representative Hardy is so concerned for those who evidently need his defense, does he side with those who would cut funding for programs which assist the defenseless?

Let’s go back to Representative Hardy’s last barrage, the part wherein he’s the “victim of cruel Democrats who are using the disabled as human shields to advance their agenda” —

Jon Stewart discussed this “conservative victimization” phenomena back in July 2011 – in a bit which deserves  a click and watch.  Now that we’ve had our moment of sheer delight…

Note to Representative Hardy:  The liberal agenda is supposed to advance the cause of disabled people – people who, with a little help, can be just as productive as their counterparts in the office.  The liberal agenda is intended to champion assistance for families on the financial brink who need help to meet medical expenses for themselves and their children.  The liberal agenda is to try every way possible to allow a family to feed its children, house its veterans, and care for its elderly.  The liberal agenda supports Public Schools, Public Libraries, Public Parks, Public Health, Public Roads and Bridges, and Public broadband access.    A liberal believes that the rising tide is supposed to do more than just float yachts.

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Filed under conservatism, Federal budget, Health Care, Nevada politics

The Session From Nowhere

Capitol DomeThe members of the 113th Congress have almost managed the impossible — to beat the Do-Nothing Congress of 1947-48, the one excoriated for enacting only 395 bits of legislation. [USAT]

Bills Enacted by session of Congress*the 113th Congress is still in session.

Not only is the last column in the graphic painfully small, but it becomes even more pathetic when we look at a graphic illustration of the number of bill which even made it to an up or down vote:

Bills up or down by Session 1973-2013Not only has the 113th Congress not enacted any legislation, it hasn’t even brought many bills to the floor for a vote.

It is one thing to crow about protecting the huddled masses from iniquitous laws, and quite another to simply obstruct the entire process by not even considering them.  From a technical perspective the Republican controlled 113th’s obstruction is a function of the misuse of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and the absurd application of the ephemeral “Hastert Rule” in the House which asserts that legislation which doesn’t have the support of the majority party’s caucus will never reach the floor.  There is also the matter of legislation passing the House which has absolutely no chance in the Senate, and was never intended to have any life in that body, bills simply passed to pad the records or to make a display.  Witness the number of attempts to rescind Roe v. Wade.  The technical obstructionism of the Tea Party Republicans requires some heavy lifting in the justification department.

The previous “low” for Congressional enactment was the 112th Congress’s record of 284 bills to be sent to the White House, thus far by GovTrack’s count the 113th has managed only 56.   As the Nevada Progressive calls it, Less isn’t More.   What’s left on the table?

The Farm Bill – both houses have passed their own versions, and in the lovely but over-simplified “I’m Just A Bill On Capitol Hill” this should lead to a conference to hammer out a compromise bill which can be passed in both wings of the building.  The conference is in progress [WaPo] but there’s little progress to report.  “Competing House and Senate proposals remain tens of billions of dollars apart — the Senate proposes slashing about $4 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade, while the House would cut nearly $40 billion,” [WaPo] and the chasm remains.   For those who are unrepentant clock watchers, the House and Senate are facing a January 1 deadline.

ENDA – (Employee Non-Discrimination Act)  The Senate passed this bill, S. 815, on November 7, 2013 on a 64-32 vote. [rc 232] Even conservative Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) assisted with passage in the Senate, however the bill may die in the House:

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said in an emailed statement. Other House Republicans have been outspoken against the bill, arguing that it imposes on the religious liberties of business owners and managers. Although, there is a religious exemption under the law that protects churches and other religious institutions from being penalized under ENDA.” [USNWR]

The “increase in frivolous litigation” argument is boilerplate language applied by the GOP to any and all legislation pertaining to human or civil rights.  The House version, H.R. 1755, with 200 co-sponsors, has made it as far as the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice [Thomas] to which it was assigned on June 14, 2013 — and no further.  Sub-Committee membership includes Chairman  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ),  Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and the memorable logician Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Neverland), among the eight Republicans facing five Democrats. [USHSCCJ]  Hope that H.R. 1755 will emerge from this conglomeration of Tea Party favorites must be slim indeed.

Comprehensive Immigration Policy Reform – The Senate’s version, S. 744, passed the Senate on June 27, 2013 on a 68-32 vote. [Thomas] It, too, has entered the House of No Return.  There are 11 pieces of the measure, or bills related to the measure, in various stages of decay in the House.  [Thomas]

 Common Sense Gun Regulations –  Polling conducted by Pew Research in May 2013 showed 81% of Americans in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases.  Including 81% support among Republicans and 83% support from Democrats. [Pew]  Massive support notwithstanding – the bill was filibustered in the Senate.  [WaPo]   Senator Heller voted to support the GOP filibuster on April 17, 2013 [rc 97], one of the 46 members of that body who voted to kill the bill.

JOBS –  Let’s look at our infrastructure needs by drilling down to one bill as an example. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced the SAFE Bridges Act of 2013 (H.R. 2428) on June 19, 2013.  “Directs the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to establish a program to assist states to rehabilitate or replace bridges found to be structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, or fracture critical. Requires states to use apportioned program funds for projects to rehabilitate and replace such bridges. Sets the federal share of project costs at 100%.”   Rehabilitating or replacing insubstantial or dysfunctional bridges would be a blessing for the stumbling construction sector.  It would also, indeed, make us safer.

One in nine of American bridges are rates structurally deficient by the ASCE. [Report Card pdf] And, some 200 million trips are taken every day in this country over deficient bridges in 102 American metropolitan regions.   At least we made it over the river (and through the woods) to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving… now we have to do it again for Christmas?  The ASCE is clear that just because we’ve not worried about our infrastructure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t:

“Most of America’s infrastructure was built after WWII.  These investments of the 20th century spurred our nation’s economic boom and made us a global power. Today, quite simply, that tab is coming due. Australia currently spends 2.4% of GDP on capital investment, compared to 0.60% by the U.S.  Canada’s federal government investment in infrastructure is approximately 2.9% of GDP. And though our percentages of GDP spent on infrastructure are indeed comparable to Germany, in 2011, Germany adopted a five-year, $52 billion federal Framework Investment Plan for infrastructure. The question facing our country is are we going to maintain our 20th century foundation while making new investments for a prosperous 21st century. This is a unique challenge. America’s economy must lead the world, and as such, the foundation of that economy—our infrastructure—should lead the way. ” [ASCE]

The sputtering of conservative think tanks about the efficacy of public-private partnerships is singularly insufficient to address the massive infrastructure and transportation needs faced by this nation.   Meanwhile, Rep. Rahall’s bill sits in the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit — and has done so since the day after it was introduced. [Thomas]

A more comprehensive bill, the American Jobs Act, was re-introduced by Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) in the 113th Congress [HuffPo]

“According to independent analysts including Moody’s Economy, the American Jobs Act would mean up to 1.9 million new jobs.  The bill would provide tax cuts to tens of millions of low- to moderate-income Americans and stop layoffs of teachers, firefighters, and other public workers.  To ensure that the bill does not add to the federal budget deficit, it includes a series of cost-saving changes to the taxation of hedge fund investment income as well as cuts to corporate subsidies.  In addition to the provisions from President Obama’s original bill, the new 2013 American Jobs Act includes a simple provision to cancel the reckless, across-the-board budget cuts known as Sequestration for the coming fiscal years.”  [Wilson]

H.R. 2821 was assigned to the appropriate House committees on July 24, 2013, and then went to the land of No Return.

It’s not like we don’t have enough to do … it’s just that there is a Congress, especially the House of Representatives, which has demonstrated its incapacity to address the issues which need to be discussed and faced rationally, and to work for the American people.  The House Calendar (pdf) for the 113th first session Congress is “pretty blank,” and the second session is even further reduced.  The problem of un-productivity is exacerbated by the lack of  work time allotted to actually Doing anything.

President Harry Truman thought he had a problem with the 80th Congress when he spoke at a campaign stop in Elizabeth, New Jersey on October 7, 1948:

“Some people say I ought not to talk so much about the Republican 80th “do-nothing” Congress in this campaign.  I will tell you why I will talk about it.  If two-thirds of the people stay at home again on election day as they did in 1946, and if we get another Republican Congress like the 80th Congress, it will be controlled by the same men who controlled that 80th Congress–the Tabers and the Tafts, the Martins and the Hallecks–would be the bosses.  The same men would be the bosses, the same as those who passed the Taft-Hartley Act, and passed the rich man’s tax bill, and took Social Security away from a million workers.”  [SpeechesUSA]

Heaven bless him, he never had to work with the 113th lead by Representatives Boehner, Cantor, and the likes of Louie  Gohmert.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada politics, Politics

Thank You For Your Service, sort of

VeteransThe CBPP estimates that 11,300 veterans — that’s Veterans — in households receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits in Nevada will see benefits cut — that’s CUT — on November 1, 2013.

“The 2009 Recovery Act temporarily raised SNAP benefits as a form of effective economic stimulus and to reduce the hardship that low-income families faced during the recession.  This benefit increase is set to expire on November 1.  The coming benefit cut will reduce SNAP benefits, which are already modest, for all households by 7 percent on average, or about $10 per person per month.” [CBPP]

The assistance will drop back to less than about $1.40 per meal.  Again, the point remains that programs like SNAP are economic “automatic  stabilizers.”  At the risk of continual repetition, an automatic stabilizer is a financial augmentation in income designed to offset deflationary pressures during economic downturns.  In English, that would be money to offset income lost during recessions and depressions to keep the aggregate demand from succumbing to further contractions — leading to more contraction.  We know from analysis during the Great Recession of 2007-08 that those SNAP benefits created $1.73 in economic activity for every $1.00 expended.  [Moodys pdf]

And so now we have the Farm Bill stalled in conference between the House and Senate which would address SNAP related issues, and the two sides arguing about whether to cut yet another $35 billion from the food assistance program. [USAT]  This, in the face of the obvious point that the “Recovery” hasn’t been a general success for all levels of income earners.

“All told, average inflation-adjusted income per family climbed 6% between 2009 and 2012, the first years of the economic recovery. During that period, the top 1% saw their incomes climb 31.4% — or, 95% of the total gain — while the bottom 99% saw growth of 0.4%.”

Last year, the richest 10% received more than half of all income — 50.5%, or the largest share since such record-keeping began in 1917. Here is how the top earners break down: Top 1%: incomes above $394,000 in 2012; Top 5%: incomes between $161,000 and $394,000; Top 10%: incomes between $114,000 and $161,000.”  [Wall Street Journal]

The 1% have done very nicely, thank us all very much, while the remaining 99% — including those 11,300 Nevada veterans in low income brackets — have witnessed the income gap widen.  Thank you for your service…

The right wing response is generally, “Why don’tcha get off your lazy butt, get some job training, and find a better job?”  Well now, that might have been easier for some active duty military personnel had not the House/Senate GOP decided to shut down the federal government, including the office that processes military education benefits. [IHE]

The shutdown was a temporary tantrum, the Sequester (Budget Control Act) was more serious:

March 8, 2013: “Due to the current fiscal challenges, the Secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of Tuition Assistance (TA) effective 1700 EST Friday, 8 Mar 13. The suspension applies to all components and will remain effect until the fiscal situation matures.
Effective 1700 EST 8 Mar 13, Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for Tuition Assistance through the GoArmyEd portal.”  [TDB]

There was sufficient outrage to move the Congress to reinstate Pentagon authority to restore the tuition assistance program by March 28, 2013. The U.S. military was ordered to find other areas in their budget to cut and to reopen enrollment in the TA program. [HuffPo]  Are we beginning to see a pattern here?

The Budget Blasters in the U.S. Congress are delighted to take very grand, or grandiose,  general positions like shutting down the government — but for Heaven’s Sake don’t shut down the World War II Memorial; and, cut all that fat from the federal budget — but for Heaven’s Sake don’t cut tuition assistance for members of the U.S. military.  A person could easily conclude that the Budget Blasters in Congress dislike federal spending on anything in general, but come to a screeching halt when we get down to the specifics in real federal functions.

The Senate Republicans successfully filibustered a bill in September 2012 to create a job training program for veterans which would have involved a relatively modest $1 billion in expenditures over a five year period.

“Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said GOP concerns were about the $1 billion price tag for the program over five years. Republicans described the proposal as a political ploy of no practical value. “If, in fact, we want to help veterans get jobs, there are lots of ways to do it,” Coburn said on the floor before the vote. “We need to make sure the job training programs we have are working, and they’re not.” [WaPo]

There might have been “lots of ways” for veterans to find job training programs in 2012, except that the Budget Control Act which Senator Coburn and others referred when filibustering the 2012 bill to death also shaved funding from other job training programs:

“Federal money for the primary training program for dislocated workers is 18 percent lower in today’s dollars than it was in 2006, even though there are six million more people looking for work now. Funds used to provide basic job search services, like guidance on résumés and coaching for interviews, have fallen by 13 percent.” [NYT April 2012]

One year on, and the same squeeze was observed by the National Skills Coalition which issued its report on the impact of diminished support for job training programs in July 2013, including this conclusion:

“Over the past three years, Congress has cut funding to employment and job training programs by over $1 billion. Sequestration and spending caps will result in further cuts for the next decade. In addition, some in Congress are proposing additional, even deeper cuts that will worsen the existing skills gap and make it difficult for businesses to grow and compete globally.” [NSC]

Excuse the impertinent inquiry — but job training programs have already been cut by $1 billion as a result of Sequestration and spending caps, and the Congressional Republicans have blocked more targeted programs for training veterans, so exactly where are veterans supposed to go for help once they are home and trying to transition back into the civilian economy?  If Senator Coburn believes there are “lots of ways to do it” then perhaps he’d care to point out where the federal government is poised to give the assistance to veterans they need to improve their job skills?

“Thank you for your service” is a hollow bromide, with little more staying power than those cheap yellow ribbon car magnets, unless we are ready and willing as a nation to assist veterans with educational programs, job training skills, and some basic resources — like Food! — so that they can fully contribute to  our economy.

Meanwhile, some 11,300 Nevada low income veterans who are struggling to put food on the table are about to be hit with another blow from the authors of the great American con job, those espousing the notion that we can get everything we want, we just shouldn’t have to pay for it.  And the 1% keep rolling along…

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

It Can Happen Here: Corporate Welfare and Nevada Jobs

NV Food Service Jobs WagesThe eligibility level for SNAP benefits for a family of four is estimated at 130% of the federal poverty level ($23,550).

“A household is defined as a person or a group of people living together, but not necessarily related, who purchase and prepare food together. Households, except those with elderly or disabled members, must have gross incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line. All households must have net incomes below 100 percent of poverty to be eligible. Most households may have up to $2,000 in countable resources (e.g., checking/savings account, cash, stocks/bonds). Households with at least one member who is age 60 or older or a member living with a disability may have up to $3,250 in resources.” [SNAP]

The median wage reports from NV-DETR should be interpreted to mean that half the employees in this job category fall below the annual income in the second column.

And the point of all this?

The point is quite simply, we don’t get to have it both ways.  We can’t continue to employ people at wages which make them eligible for public assistance and then expect not to have to pay for the public assistance to help (as in the case of SNAP) to put food on the table for their families.   The second point is that this isn’t a situation that occurs in some highly generalized national way — it’s right here in the Silver State.  Worse still, it’s happening in the most prominent sector of the Nevada economy — hospitality and food service.

And so, we get stories reporting a McDonald’s employee being advised to seek public assistance by her employee resource hotline. [BusinessInsider] A study finds that over one half of Wal-Mart’s employees make less than $25,000 per year. [BusinessWeek] It’s already been reported that one Wal-Mart in Wisconsin could cost taxpayers some $900,000 including such “subsidies” as Medicaid, home heating assistance, reduced price school lunches, and Section 8 housing assistance. [HuffPo]  These and other stories led one columnist to call Wal-Mart the new “Welfare King.” [Salon]

Why Do The Welfare Kings Worry?

Inflation.  There is nothing a lender (banker) likes less than inflation. Even the prospect of inflation causes the vapors.   Thus, the banker’s political allies offer such bromides as the following:

“Where would the money come from to pay minimum wage workers a higher rate of pay? It would come from the customers of those businesses. When the cost of doing business rises, those businesses have to raise the prices of their products. This happens across industries and across the economy. The end result is inflation. Workers are making more money, but that money is only buying what their former wage purchased.”

Sounds right, but … the issue at the present is that wages aren’t keeping up with current levels of inflation, much less drive any inflation.  [CSMonitor] Even if we calculate that the full cost of the wage increase is passed along to customers, the research doesn’t support the contention that a wage-price spiral will ensue from improving the minimum wage:

“Past research on how business costs rise with minimum wage hikes indicates that a 10-percent minimum wage hike can be expected to produce a cost increase for the average business of less than one-tenth of one percent of their sales revenue. This cost figure includes three components. First, mandated raises: the raises employers must give their workers to meet the new wage floor. Second, “ripple-effect” raises: the raises employers give some workers to put their pay rates a bit above the new minimum in order to preserve the same wage hierarchy before and after minimum wage hike. And third, the higher payroll taxes employers must pay on their now-larger wage bill. If the average businesses wanted to completely cover the cost increase from a 10-percent minimum wage hike through higher prices, they would need to raise their prices by less than 0.1 percent.” [BTFE]

However, nothing seems to alleviate the never-ending terror of the financial sector (banks) that something will cause the dollars they lent to customers will be repaid in dollars of slightly less value (inflation).

…even if this costs us more to sustain the individuals and their families hired at current minimum wage levels. Out of Our pockets.  Not to put too fine a point to it, but American taxpayers — including Nevadans — are being asked to subsidize corporations which do not pay living wages to their employees, at the same time those corporations and banks are demanding that the federal government reduce its expenditures for social safety net programs.

If lower income workers are feeling like they are in a Grand Bind — it’s because they are.

*Annual median wages are not included because the levels of wages do not include earnings from tips.  The Nevada minimum wage for tipped employees is $8.25 per hour.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

What the Heck? SNAP go his arguments

Joe HeckWe can update statistics on the SNAP (food stamp) program in Nevada by referring to the Caseload Summary of the DWSS, (pdf).  For FY 2012 there were 187,896 adults and 163,969 children receiving SNAP benefits. Of these, 143,115 adults and 124,890 children lived in Clark County, and 24,834 adults and 21,672 children lived in Washoe County. (p.45)  In sum there were  351,865 receiving food assistance.

The average value of the benefits statewide per case in FY 2012 was $258.56, per month, and per person averaged to $122.70. [DWSSpdf]

And, yes there are more people participating in the SNAP program in Nevada, as indicated by the following chart:

NV SNAP participation per 1000

This trend is in line with the employment (unemployment) trends in Nevada since FY 2003.   Nevada’s highest unemployment rate was 14.0% in October 2010, and was lowest (3.8%) in April, 2000.  [BLS] Nevada’s current unemployment rate of 9.5% earns the Silver State the dubious honor of being 50th in the ranking of state unemployment rates as of August 2013. [BLS]

NV Unemployment 3There’s good and bad news herein.  As DETR explains:

“Service-providing industries are expected to create 100,500 jobs in the ten-year forecast horizon. A lot of the growth in the service-providing industries is a reflection of increasing population and consumption over a decade. Leisure and hospitality industry is projected to have 36,100 more jobs by 2020, the largest employment gain in jobs among all industries. Most of the gain is anticipated to be generated in the accommodation and food services sector.” (pdf)

The number of jobs is increasing — but, as we discover from the BLS tables of average hourly wages and weekly earnings — the average hourly wage in the leisure and hospitality sector is $13.54 per hour, with an average weekly wage of $352.04.  This is the lowest rate of all the sectors in the tables, the next lowest rate being $16.67 in “retail trade.”

Thus, we have a situation in which the unemployment rate which drives a significant portion of the SNAP applications is decreasing, but the kinds of jobs increasingly available are in the lowest wage categories.   With the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and jobs increasing predominantly in the lowest wage sector, Nevada will be hard pressed to find ways to reduce family poverty.

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV) explained his vote on the continuing resolution, with dramatic cuts to the SNAP program, in a statement which doesn’t square with the reality of employment projections in Nevada:

“Every able-bodied American that does not have dependents should be required to meet the work requirements … the reforms put in place by this bill ensure that only those that meet the income guidelines receive the assistance they need,” Heck said in a statement. “The best thing we can do to help those on SNAP and other forms of federal assistance is create an economic environment where the private sector can grow and create more good-paying jobs.”

Instead of pragmatic assistance to those employed in low wage jobs, Heck offers verbiage: “create an economic environment….”  Pure GOP speak for Business Subsidy Good; People Assistance Bad.  The advice is singularly unattached to the reality that the jobs actually being created tend NOT to be “good paying.”

What Representative Heck asserts, but does not substantiate, is that any of the 351,865 receiving food assistance in Nevada do NOT meet the income guidelines.   The issue to which Representative Heck may be applying his penchant for generalities is the BBCE guidelines.

In fiscal year 2010, GAO estimates that 2.6 percent (473,000) of households that received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would not have been eligible for the program without broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits.  [GAO]

However, what Representative Heck isn’t including is another segment of the GAO Report on SNAP:

GAO estimates that BBCE increased SNAP benefit costs, which are borne by the federal government, by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2010. In that year, total SNAP benefits provided to households that, without BBCE, would not have been eligible for the program because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits were an estimated $38 million monthly or about $460 million for the year. These households received an estimated average monthly SNAP benefit of $81 compared to $293 for other households. BBCE’s effect on SNAP administrative costs, which are shared by the federal and state governments, is unclear, in part because of other recent changes that affect this spending, such as state budget and staffing reductions in the recent recession.  (emphasis added)

In short, one can argue that the broad based categorical eligibility did increase the cost of SNAP — but it cannot be seriously asserted that these were the “budget busting” increases cited by those who object to funding the program.

However, there’s always that fall back position: Generalizing about “waste, fraud, and abuse.”  The USDA defines welfare fraud as (1) exchanging SNAP benefits for cash; (2) an application who is dishonest on his or her application; and (3) a retailer who has been disqualified for past abuse lies on an application to be restored to the program.

Further, the USDA has taken serious (and effective) steps to reduce SNAP abuse:  “Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management by USDA, the trafficking rate has fallen significantly over the last two decades, from about 4 cents on the dollar in 1993 to about 1 cent in 2006-08 (most recent data available).”

Those who oppose the SNAP program are more likely to cite stories of “dead people getting SNAP debit cards.”   For example, an audit in Nevada found cards issued to 27 deceased persons. [LVRJ]  This from a total of 351,865 recipients — see what your calculator returns when you divide 27 by 351,865.


This news was followed by the following opinion statement:

About 2,400 people were in both databases, and 749 of the deceased were not shown as deceased in the Welfare Division database. Auditors then reviewed 50 of these cases and found that 27 cards had been used after the cardholder had died. Because the sampling number was so low, it is likely that far more than the 27 cards of dead people still are being used. [LVRJ]

It could be.  At the same time it could also be true that the small sample size tended to make the problem look as though we were viewing the heavens with binoculars.  Larger issues may be suggested but the details are extremely hard to determine.   Phrased more elegantly: “A study with low statistical power has a reduced chance of detecting a true effect, but it is less well appreciated that low power also reduces the likelihood that a statistically significant result reflects a true effect.” [NCBI]  The comparison of Vital Statistics databases with SNAP rolls is obviously a desirable thing; however the extrapolation that this “proves”  serious fraud is a step too far.

There is no substantiation for the allegation that the broad based categorical eligibility (BBCE) guidelines for SNAP added an unbearable burden to the federal coffers.  There is no evidence that SNAP is beset by waste, fraud, and abuse — indeed the level of abuse has been reduced in recent years from 4% to 1% (and note not all the fraud is on the part of the recipient).

“Over 99 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible and payment accuracy was 96.20 percent in 2011 –a historic high. Payment errors are less than half what they were 10 years ago, which has reduced improper payments by $3.67 billion in 2011.” [USDA]

And here comes the kicker — the reason that SNAP benefits were audited for comparison to Vital Statistics?  The federal government directed this:

USDA publishing a final rule in August 2012 that requires States to cross check against the Social Security Master Death File, Social Security’s Prisoner Verification System, and FNS’s Electronic Disqualified Recipient System, prior to certifying individuals for the program, to ensure that no ineligible people receive benefits.”

It really doesn’t quite do to cite an example of an audit to “demonstrate” fraud and abuse, when the intention of the agency conducting the audit was part of an on-going effort to reduce that self-same  fraud and abuse.

If Representative Heck can’t cite any rationale for his desire to “reform” SNAP other than to berate the BBCE — not a significant part of the poverty reduction problem — and to bemoan “abuse and fraud” also not a significant problem, then his objections are hollow ideology at the expense of those recipients who find themselves seeking employment in a land of low wage jobs.


Filed under Economy, Politics

Blood Stained Bandits Fleecing Sheep

Jefferson AirplaneRemember Jefferson Airplane?  Remember this?

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep” [traditional/Kaukonen]

Now, take a click over to the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus website and look at the letter from Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2).  And, what are Representative Amodei’s concerns about the SNAP program?

#1. He believes it “imperative” to be a “good steward” of “taxpayer dollars.”  Any good steward of taxpayer dollars would have recognized by now that for every $1.00 spent on SNAP benefits approximately $1.73 is generated for the U.S. economy.  Sounds like a good ‘bang for the buck’ to me.   If he’d been paying attention since the January 2008 release  of the Moody’s Analytics report by Mark M. Zandi (pdf) he’d have been aware of this.  A GOOD steward should seek ways to make those taxpayer dollars stretch.  Instead, Representative says of the program: “At this rate the CBO predicts by 2022 the SNAP program will be among the highest non-health related federal support programs for low income families.”

Here’s the portion of the CBO Report he chooses to repeat:

“By fiscal year 2022, CBO projects, 34 million people (or about one in 10 U.S. residents) will receive SNAP benefits each month (roughly the same number as in 2009), and SNAP expenditures, at about $73 billion, will be among the highest of all non-health-related federal support programs for low-income households.”

Here’s the part he left out:  (pdf)  Outlays for 2012 are set at $80,993,000.  While program outlays for 2022 are projected as $72,642,000.  Speaking of the actual benefits as a program component we find that the 2012 the cost is $74,849,000 and the projected total benefits cost is $54,912,000.   That’s right — the total program costs were projected to be LOWER  in 2022.

Grab a calculator the arithmetic is easy, if the Moody’s calculations are adopted, that $64,912,000 in benefits could mean $125,280,160 generated in the American economy.   Evidently, Representative isn’t really all that interested in boosting the U.S. economy.

What he gives every appearance of meaning to convey is that the SNAP program is Big Government for Low Income Households … and we can guess what message his constituents will make of that.  Does he presume they will have images of Welfare Queens dancing in their heads?   Perhaps, because here’s more information he omitted:

“In 2010, about three out of four SNAP households included a child, a person age 60 or older, or a disabled person. Most people who received SNAP benefits lived in households with very low income, about $8,800 per year on average in that year. The average monthly SNAP benefit per household was $287, or $4.30 per person per day. On average, SNAP benefits boosted gross monthly income by 39 percent for all participating households and by 45 percent for households with children.” [CBO] (emphasis added)

Not only do the House Republicans want to slash some $39 billion out of the SNAP program, they’re doing at a time when the commodities markets are predicting about a 3% to 4% increases in grocery prices in the next year. [Navigator] And, allow me to beat this horse one more time:  Most grocery stores operate on a profit margin ranging from 1% to 4% per year.  Now, take the 10% of their receipts which come from SNAP benefit redemptions out of their calculations and see how good the GOP is at “helping small businesses.”

There’s no way to be a “good steward” of those sacred tax dollars and advocate cutting a program which boosts the economy at the same time.   There’s no way to argue that cutting a program benefits us when the result is lower revenues for retailers, who must then pass on cost increases to middle class customers.   No, in this instance it is not rationale to look for “reasonable ways to cut costs to federal programs, including SNAP.” (Amodei)

#2.  Amodei: “I also agree that it is important for American families to make their own healthy diet choices, which will reduce their health care costs and grocery bills and will improve their quality of life.”   What are we to make of this Amodei-ism?

Let’s accept the obvious — the SNAP program is supplemental, and the benefits do not cover all food related expenses for a family. Further, that food purchases constitute a higher percentage of very low income family resources than would be the case in  middle or upper class families.   A USDA in-depth study (pdf) issued in March, 2013 points out:

“The fundamental reality of most SNAP recipients’ lives is that expenses often outstrip income. SNAP households experience both recurring and episodic financial strain that is eased but not alleviated in full by participation in the SNAP program. SNAP allows families to set aside more easily a portion of their resources—SNAP—for food, and to prioritize a healthier, more consistent diet without compromising as much on obligations such as rent, utilities, transportation, and other basic needs. Families in this study often build their monthly budgets around SNAP, allocating their fungible cash resources toward their bills and other, often urgent, financial needs…” (emphasis added)

Bottom line: If families are to have the resources to make those “healthy diet choices” Representative Amodei promotes, then they have to have the resources to do that without fudging the budget on heat, electricity, rent, loan repayments, water bills, and the like.  The recipients find their financial situations “eased” but NOT “alleviated” by the SNAP benefits.  Thus the imagery of the “welfare bum” slouched on the front stoop, with all his “hunger” needs provided for by those sacred taxpayer dollars is just that — imagery.  Imagination, mythology, and down-right mean-spiritedness.

House Republicans who voted to add about $20 billion to the Defense Department budget in their CR, while slashing the SNAP program missed the lyrics:

Can’t you hear my lambs a’callin
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

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Filed under agriculture, Amodei, health