Income Inequality

  • Growth has been good for decades. So why hasn’t poverty declined? By Neil Irwin, June 4, 2014, New York Times: The surest way to fight poverty is to achieve stronger economic growth. That, anyway, is a view embedded in the thinking of a lot of politicians and economists. ‘The federal government,’ Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, ‘needs to remember that the best anti-poverty program is economic growth,’ which is not so different from the argument put forth by John F. Kennedy (in a somewhat different context) that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ In Kennedy’s era, that had the benefit of being true. From 1959 to 1973, the nation’s economy per person grew 82 percent, and that was enough to drive the proportion of the poor population from 22 percent to 11 percent. . .”
  • Income inequality is not the biggest economic threat to women, By Joanne Weiner, June 4, 2014, Washington Post:  “How do we get rid of income inequality and poverty? One rather obvious way, according to the Economic Policy Institute, is to pay people more. ‘Raising wages is the central economic challenge of our time—essential to addressing income inequality, boosting living standards for the broad middle-class, reducing poverty, and sustaining economic growth,’ according to the briefing paper announcing the ‘Raising America’s Pay’ initiative that the EPI is launching Wednesday. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at EPI’s Washington offices. . .”

Public Assistance Eligibility

  • Legislation restricting food stamps, welfare advancesBy Michelle Millhollon, May 21, 2014, New Orleans Advocate: “Welfare recipients would be unable to use their federal benefits at liquor stores, nail salons, bars, cruise ships and psychic businesses under legislation that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday. The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare also tackled food stamp recipients. The panel advanced legislation that would cut off grocery assistance for Tangipahoa Parish residents without small children unless they seek an education or job training. House Bill 1176 would put into state law what already exists in state rules. Welfare benefits aren’t supposed to be used for the purchase of alcohol. . .”
  • Rejecting Bloomberg Policies, New York City Will Ease Some Hurdles to Public AssistanceBy Kate Taylor, May 19, 2014, New York Times: “The new commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration on Monday announced a set of sweeping changes that would remove some work requirements and other barriers to receiving public assistance, cheering advocates for the poor and underscoring the sharp change in direction by Mayor Bill de Blasio away from the welfare policies of his predecessor. In the most significant change announced by the commissioner, Steven Banks, adults without children will no longer have to work full-time to receive food stamps. In addition, the city will start a pilot program to allow people receiving welfare up to five excused absences from their employment programs for illness or family emergency. The agency will also create a system to make calls or send text messages reminding welfare recipients of appointments. . .”
  • Missouri Legislature passes bill lifting lifetime ban from food stamps for drug felonsBy Marie French, May 15, 2014, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “An 18-year-old ban that keeps anyone with a drug-related felony conviction from receiving food assistance from the state would be lifted under a bill sent to Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday. The measure lifts the lifetime ban but imposes a one-year wait after a conviction or release from custody. It also requires that the individual either not need a treatment program, complete one or be on a waiting list. After three drug-related felonies, they would no longer be eligible for food stamps. Christine McDonald, of St. Charles, has been advocating for the state to change the program for more than five years. She is a recovered drug addict who is also blind. She now works to help former prostitutes like herself and runs a charity. . .”

Shift in Government Aid

Poorest Poor Left Out of Government Aid, By Tami Luhby, May 15, 2014, CNN Money: “Many Americans think the poorest of the poor are simply sitting on their couch and collecting an ever-growing government check. Actually, their benefits have been shrinking.Government aid has been shifting to working families just above the poverty line leaving those at the bottom with a very thin safety net. These very poor households have incomes below 50% of the poverty threshold: a single-parent family with two children earning less than than $8,700 a year. This group saw their assistance fall 19% between 1983 and 2010, according to research by Robert Moffitt. . .”

Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards and Fraud – Maine

  • A Maine family’s struggle to beat back welfare fraud allegations, By Luisa Deprez and Sandy Butler, May 2, 2014, Bangor Daily News: “There has been much discussion recently about fraud among Maine residents receiving government assistance. The LePage administration claims fraud is rampant, yet Maine’s attorney general notes that she has prosecuted only 37 Department of Health and Human Services cases in the last three years. Advocates for the poor also disagree, noting that claims of fraud are ill defined and greatly overblown…”
  • Despite federal warnings, program to put photos on EBT cards begins in Bangor, By Mario Moretto, April 28, 2014, Bangor Daily News: “A pilot program intended to strengthen the integrity of Maine’s welfare programs kicked off Monday in Bangor, where some recipients of public assistance funds traded in benefit cards for new ones featuring photo identification. The new project adds a photo ID to electronic benefits transfer cards, which are used like debit cards by welfare recipients. The cards carry funds that can be used to buy food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, and cash benefits through a program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families…”

TANF Applicants – Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania denies 75 percent of welfare applicants, By Kate Giammarise, April 20, 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “The vast majority of applicants for welfare benefits in Pennsylvania are rejected every month, data from the state show, and some blame a 2012 change in state law for sharply increasing the rate at which people are rejected from the program. About 75 percent or more applicants for cash assistance are turned down every month — leaving needy families without aid, advocates say. The change? Beginning in July 2012, state law required applicants to apply to at least three jobs a week — including while their application for assistance is still pending, which can be several weeks. Previously, an applicant would be required to fulfill the program’s work requirement after being approved for assistance, rather than prior to approval…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – Minnesota

Drug tests of welfare recipients prove costly, By Chris Serres, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: “A new state law designed to prevent drug users from receiving welfare benefits could end up costing taxpayers far more than it saves, while inadvertently denying assistance to poor families simply because they are unable to comply with its complex paperwork. Like a recent wave of drug-testing laws passed in other states, Minnesota’s legislation was touted as a way to encourage greater responsibility among welfare recipients while saving taxpayers money. But many county officials and advocacy groups say the reality is quite different: The law contains a bevy of costly local mandates and complicated rules that apply to just a tiny fraction of the 167,000 Minnesotans receiving welfare and other cash benefits…”

Conditional Cash Transfer Program – Brazil

Brazil’s Bolsa Família: welfare model or menace?, By Taylor Barnes, November 17, 2013, Christian Science Monitor: “The streets in this run-down town of 130,000 are nearly empty during work hours. There are few jobs here. But in the wee hours of the morning, bleary-eyed workers pile into buses headed for Rio de Janeiro, about two hours away, or the Petrobras state oil refinery under construction in nearby Itaboraí. But one office in Maricá is bustling: the government benefits center. About 20 women and children fidget on the worn chairs lined in front of the cramped office where notebooks filled with applications for antipoverty programs are stacked almost to the ceiling. Many are here applying for the Bolsa Família conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, a landmark poverty reduction effort in Brazil that has helped raise 36 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty and is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. In Maricá alone, some 6,000 families receive monthly payouts…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs

Drug tests falter as way for states to deny public aid, By Steven Yaccino, October 25, 2013, New York Times: “With safety-net spending under review around the country, proposals to make welfare and unemployment checks contingent on drug testing have become a routine rallying cry in dozens of states. But the impact of drug-testing measures has been limited. Supporters say the tests are needed to protect welfare and unemployment compensation funds as the nation emerges from the recession. But their enactment has often been hampered by legal challenges and the expense of running the programs, which generally uncover relatively few drug users…”

Public Benefit Rules – Michigan

  • State Senate bills would set tougher rules for people on public assistance, By Kathleen Gray, October 17, 2013, Detroit Free Press: “The writing appears to be on the wall for those receiving public benefits in Michigan as two packages of bills aimed at tightening restrictions on those receiving unemployment or cash assistance from the state appear likely headed for Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. Many Republican legislators and their allies hailed the bills as a way to cut down on malfeasance. Many Democratic legislators and their backers, however, characterized the measures as punishing the already disadvantaged. The GOP holds solid majorities in the state House and Senate.  The bills deal with a host of issues: some dictating where those getting cash assistance can use their debit-like Bridge cards; others targeting unemployment benefits fraud, including one bill that seeks to deny unemployment benefits to potential employees — public and private — who either refused to take a drug test or tested positive for drugs…”
  • Michigan Senate OK’s plan to cut off benefits for unemployed residents who fail drug tests, By Jonathan Oosting, October 17, 2013, MLive: “residents who fail or refuse to take a drug test required by a prospective employer could lose jobless benefits under a pilot program advanced Thursday by Michigan’s Republican-led state Senate. The measure, approved largely along party lines in a 28-10 vote, would treat failure or refusal to take a pre-employment drug test as proof that an individual “refused an offer of suitable work.” But it would not require businesses to report results of drug tests unless they choose to…”

Government Shutdown and Affected Services

  • STATE: Shutdown: Big pain in Michigan in less than a month, By Charles Crumm, October 3, 2013, Dearborn Press and Guide: “Michigan can weather a federal government shutdown for a few days, and maybe as long as a month. But some federally-funded programs — food stamps, heating assistance, school lunches, child nutrition — will feel the impact of a shutdown soon, says Michigan Budget Director John Nixon. Nixon held a teleconference Tuesday afternoon to talk about the effect of a federal shutdown on federally-funded programs in Michigan…”
  • Government shutdown: How much will it harm the economy?, By Mark Trumbull, October 2, 2013, Christian Science Monitor: “The US government shutdown that began Tuesday is a nuisance to many Americans and a hardship for legions of federal employees, but its impact on the economy is expected to be only modest – at least at first. That’s the widely held view of forecasters. Economic damage could rise, however, if this partial halt of federal activity starts running longer than a week or two…”
  • Federal help for heating bills, food threatened by shutdown, Kentucky officials say, By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, October 2, 2013, Lexington Herald-Ledger: “Low-income Kentucky families who get federal help with their home heating bills, food for young children or child care could be the first to suffer from the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, officials said Wednesday. Federal assistance for home heating bills is expected to be delayed by a week or more instead of arriving during the first week of November, said Rob Jones, executive director of Community Action Kentucky…”
  • 9 million babies and mothers may be harmed by WIC shutdown, By Devon Merling, October 2, 2013, Deseret News: “The government shutdown is already impacting the vulnerable population of low-income moms and babies across the country who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC…”
  • Shutdown already weighing on low-income Americans, By Joan E. Greve, October 2, 2013, ABC News: “The federal government’s partial shutdown is only two days old, but lower-income families have already been pinched by the ‘lapse of funding…'”

Government Shutdown and Affected Services

  • A federal government shutdown would deliver immediate, long-term hits to R.I., By Phillip Marcelo and Paul Edward Parker, September 30, 2013, Providence Journal: “As Monday’s midnight deadline for the federal government shutdown approached, Rhode Island agencies — from the Navy base in Newport to Head Start programs across the state — braced for impact. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the economic toll on the Ocean State would only increase the longer the congressional impasse lasted. The federal government is the state’s third-largest employer, with roughly 7,000 workers, according to the senator’s office…”
  • A government shutdown could hurt economy more now than it did in 1995, By Don Lee, September 30, 2013, Los Angeles Times: “The last time the federal government shut down, for three weeks in the winter of 1995-96, the American economy felt a jolt but recovered quickly. Things don’t look anywhere near as promising this time around.The nation is currently more than four years into an economic expansion with some momentum behind it. That also was the case in 1995. But this time, things are a lot more fragile…”
  • Park-goers, poor will be first hurt by shutdown, By Joe Garofoli, Justin Berton and John Coté, October 1, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle: “If the federal government doesn’t open for business Tuesday, park gates from Muir Woods to Yosemite National Park will slam shut. Many of the 169,000 federal employees in the Bay Area will be furloughed without pay, after Congress failed to avert the first shutdown in nearly two decades Tuesday night. Those who rely on food programs for the poor could feel the effects within days…”
  • WIC support for moms, babies threatened during shutdown, By Stephanie Condon, October 1, 2013, CBS News: “Low-income mothers, pregnant women, babies and young children who rely on government assistance to purchase food could see their help cut off now that the government is shut down. Nearly 9 million mothers and children receive benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The federal program gives grants to states for supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and to infants and children up to age five who are nutritionally at risk. The program serves 53 percent of all infants born in the U.S…”
  • Lengthy government shutdown would hit seniors, workers hard, By Randy Krehbiel, September 28, 2013, Tulsa World: “Seniors, travelers, the poor – and, of course, Oklahoma’s 48,000 federal employees – will likely be among the first to feel the government shutdown threatened by Congress’ inability to agree on a budget resolution, those who have looked at previous such events say. ‘All of these (effects of a shutdown) seem like inconveniences,’ said Oklahoma State University political science professor Brandon Lenoir, ‘and they would be inconveniences, (except) if the impasse lasts for weeks it becomes an effect … on livelihoods…'”

Public Assistance Programs – Oregon

State officials struggle to reduce need for welfare, food stamps, By Yuxing Zheng, September 8, 2013, The Oregonian: “Jennifer Noonan sits outside behind her apartment on a recent weekday afternoon watching her two young children and their neighborhood friends push each other around in circles in a toy car. Noonan, 23, is a single mother who hasn’t worked since she quit her job two years ago as a play attendant at Fred Meyer. She and her children, Taima Willeto, 5, and Wenona Willeto, 3, live on $523 a month in food stamps, $506 a month in cash assistance for needy families, and they’re also on the Oregon Health Plan. They live in a two-bedroom apartment in east Portland that’s paid for largely through a federal Section 8 housing voucher, with Noonan paying $33 a month…”

Welfare Reform

Taxing hard-up Americans at 95%, September 7, 2013, The Economist: “After her son was born in 2008, Melissa Devilma—homeless, jobless and alone—needed help. The welfare system stepped in: she received $478 in cash and $367 in food stamps each month, along with housing assistance that lowered the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Boston to $131. Including health care, taxpayers subsidised her to the tune of $33,000 annually. Ms Devilma used the money to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. She wants to get off the dole. But she says that many of the other welfare recipients she knows are reluctant to seek work or an education. Life in the system is hardly gold-plated, but it is comfortable enough. Even Ms Devilma admits that, if it were not for her son and the recent expiry of her cash aid, she would rather live on welfare than take an entry-level job at McDonald’s, which she considers unsuited to her level of education. As it is, she would take any job “just so I have that little money to provide for him”…”

 

Jobs Opportunity and Basic Skills program – Oregon

More than half of public assistance recipients in job-training program found employment, report says, By Yuxing Zheng, August 8, 2013, The Oregonian: “Fifty-nine percent of public assistance recipients participating in a job-training program were able to find work, a recent report found. Of 574 participants who finished the program by June 2012, 339 found jobs, the report said. Reliance on public assistance, however, continued for many past participants in the program. The success of such job-training programs is key as state officials struggle to help needy individuals find jobs and get off — and stay off — welfare…”

EBT Card Balances – Massachusetts

Massachusetts cracking down on individuals saving up high levels of welfare or food stamp benefits, By Shira Schoenberg, July 10, 2013, The Republican: “The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance is cracking down on individuals who have saved up high levels of welfare or food stamp benefits. The review by the department is designed to protect benefits for those who need them most, by eliminating a small number of cases in which the benefits are not immediately needed…”

TANF Programs – Kansas, Alabama

  • Rules tighten on TANF recipients, By Scott Rothschild, May 1, 2013, Lawrence Journal-World: “Low-income mothers in Kansas will have to participate in a work program sooner after giving birth to receive cash assistance, according to new rules by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. The changes will ‘bring expectations more in line with what the expectations are in the private sector, since that is what an employee can expect to receive from an employer,’ said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for DCF. The changes deal with a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families…”
  • Committee approves welfare bills to drug test some recipients, prohibit purchases of alcohol, tattoos and tobacco, By Kim Chandler, May 2, 2013, Birmingham News: “The House State Government Committee today approved a bill to drug test welfare recipients with a history of drug offenses. The committee also approved another bill to prohibit people from using welfare benefits to buy booze, cigarettes, lottery tickets or advice on the psychic hotline. Both bills now move to the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would prohibit recipients from using benefits to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets and from using those benefits in bars, casinos, tattoo facilities, psychic parlors or strip clubs…”

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – Tennessee

Critics fear TN bill tying welfare to grades puts kids in harm’s way, By Heidi Hall, April 10, 2013, The Tennessean: “Children in Tennessee could become the first in the nation to determine whether their families receive full welfare benefits — they fail a grade, and the state yanks 30 percent of their cash payouts under a bill the state Senate will take up Thursday. The bill’s sponsor says it’s actually aimed at parents, who can regain benefits after their children fail. They would do that by attending parenting classes or teacher conferences or by enrolling their kids in tutoring or summer school. But in the end, the folks who make pass-or-fail decisions are students and the teachers who grade them. There are no data on how the plan might work because no other state has tried it. But some educators and parents already fear what will happen to children in unstable homes who cost their parents money…”

Public Benefit Reforms in the UK

  • Benefits changes: Warnings as crisis loans scrapped, By Alex Campbell, March 29, 2013, BBC News: “A national scheme to aid vulnerable people in financial trouble is ending just as demand for such help is expected to surge, campaigners warn. Community care grants and crisis loans paid through job centres, as part of the social fund, will end on Monday. Instead, councils in England and the Scottish and Welsh governments are being given funding to provide alternatives. Critics warn demand will rise as the government’s welfare changes kick in. And, they fear, the changes means help for tens of thousands of people will be a “postcode lottery”, meaning the level of aid they get will be dependent on where they live…”
  • Food vouchers to provide emergency help but prevent spending on alcohol, By Patrick Butler, March 26, 2013, The Guardian: “‘Food stamps’ arrive in Britain next month, when tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be issued with food vouchers in lieu of money to tide them over short-term financial crises. Rather than, as now, offering a cash loan, most councils will from April offer new applicants who qualify for emergency assistance a one-off voucher redeemable for goods such as food and nappies. Many of the 150 local authorities in England running welfare schemes have confirmed that they will issue the vouchers in the form of payment cards, which will be blocked or monitored to prevent the holder using them for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling. Several plan to issue charity food parcels to people applying for crisis help, and are preparing to give cash grants to food banks to enable them to take on full-time staff and increase opening hours. Each authority has drawn up eligibility rules, setting out who will qualify for crisis help and the conditions under which it will be given. One plans to make emergency help conditional on good behaviour…”

Conditional Cash Transfer Programs

What Brazil can teach America about fighting poverty, By Mercedes White, March 20, 2013, Deseret News: “Luxury condominiums with tennis courts and swimming pools border the white sands of Rio De Janeiro’s famous Ipanema Beach. Tourists note the striking resemblance to Miami or Southern California. But looking up, away from the ocean, to the homes perched on the cliffs above Ipanema, a very different Rio comes into focus. It is the neighborhood of Rocinha, the city’s largest slum, where precarious looking shacks are stacked one on top of the other. The dichotomy between the posh apartment buildings on the beach and the shanty towns in the hills is a visual reminder of the income inequality that plagues Rio and other Brazilian cities. Brazil has the one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. But the chasm between rich and poor Brazilians is narrowing, according to the World Bank. Between 2003 and 2009, the income of the country’s poor grew seven times as much as the income of Brazil’s rich. The World Bank also reports that during this period the Brazilian poverty rate fell from 42.7 percent of the total population to 28.8 percent. Contrast this with the United States, where more than 80 percent of income growth in the last 10 years has gone to the top 1 percent of earners. Moreover, poverty rates in the United States have remained between 14 and 15 percent of the total population for the last 50 years, according to Census data…”

Aid to Dependent Children Program – Nebraska

  • Lawmakers consider increase in state financial aid to families, By Martha Stoddard, March 6, 2013, Omaha World-Herald: “It’s been 25 years since Nebraska last bumped up monthly payments for parents and children receiving state assistance. On Tuesday, State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln told colleagues on the Health and Human Services Committee that the time has come for another increase. She cast the issue as a part of solving the state’s child welfare problems…”
  • Legislative committee hears proposals that would benefit low-income families, By JoAnne Young, March 5, 2013, Lincoln Journal Star: “Nyatiem Tuty, 29, a single mother of one young boy, nervously faced the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday. She told senators she lives with her mom in a Sarpy County apartment and receives government assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid and bus vouchers…”