Tag Archives: safety net

DEFICIT LIVES,By Louise Annarino, October 14, 2012

14 Oct

DEFICIT LIVES, By Louise Annarino, October 14, 2012

The effort to make Americans fear deficit-spending could be better used discussing what we should do to stop deficit-living. Core areas of our cities, small towns and rural areas are struggling to survive. Poverty has dug a hole, a social and personal deficit, in which large groups of our populace reside. The stimulus has stopped the slide into the hole for most, offered a hand up and out for many, but too many see no way out.

How did we get here, with holes so deeply torn in our social fabric that the middle class has fallen through those holes along with the impoverished? When we did we stop building and strengthening America so all of us could keep the American Dream alive? Instead we allowed charlatans in the think-tanks, lobbyist firms, and the media to paper over the holes, and keep us entertained so we would not notice that the pretty prints they used were mere paper. It started out slowly, but with fall after fall widening the holes entire sections of the fabric split wide open, until the entire fabric was in danger of slipping out of our hands. President Obama took a firm grip, and sewed stimulus patches made of strong material over the holes, all the while warning us that the cloth was worn and need to be replaced; that the holes had so weakened the fabric that major change was needed,and that the fabric could otherwise tear again. But those who met secretly during his inauguration to plot his own down-fall through those holes, pledged to keep them open.

Republicans blocked President Obama’s efforts to select and install a new fabric to support our lives. Many confuse this fabric with the ‘safety net’ strung below it; but, it is not just the safety net which is in danger from Republican policies and the Romney-Ryan Budget, it is the entire fabric strung above the net. Yes, the safety net is struggling; but, not because it was not well-designed, nor well-built, but because it is overloaded by those who fell through holes in our social fabric. It was never intended to hold so many of us. The one way we can relieve stress on our safety net is to replace the social fabric and pull as many Americans off the safety net and back up into the middle class as we possibly can. This is what President Obama intends to do, what he has been doing, and what he will continue to do if re-elected. We must cast our vote to re-elect him president, and cast our vote to elect Democrats to the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and to state offices who support his vision and will work with him to get the job done. What we do not need are those who insist we cannot replace nor repair the whole cloth; but, must simply remove people from the safety net through privatization of medicare, social security etc.

The National Poverty Center reports that the poverty rate was  22.4 percent, or 39.5 individuals during the 1950’s. “These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million individuals, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent.” http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/.

I still recall the photos of starving children, eyes wide with uncertainty, on the porches of Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta which stirred President Lyndon Johnson to declare a War on Poverty in the 1960s, which led to the decline of poverty. President Ronald Reagan’s stance in the 1980’s was that we had lost the War on Poverty;and, that social safety net benefits did not justify its cost. We soon saw poverty levels increase.This Reaganomics view of poverty prevails today. But a new paper from Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan says it’s missing everything. “We may not have won the war on poverty, but we are certainly winning,” they write. When they looked at poorer families’ consumption rather than income, accounted for changes in the tax code that benefit the poor, and included “noncash benefits” such as food stamps and government-provided medical care, they found poverty fell 12.5 percentage points between 1972 and 2010.” In effect, they are explaining that the safety net does work.

The problem is NOT the safety net but growing income inequality in our social fabrichttp://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-12/record-u-dot-s-dot-poverty-rate-holds-as-inequality-grows During the last decade the highest quintile of earners saw their real income rise 1.6% and the top 5% saw their incomes rise 4.9%, while the middle class saw their incomes decline 1.9%. The very lowest incomes, those in the safety net, saw their incomes stay the same. None of this data means the income of those in the safety net is adequate. Nevertheless, the extremely poor (those with less than 1/2 of official poverty level earnings), remained at 6.6% of the population. The middle class has not fallen that low because President Obama’s policies stopped the fall. As more people returned to work in a steady rise over the past nearly 4 years, the fabric of America grows stronger as well.

More is yet to be done, as President Obama reminds us. We cannot reduce the deficit and continue Bush tax breaks for top earners. In fact we must increase their income tax rate,including an increase on capital gains. The estate tax must not be eliminated but increased for those at the highest earning bracket, who are the only persons currently required to pay estate tax, it having been eliminated for lower income earners decades ago. And we must end the round of ceaseless war which benefits military contractors, and corrupt government officials at home and abroad. President Obama, as Vice-President Biden affirmed in his recent debate with Congressman Paul Ryan insists that American troops will be out of Afghanistan in 2014. He suggests that we instead, rebuild America’s education and transportation systems, repair and further develop American infrastructure, invest in small business development and manufacturing, research and develop green and innovative technologies, reduce and redesign our military capabilities for more cost effective security at home and abroad.

We can do all this and reduce the economic deficit. But, we must also end our willingness to overlook poverty, especially for those most greatly affected by it, our women and children.We cannot grow our economy when our children are not given the tools they need to compete and succeed. The National Poverty Center reports: “The poverty rate for all persons masks considerable variation between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.

Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty. (See the U.S. census chart below)

“There are also differences between native-born and foreign-born residents. In 2010, 19.9 percent of foreign-born residents lived in poverty, compared to 14.4 percent of residents born in the United States. Foreign-born, non-citizens had an even higher incidence of poverty, at a rate of 26.7 percent.” http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/.

Children Under 18 Living in Poverty, 2010
Category Number (in thousands) Percent
All children under 18 16, 401 22.0
White only, non-Hispanic 5,002 12.4
Black 4,817 38.2
Hispanic 6,110 35.0
Asian 547 13.6

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, Report P60, n. 238, Table B-2, pp. 68-73.

Those like Paul Ryan who argue we must reduce the deficit by reducing the safety net, decreasing income and benefits, weaken labor unions, reduce the size of government and lay-off government workers, privatizing government responsibilities as means to reduce government costs are “whistling Dixie” in more ways than one. Paul Ryan voted for unfunded Medicare Part D, which President Obama, unlike President Bush, has now included in his budget and improved through Obamacare by closing the donut hole. Including this expense within the Obama budget is really a disclosure of previously hidden Bush budget expenses. This is also true for the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which were passed as emergency measures, not budget items; included by President Obama in his budget and added to official budget deficit figures, but not done so by President Bush.

One must also note that Bush war-funding was historically unprecedented. To pay for World War II, Americans bought savings bonds and put extra notches in their belts. President Harry Truman raised taxes and cut nonmilitary spending to pay for the Korean conflict. During Vietnam, the US raised taxes but still watched deficits soar. President Bush did nothing to control the burgeoning deficits of war. Republicans and Democrats, unwilling to leave troops in the field without funding, settled with uncompromising Republican leadership and allowed this strategic undercounting of the deficit to go unabated and continued to vote for emergency war-funding, outside the regular budget bills. The willingness to kick the can down the road has become a hallmark of Republicans as they block every Democratic bill to increase jobs, reduce deficit, and stimulate the economy during the Obama administration. They are not ashamed , but proud of this tactic in their strategy to make  President Obama a one-term president. In the recently released video of Mitt Romney talking with his well-heeled donors in May he takes this tactic a step further,when he said the Palestinians were not interested in peace, the chances of a peace agreement was remote and the whole issue should be kicked down the field. Kicking problems down the field seems to have become an accepted Republican strategy. The Bush tax cuts added some $2.8 trillion to the national debt, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Congressman Paul Ryan voted for those cuts. To his credit, Ryan also backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout, most of which has been paid back, and the auto bailout.http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/is-paul-ryan-really-a-fiscal-hawk/261170/. I mention this because it is disingenuous and hypocritical to blame the deficit on President Obama and democrats in Congress.

I first noticed this Republican disregard for current reality and for balanced budgets during 6 months of debate over Medicare reform in early 2003. I had falsely believed that Republicans were fiscally more conservative than Democrats. Clearly,I was wrong. Reagan, I was aware, had little to no regard for fiscal responsibility, but he had once been a Democrat after all !

Like many others, I saw the need for prescription coverage for seniors and hoped new legislation would allow the government to negotiate for lower costs and formulary control similar to V.A. cost-control efforts. Big Pharma lobbyists blocked, and continue to block such an effort. The bill came to a vote at 3 a.m., just minutes before it was scheduled to close, the clock was stopped for 3 hours with the bill losing, 219-215 while Republicans on the floor, and including President Bush by phone, strong-armed congressman to change their vote. “Then-Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) claimed he was offered campaign funds for his son, who was running to replace him, in return for a change in his vote from ‘nay’ to ‘yea.’ After controversy ensued, Smith clarified no explicit offer of campaign funds was made, but that he was offered ‘substantial and aggressive campaign support’ which he had assumed included financial support.” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/is-paul-ryan-really-a-fiscal-hawk/261170/.

At about 5:50 a.m. the bill passed the House 220-215. The bill itself was finally passed in the Senate 54-44 on November 25, 2003, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 8. Now, Romney and Ryan threaten to eliminate Obamacare and its improvements of medicare, including Part D; plan to privatize medicare and social security. If these programs are more costly than they need be it is because of Republican refusal to rein in excess costs businesses extract from the program.

Medicare Part D did provide prescription coverage but did not reduce costs as much as it could have because of what it failed to include: it prohibits the Federal government from negotiating discounts with drug companies, and it prevents the government from establishing a formulary. It did, however, provide a subsidy for large employers to discourage them from eliminating private prescription coverage to retired workers (a key AARP goal). Obamacare now provides subsidies to small businesses which makes their overall provision of health care insurance affordable. Efforts to include negotiating costs for drugs under Obamacare was blocked by Republicans.

Clearly, it is not Obama’s efforts to reduce medical and insurance costs which makes these medial social fabric programs a drain on government coffers, but the effort of Republicans to protect and expand financial gain of private service providers. President Obama and Congressional Democrats do not seek unfair advantage over private providers; but seek to stop unfair advantage, fraud and abuse by such providers. Obamacare is already predicted to save medicare $716 billion in such provider and insurance company abuses. That money is being channeled to provide more preventive, cost-free health care services for medicare users. This is how we create a stronger social fabric for the middle class. Improving and increasing medicaid coverage is another part of strengthening American fabric.

During an economic downturn, individuals lose jobs, incomes drop, state revenues decline, and more individuals qualify and enroll in Medicaid which increases program spending. However,data indicate that declines in state revenues were a much more significant factor for state budget gaps than increases in Medicaid spending. “Total state revenues dropped by 30% in FY 2009 compared to total Medicaid spending increases of about 7.6% in that year,” http://www.kff.org/medicaid/upload/7580-08.pdf.

Today, 50 states plan or are implementing a new policy to control medicaid costs in multiple areas. State revenues have shown positive growth fro the last 7 quarters, as the unemployment rate continues to drop (now 7.8%) and the GNP continues to improve. States must continue to make delivery of service changes designed to improve care and control costs, thanks to Obamacare. Its “maintenance of eligibility” requirements generally prohibit states from restricting Medicaid eligibility or tightening enrollment procedures. Obama’s focus on wise and educated restructuring of programs for maximum efficiency and best practices in care delivery are another part of strengthening the American fabric.

But, and this is important, these improvements take time. They must however occur if the American Dream is to survive. While government works to  balance budgets, streamline and improve services, reduces fraud and waste it must never forget the impact of income inequality on those African-American, Latino and immigrant single-mothers. we must help them raise their children out of the safety net and up onto the social fabric of the middle-class. We must provide preventive health care, women’s reproductive health care, and children’s health care to everyone in America. We must be certain every child is well-fed, provided with stimulating day-care and pre-schools to ready them for a top-notch education. They need warm clothes for winter, safe after school and summer programs, neighborhoods free of crime and violence. We must not only show them a way out of poverty, but strengthen and empower them to follow the path. I am reminded of the United Negro College Fund motto “ A Mind Is a Terrible Thing  to Waste.” Our American middle-class motto must be “ A Child is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”  President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden would weave this motto into the fabric of America. They will not kick American children down the road, until the deficit is paid off. They will not continue and increase income inequality with tax relief to those who don’t need it. They will reduce the economic deficit AND the human deficit, by reducing income inequality.  That is how we strengthen the American fabric for all of us.

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OBAMA IS EASY TO FOLLOW:,By Louise Annarino, October 9,2012

9 Oct

OBAMA IS EASY TO FOLLOW, By Louise Annarino, October 9, 2012

 

Let’s talk about the safety nets Romney-Ryan (even Bill O’Reilly – http://voice4america.com/articles/2012/10/08/the-rumble-2012-bill-oreilly-vs-jon-stewart.html ) would shred. As a newly licensed attorney working at The Columbus Legal Aid Society during the Carter and Reagan Administrations, I represented those who had been wrongfully denied safety net benefits such as food stamps, Aid to Families With Dependent Children or AFDC, and General Relief. I understood the value of these programs. Having been terminated from my earlier job as a social worker at Marysville for  Women Maximum Security Prison and wrongfully denied Unemployment Benefits I relied on general relief and food stamps (I could eat), a compassionate landlady willing to defer rent (I did not become homeless) until my appeal had been heard, and a bank manager willing to refinance and defer my car payments ( I could continue my job search) for 3 months.

 

My former employer justified my termination and attempted to block my unemployment benefits because of the Black Studies programs I had implemented, and the trusting willingness of inmates to use me as an intermediary during their prison take-over. After a 3 month wait for a decision on my appeal regarding unemployment benefits, the appeal board found no wrongdoing on my part and granted full benefits. Until then, I had to rely on the social safety-net many of my fellow citizens rely on today.

 

Each month I stood on line with hundreds of other food stamp recipients to prove my income source, cost of rent/utilities/medical expenditures etc. The longer I was on public assistance the less money I received since I became poorer, and could pay fewer bills. I was no longer able to afford a doctor visit or fill my prescriptions for IBS, and had my phone disconnected. Consequently, I had fewer receipts to prove expenses. The amount of food stamps declined, but I still received $111 per month in General Relief benefits(this amount has barely risen in 30 years). These programs have been altered in scope, purpose. TANF (block grant program to help move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance) program description by Franklin County Jobs and Family Services actually contains a statement “this is not an entitlement.”  As if the working poor feel entitled to ANYTHING.

 

I was very appreciative of the safety net. And,I was lucky. I was soon back on my feet with a job managing a Walden Book Store, while I continued looking for a job in my professional field, Student Personnel Work in Higher Education. Others who had been standing in line with me every month were not so lucky. They had children so could not afford to take a job paying less than their AFDC  and lose medicaid coverage for their kids.

 

Who were these persons? Women and children, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly, those between jobs and ineligible for unemployment benefits or appealing benefit denials. They became my clients when I joined Legal Aid. It was difficult enough to help them when Carter was president; whenReagan was elected it nearly became impossible.Reagan defined those using the safety nets “Welfare Queens”. If such a majestic  figure lived among my clients I never saw hid nor hair of her. I saw poverty which made me weep:

-a 48 year old man who looked 90 after working in the mines since he was 16 years old, fighting for Black Lung Benefits. His one room shack on Columbus’ south side lacked insulation and drywall; winter wind pushed through every crack, robbing the makeshift coal-fired iron stove he used for cooking and heating of any warmth. He slept on an uncovered box spring, without a mattress, sheets or a pillow. His only furniture, a small square table and a single hard chair, greyed with use. He insisted I sit on the chair while he stood during our interview, and I drank the coffee he brewed just for me from his single tin cup. By the end of that day, my colleagues and I had brought in a spare mattress, sheets,blankets, a pillow, plates and cups. When I won the appeal for food stamps and  Black Lung benefits he brought a gift he had made for me to my office, a blue teddy bear stuffed with dried grass. He was a noble man, not a welfare queen.

 

-a 97 year old woman whose earliest memory was of her legs dangling as she sat at the back edge of the wagon carrying her family west to Nebraska Territory. When I won her food stamps appeal, she invited me to share the first baked potato she had been able to buy in years. She was overjoyed at her stocked pantry and asked me to celebrate with her. She was a noble woman, not a welfare queen.

 

-a 76 year old recent widow facing eviction after the bank foreclosed on her home by summary judgement. Her husband had handled all finances. They lived on their social security,reduced by his death. When a bank sent her a credit card in the mail,she misunderstood and thought it was somehow related to her husband’s insurance pay-out. She used it to but gifts for her grandchildren, which she had never before been able to afford doing; and gifts for the nursing staff and others who had helped he through her husband’s illness. Within the first month she had used the entire limit stated and stopped using the card. Then the bills came. Then the demand letters, Then the foreclosure notice. Then the lawsuit. Then the eviction notice. She told no one, ashamed of her naivety and ignorance of financial matters. A  visiting neighbor caught her crying one day and called me. I filed an appeal and the bank settled  the appeal by agreeing they would not act upon their lien on her un-mortgaged property until her death. She could remain in her home until she died. She was a noble woman, not a welfare queen.

 

Then, President Reagan ordered the Social Security Administration to remove every disability recipient from the roles and require them to reapply and prove they were still entitled to benefits. He was certain that welfare fraud, and especially disability fraud, were rampant even though studies showed that the welfare fraud rate was a mere 1/4 of 1%. The Savings and Loan fraud was much more of a problem and caused huge economic losses across the country. Today, as then,Wall Street’s and the banking and mortgage systems’ fraud rate is much higher than any problems caused by safety net recipients; and, with much more severe consequences to the entire world, as we recently discovered. Deregulation of these industries opened up highways for fraud among the investors and their banks, investment houses, and mortgage companies. The impact of President Reagan’s off-the-roles disability order?

-a 37 year old blind from complications of untreated diabetes with severe heart abnormalities was removed from disability, became homeless, lost food stamps because he had no permanent address, lost medicare coverage, could not buy insulin or needles, and died from diabetic coma and heart attack. My appeals for food stamps, temporary emergency housing, and restoration of disability benefits were granted in his favor 2 weeks after his death.

 

When I listen to Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Riley state how compassionate they are, how those who DESERVE help should get it but through private enterprise not with your hard-earned tax dollars, how BIG GOVERNMENT is creating and increasing the deficit; BUT, THEY WILL NOT RAISE TAXES on the top 2% whose rate are the lowest in 30 years, how they will budget MORE money to buy military equipment but not vote to make the veteran’s safety net stronger and call it strengthening the military I want to join Jon Stewart and say  these people live on “BULL SHIT MOUNTAIN”  where welfare queens threaten their very existence. Human beings of great dignity are using the safety nets, and they deserve government support to put food in their mouths and a roof over their heads as much as those living on  Bullshit Mountain deserve tax breaks and government support to accumulate and build their wealth.

 

President Obama, those who live on “bullshit Mountain” say, stole $716 from medicare to pay for Obamacare. What they don’t say is Obama did not cut  $716 billion from medicare but saved it through reduced provider reimbursements and by curbing waste, fraud and abuse. Both Romney and Ryan agree their administration will allocate the exact same amount, $716 million from “medicare cuts” to reduce the deficit, as was done in the Republicans’ FY 2013 budget, which Ryan authored. While Romney-Ryan bemoan Big Government fraud, President Obama has been busy eliminating it.

 

How did President Obama budget that savings? He used it to pay for Obamacare. He closed the ”donut hole” created by Republican’s unfunded Medicare Part D. Medicare now provides, free or without co-pay for preventive care and tests for:

-annual wellness visit

-tobacco use cessation counseling

-screenings for bone mass measurement,cervical cancer, pap smear and cervical exam,cholesterol and other cardiovascular screenings, colorectal screenings, diabetes, HIV, prostrate cancer

-mammograms

-flu shot,pneumonia shot,and hepatitis B shot

-medical nutrition therapy to manage diabetes or kidney disease

Full details can be reviewed at http://www.healthcare.gov/law/features/65-older/medicare-preventive-services/index.html

 

President Obama is not stealing from medicare since the funds remain within the budget to increase,improve,streamline and lower cost of services to the government and for recipients. It is Romney-Ryan budget which does steal this amount from medicare to pay down the deficit, so they can justify not fairly increasing taxes on the top 2%. They insist only by cutting the safety net can they reduce the deficit. President

Obama has shown us a better way! Yet, Republicans, led by Ryan-Boehner-Mitchell et al continue a disinformation campaign of massive proportions and block every effort by President Obama to improve our economy, create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure,reduce the deficit, and keep a new and improved safety-net in place. What is truly amazing is how well our president is doing despite these obstructionists.

As my friend Carol Mason wrote me this morning: “Have you read Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book ‘No Ordinary Time’“? It is the story of FDR’s presidencies during those “unordinary times.” President Obama is, I learned, a student of FDR’s terms of office. And this “unordinary” time Obama inherited may be why he sought insight from FDR’s years and experience.

 

“…the notion that an intelligent, ethically minded leader of goodwill, planning strategically, moving within a BIG picture, hoping to solve BIG problems, would not be easy to “follow.” It’s a complicated, interconnected mess of circumstances one must navigate, to lead a country the size and scope of America. Goodwin revealed a level and almost unfathomable scope of information FDR worked with that virtually no other human being had the collective knowledge of. And it was from this unique perspective that he master-minded a strategy and led the tactical charge for pulling America out of the Depression and on the winning side of the Second World War.

 

“I trust in President Obama’s intelligence, his integrity and his desire to make change for the good. And I have seen over time, how his modest behavior, though not flashy enough for some, has–behind the scenes–gotten a lot of things done.” Carol and I agree that Obama is easy to  follow after all!