Thursday, March 02, 2017

False Economy

Senate Bill #7 (SB7) was introduced on January 19, after the legislature was already in session, after most bills had been put forward. Apparently it was languishing in someone’s back pocket, and that someone wasn’t keen on the idea of the bill getting a lot of advance attention. It was wise to hide this nasty bit of business from the public eye for as long as possible.

Conservatives never object to military spending. Over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, and much of it is wasted. No one ever says boo. The tiny little sliver of the budget that goes to food stamps, however, is a constant source of angst for Republicans. They are unable to accept the fact that trickle down economics are a failure, and that a great many working people in our state can’t afford to pay their rent, pay childcare, and put food on the table all at the same time. Accepting that would mean acknowledging that trickle down is a failure, and we’ll have none of that kind of crazy talk!

Food stamps (properly called SNAP – supplemental nutrition assistance program) are 100% funded by the federal government. The state pays for half of the administrative costs. Only food can be bought with food stamps. One cannot buy diapers, soap, toothpaste – or any non-food item. There is a work requirement. There are strict income (both gross and net) and asset guidelines, and the application process is rigorous. At least 30 states simplify the application process with what is called “expanded categorical eligibility” in order to help more people. NH doesn’t really want to help more people, so we use a limited version of this, and it applies only to families with children.

That means that low wage working families who have income over the gross income limit of 130% of the federal poverty level who have high basic living expenses (like rent and childcare) can be under the net income limit of 100% of the FPL.

SB 7 stipulates that NH cannot ask for or ever receive a waiver for the federal work requirement. There are some towns where that work requirement has been waived, where unemployment is pretty much permanent. Mostly those towns are in Coos County, but there are two in Grafton and one in Carroll County. SB 7 would take food stamps, and any remaining hope away from these folks. SB 7 would eliminate the expanded categorical eligibility. This would affect an estimated 17,000 working families in our state, families already struggling to stay afloat.

State Senator Kevin Avard of Nashua is the main sponsor of the bill, which is model legislation written by a conservative think tank from Florida. Avard is quoted by NHPR as saying that food stamps are a disincentive to work, and that this will get people back into the work force. Except that there already is a work requirement in place, and thousands of food stamp recipients are already working and still don’t earn enough.

Avard also made the astounding statement that a person could have a million dollars in a trust fund and collect food stamps.

No, Senator, this is NOT possible. This is a big, irresponsible, public lie. NH Republicans are far too practiced at telling these whoppers. When expanded Medicaid was on the horizon, State Reps. Neal Kurk and Laurie Sanborn wrote an op-ed that expressed concern that low-income yacht dwellers would take advantage of “free” health care. Has anyone ever found a low-income yacht dweller? Busloads of people from Massachusetts vote in our elections. It’s an endless stream of craven nonsense, and no one in our media ever seems to challenge it.

This bill will save NH taxpayers ZERO dollars. It will cost us plenty.  Remember, NH pays for half the administrative costs of food stamps. This bill will increase those costs. The bill will also mean that NH food pantries, already stretched to the max, will see a huge increase in need. Town welfare officers will see a budget breaking increase in residents requesting help. Town welfare officers testified against this bill for that very reason.

One might think Senator Avard would have a hard time getting cosponsors to sign on to such a loathsome bill. One would be wrong. The Senate co-sponsors are Birdsell, Guida, Reagan, Senate President Chuck Morse, and our own multimillionaire Senator Jeb Bradley. House sponsors are Representatives: Kotowski, LeBrun, Kimberly Rice, and Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper.

Between this and the gun bill, it seems Senator Bradley is afraid of a primary challenge by a hard-core ideologue, so he’s turning into one.

One wonders if the leadership of both bodies understood this bill when they signed on to it. To summarize: this legislation hurts people, hurts children, saves no money, and will in fact cost taxpayers more.

False economy – it’s the NH way. 

published as an op-ed in March 3, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper


nelle said...

Make that 'stink tank' thought this up.

I never handled food stamps, but I adjudicated unemployment claims, as well as worked with low income peeps as part of HPOP. With the former, I could count on one hand (out of over 6,000 cases) the number of people not really interested in finding work. With the latter, it was wonderful to watch people train in a profession - some as RNs - and they came to us looking for training.

The reality is those for whom work is problematic face other issues, and a biggie is access to affordable childcare.

June said...

This is an excellent piece and shows how clueless people like Senator Kevin Avard are about the way the system works. As Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, I am aware of the food needs in our community, and how the burden of providing food will shift to private organizations like NSKS if this bill passes. Thank you.

tworavens said...

Another highly relevant and outstandingly authored piece Susan. It's hard to understand individuals who come up with dangerous and really anti-social bills and legislation, such as the recent "armed and dangerous gun carrier" law. What I've always wondered is why individuals fail to plan or rather, plan on a safety net being provided.

I consider myself to be socially responsible. I don't believe we should allow homelessness and strongly believe in social programs to house and care in every way for those who cannot for themselves. In my reproductive years I made darn sure I never had to face a pregnancy - because I couldn't afford to raise a child singly.

In the 1980's and 1990's I worked in social services and saw far too many females having one too many babies and demanding care. It bothered me and my co-workers when we heard mothers telling their daughters to quickly get pregnant. As women we cannot scream foul unless we start recognizing the difficulties of this really awful world we have helped create.

Rape, incest and other dreadful acts of violence aside, voluntarily making a decision to have a child today is even more questionable and risky than it ever was. It's the elephant in the room and at some point, society is going to have to start a dialogue about it. We can't collectively complain about lack of jobs, housing and opportunity when too many of us are in competition for them. Weekly I see locally very young mothers with multiple children in tow and paying with food stamps. How on earth can they possibly hope to find meaningful education and work for themselves and what possible future or lack thereof do their offspring face.

Tagg Butler said...

The sad part about this Susan? The Repubs claim these cuts will bring down taxes. We can clearly see now, cuts like these make room for increased defense spending. Is there a glass ceiling on defense spending?
Tagg Butler