Tag Archives: Social Programs

Meals On Wheels: Canary in the GOP Coal Mine

The entire “skinny budget,” which somehow manages to keep lots of fat on the Pentagon budget, offered up by the current administration is a mass of mischaracterizations packed into a myriad of outright lies.  The assault on programs like Meals on Wheels is a handle providing a way to understand the totality of the right wing Individualism of the GOP. It’s there, blatantly set forth without excuse, and as emblematic of the Culture of Selfishness as can be imagined.

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalms 71:9

“Trump’s proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Development Block Grant, which provides $3 billion every year for, according to The Washington Post, “targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs.” Among those is the Meals on Wheels program, which provides meals—and vital human contact—for older, impoverished Americans, many of whom are largely home-bound. According to MOW, one in six American seniors struggles with hunger, and the organization claims it saves the nation about $34 billion a year in medical expenses by decreasing the rate of falls for seniors. The program gets the vast majority of its funding from non-government sources, but the proposal still seems unnecessarily harsh.” [Esquire]

And the rationale for all this would be what, please?

“After a reporter brought up the Meals on Wheels controversy, Mulvaney at first tried to subtly evade the question. But then, as is the wont of this administration, he fell head over glutes explaining that while Meals on Wheels “sounds great,” the administration couldn’t keep wasting money on programs like it that “don’t work.” As in, feeding the elderly apparently isn’t showing strong enough empirical benefits to merit continued federal spending by this White House, which is now deeply wedded to evidence-based policymaking.” [Slate]

There are a couple of things to unpack herein. First, empirical benefits are hard to compile without first establishing a matrix of goals.  Benefits are precisely why the program “sounds good,” the goal is to feed people, and people are being fed in their own homes. In fact some 2.4 million elderly persons are participating in the program at a total cost of $1.4 billion. 500,000 of these are veterans of our Armed Forces. A study in New York City reports that the average age of a participant was 80, meaning the person was likely born around 1937, and if the person is a veteran he or she likely saw service during the Cold War into the Vietnam Era. How goals are framed makes a difference.

If the goal is to provide 2.4 million elderly people one meal per day with a minimum of 625 calories, then we can say it’s working.  If our goal is to be that no elderly Americans go a day without a sustenance level meal for a relatively inactive person, then, no the program has too many people on waiting lists to say it’s an unqualified success.

“The need is growing rapidly, and federal funding has not kept pace. The network is already serving 23 million fewer meals now than in 2005, and waiting lists are mounting in every state. At a time when increased funding is needed, we fear that the millions of seniors who rely on us every day for a nutritious meal, safety check and visit from a volunteer will be left behind.”[MOWAm]

At this point it needs to be said that Federal funding is combined with charitable and individual donations to keep the program literally on its wheels.  Further, the only logical way to pronounce the services a failure is to absurdly assert that because seniors get hungry the next day the program isn’t meeting its goals. However, it’s crucial to take a look at the second feature of GOP rationalization for pure selfishness.

Ultra-right wing conservatives are fond of explaining that services like Meals on Wheels could be better done by local charitable institutions, ignoring the fact that as mentioned above the Federal funding is not the primary source, and IN FACT is supplementary to local charitable funding sources. Catholic leadership, for example, is wary of the implications of the administration’s budget priorities, and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada is providing some 2,000 daily meals to those on its list. Reducing funding for this single program by one third would have a profound, and profoundly negative, impact on its services.   There are times when the intersection of governance and religious institutions illustrates the point that while private donations are the core, when the need overruns the capacity then it’s time for a little help from friends around the country.  This Cult of Selfishness only works in the ethereal world of ideological fantasies, it doesn’t deliver a meal, even one of a minimum of 625 calories, to a single individual anywhere.

What makes the skinny budget so alarmingly obnoxious is that curtailing funding for Meals on Wheels is merely illustrative of a budget building process based on what the rich want to pay, rather than on what our society needs to be a truly great nation. It is a budget process to Make American Mean Again.

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TANF in Nevada: Myths and Real Numbers

When the Department of Health and Human Services ran the numbers for TANF recipients in a comprehensive FY 2010 study it reported 10,269 “active case” families in Nevada. [DHHS pdf]  20% of those were single individuals, 35.4% were two member households, 23.7% were in three member households, 12.6% were in four member households, another 5.2% were in five member households, and 3.2% were in six member households.  Thus, 59.1% of Nevada’s active TANF cases involved homes with two or three members.   Thus much for the right wing delusion that people on “welfare” lie about just “making babies” for the lack of anything better to do.  The “average” household size for TANF recipients in Nevada is about 2.6 persons.

Who is receiving TANF benefits?  In Nevada about 41.5% of the active cases did not involve an adult. 48.4% involved one adult, and 10% included benefits for two or more adults in the household.

Looking at the numbers for TANF recipients and the percentage distribution of TANF families by the number of recipient children we find that 45.5% included one child, 28.5% two children, 14.4% three children, 6.4% four children, 3.5% five children.  (Table 4)

The same trend is visible if we look at TANF recipient families in Nevada in which there was no adult eligible for assistance, 43.9% of the cases included one child, 29.2% two children, 15.4% three children, 7.3% four children in the household, and 4.1% with five or more children in the family.  (Table 5)

The picture emerging from the Nevada numbers is further illustrated in subsequent tables for TANF recipients in households with one adult (Table 6) and with more than one adult (Table 7) — most cases involve individuals with one child, and the households receiving TANF support declines thereafter.

Those attempting to imply that TANF beneficiaries are “those people in the inner city…” (a well known Dog Whistle) won’t find much support in the Nevada numbers either.

Of the active cases in FY 2010 35.6% were of Hispanic heritage (of any race), 31.8% were White, and 27.1% were African American. 2.1% were Native American, 1.8% were Asian, and 1.6% were Other.  (Table 8)  To put it another way, 67.4% of Nevada’s active TANF cases were NOT African American households.  If we look at the adult TANF recipients the numbers are essentially the same — 23.7% are of Hispanic descent, 42.1% are White, 26.8% are African American, 2.6% are Native American, and 2.8% are Asian. In short, 65.8% of the adult recipients are NOT African American.  [Table 21]

There are 19,518 children eligible for TANF benefits in Nevada, and 42% are of Hispanic descent, 26.3% are White, 26% are African American, and 1.7% are Native American. [Table 35] Again, the face of welfare in Nevada certainly isn’t predominantly black.  Sadly, these are the figures which cause some to complain that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be repealed or replaced with a more stringent test for U.S. citizenship.  However, this argument can’t be buttressed from these numbers alone because the underlying assumption that the parents of the child are necessarily “illegal” can’t be determined from the overall statistics.  Further, the ramifications of repeal or replacement of the 14th Amendment is a societal and legal discussion which deserves its own forum. And, for emphasis on this point — of the 19,518 children included in active TANF cases in Nevada 98.3% are U.S. citizens, and 1.7% are “qualified aliens.” [Table 40]

And then there’s the Teenaged Mother nonsense — also not in evidence if we look at the numbers from Nevada.  There were 3,875 adolescent recipients of TANF benefits of whom 82.9% were NOT parents, meaning the Teen parents comprised 17.1% of Nevada’s TANF recipients.  [Table 10]

What do we know so far?  We know that large families aren’t “on” TANF, and we know that for the most part these families aren’t African American, they aren’t “illegals,” and we know that most of them aren’t the stereotypical adolescent parents.

Why might older adults in the households receiving TANF benefits not be recipients themselves?  64.8% of the “assistance units” (think of a household) had no adults included in the Nevada TANF program. 24% of these were ineligible because they were receiving SSI benefits, and another 75.4% because they could not prove citizenship.  [Table 12]  There goes that whopper again — non-citizens signing up for “welfare.”   Nevada’s rules are simplicity itself: “All persons applying for or receiving TANF must provide satisfactory evidence of citizenship or qualified non-citizenship status.”  Taking a look at the issue from another direction, of the 7,034 adult recipients of TANF benefits 91.7% are U.S. citizens and 8.3% are “qualified aliens.” [Table 26]  “They” are obviously NOT “coming here to get on welfare.”

One of the more depressing numbers shows up in Table 30, in which we find that of the active case adults (7,034) approximately 41.1% are working.  This says perhaps too much about the level of wages and the kinds of jobs available for TANF households that a person could be holding down a job and still be below the poverty line in terms of TANF eligibility.    We’d expect the 52.4% of the unemployed and the 6.5% of the discouraged workers to be earning less than sub-poverty wages, but not necessarily that 41.1%.

49.8% of the male TANF recipients and 38.9% of the women are employed, and still not earning enough to break over the poverty line.  [Table 30]

And, down goes another bit of right wing mythology about families receiving public assistance in Nevada.

Imagine our right wing friend sputtering, “but but but…they don’t work!”  Not. So. Fast.  In bureaucrat-ese the important element is the PRP, or in English — a personal responsibility plan.  Here is the Federal summary of what’s required in a Personal Responsibility Plan:

“The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) established a framework for creating a time-limited, work-based assistance system that emphasizes a “work first” approach. It requires states to meet federally mandated work participation rates by engaging recipients in federally defined activities. All recipients with a work requirement must participate in one or more of nine “core” activities, of which vocational education is one, for 20 hours per week. Recipients with a child age six or older are required to participate for 30 hours per week and two-parent families are required to participate for 35 hours if they don’t receive federally-funded child care assistance and for 55 hours if they do. For any hours required over 20, recipients can participate in core activities for more hours or in three additional non-core activities, two of which may encompass vocational education — job skills training directly related to employment, and education directly related to employment (for recipients who have not completed high school or the equivalent).”  [DHHS] (emphasis added)

In other words, in order to qualify for TANF assistance the individual must be working, seeking work, in a job training program, or in school.

Now, what do we know?  No, there aren’t any Big Families involved in our major public assistance program, and they aren’t predominantly African American, and they aren’t that stereotypical teen mother, and they aren’t non-citizens or undocumented workers, AND they aren’t allowed to “sit on the stoop drinking beer and listening to boom boxes.”

But wait, how about all those “other benefits” which are commonly tacked on in an attempt to demonstrate that Welfare Queens (not the corporate or ranching variety) are leaching us dry?

Of the 10,269 active TANF cases in Nevada as of FY 2010, some 99.3% were eligible for medical/health care services.  Assistance slides rapidly down hill thereafter.  73.7% were eligible for SNAP (food stamp) benefits, receiving an average of $425.04.  Zero (0%) were receiving public housing, and only 14% were receiving any form of rent subsidy.  7.9% were receiving some form of federally subsidized child care, and another o.6% received state or locally subsidized child care assistance. [Table 13]

The adults are not, as a rule receiving any disability benefits, because of the 7,034 recipients in the report 99.6% received no disability benefits.  [Table 23]  Those ‘reports’ which lump all the possible benefits together and purport to demonstrate that Welfare is a Great Drain, aren’t drilling down to the actualities of TANF benefits and their distribution.

About 4.8% of TANF households in Nevada have some ‘outside’ resources, but as Table 14 demonstrates, not much.  The average child support contribution is $211.04 per month, and for the 22.3% who have cash resources the average is about $202.76.  We can’t add these together because not all households receiving child support payments are those in which there are other cash resources, and vice versa.

The report does tell us that adults receiving TANF benefits are young, but not necessarily very young.  9.4% are under 20, 50.5% are between 20-29, another 25.3% range from 30 to 40, and 12.5% are between 40 and 49.  Only 2.3% are over 50 years of age.  [Table 18]

The pattern holds by gender as well. 1,369 men were TANF beneficiaries, and most were between the ages of 20-49. Only 27.9% were older than 40 years of age.  [Table 19]  5,639 recipients were women, of whom only 10.8% were under 20.  53.7% were between the age of 20 and 29, 23.9% were between 30 and 39, and 11.6% were over 39. [Table 20]

One part of the common perspective is established in the Nevada figures, adult recipients are predominantly single. 63.9% are single, 23.6% are married, and 6.8% are separated.  Another 5.4% were divorced, and 0.3% widowed. [Table 22]

We should also refrain from making generalizations about the levels of education achieved by TANF recipients.  Of the 7,034 adult beneficiaries 1.7% have no formal education, 37.6% have some education between grades 1 and 11; 54.1% have completed grade 12, and 6.6% have some education beyond high school. [Table 25]

There another myth that need challenging — that those who accept public assistance are dooming their souls to a life time of subservience to the government and destroying their work ethic. Again, the real numbers don’t square with the mythology. The TANF families in active cases including children receive assistance for an average of 17.9 months in Nevada. The state of South Dakota has the highest average in the report, some 50 months.  [Table 41]

Even if we consider the stereotypical (and highly inaccurate) face of welfare as the African American teen mother then her 75.3 years of life expectancy would mean that in Nevada she would spend only 17.9 months of her expected 900 months of life on this planet receiving TANF benefits, or about 1.9% of her life span.

If we look at the tables for children receiving TANF assistance in Nevada the picture remains similar. There are 4,266 children receiving benefits (in homes where the adults are not). The number of months for which benefits are paid averages out to 28.1. [Table 42] Hardly a life time of dependency.  Can we argue that the child who received benefits might at some point in his or her life also require assistance as an adult?  One could, but that would require assuming that children once beneficiaries of assistance will necessarily require assistance as an adult.  Even if we accept this questionable proposition, the numbers dictate that the assistance will not be a life time dependency but a short term benefit of 17 to 18 months on average.

As we examine the active TANF cases for Nevada in FY 2010 there are several issues that should be resolved by the figures.  Welfare in Nevada is NOT  Black, it is not necessarily a teen mother, it is not undocumented workers, it is not a life time subservience, it is not lucrative, and it is not draining the Yankee Work Ethic (whatever that might be) from the souls of the recipients.

Only in the highly generalized, ideological, world of right wing propaganda does the mythology drive the perception of welfare as a trap net.  The real numbers tell a very different story, in which we do provide a safety net for our citizens, and by extension our economy.

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