Archive for Welfare

It’s Lackluster!™

President Obama is an expert at declaring victory and going home. Never mind the blood spilling through the streets of Kabul and Baghdad and Damascus, our work there is done. Domestically, he has officially declared the debate over ObamaCare at an end.

Can we declare victory in the War on Poverty and go home?

McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, has been emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century. John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed — Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others — lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment.

Fifty years after the war on poverty began, its anniversary is being observed with academic conferences and ideological sparring — often focused, explicitly or implicitly, on the “culture” of poor urban residents. Almost forgotten is how many ways poverty plays out in America, and how much long-term poverty is a rural problem.

Of the 353 most persistently poor counties in the United States — defined by Washington as having had a poverty rate above 20 percent in each of the past three decades — 85 percent are rural. They are clustered in distinct regions: Indian reservations in the West; Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population; and Appalachia, largely white, which has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans.

McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity. But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line — 15 percent of the population — it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on.

God, how depressing.

You ain’t read nothing yet:

Fifty years ago today [January 8, 2014], President Lyndon Johnson delivered his first State of the Union address, promising an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Looking at the wreckage since, it’s not hard to conclude that poverty won.

If we are losing the War on Poverty, it certainly isn’t for lack of effort.

In 2012, the federal government spent $668 billion to fund 126 separate anti-poverty programs. State and local governments kicked in another $284 billion, bringing total anti-poverty spending to nearly $1 trillion. That amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three.

Spending on the major anti-poverty programs increased in 2013, pushing the total even higher.

Over, the last 50 years, the government spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty.

Yet today, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty. That’s scarcely better than the 19 percent living in poverty at the time of Johnson’s speech. Nearly 22 percent of children live in poverty today. In 1964, it was 23 percent.

Why?

The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable – giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, etc. – rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty. As a result, we have been successful in reducing the worst privations of poverty. Few Americans live with out the basic necessities of life, yet neither do they rise out of poverty. Moreover, their children are also likely to be poor.

Hard to argue with the facts.

Such as:

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the semiofficial arbiter of business cycles, judges that the U.S. economy began expanding again in June 2009, just over 58 months ago. That means the current stretch of growth, in terms of duration, is poised to drift past the average for post-World War II recoveries.

Yet after almost five years, the recovery is proving to be one of the most lackluster in modern times. The nation’s 6.7% jobless rate is the highest on record at this stage of recent expansions. Gross domestic product has grown 1.8% a year on average since the recession, half the pace of the previous three expansions.

But there is one flicker of good news:

“Perhaps the very fact we’ve been growing slower means we haven’t burnt out all the fuel,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. “By a lot of metrics, the expansion still has quite a bit of room to run.”

Federal Reserve officials forecast growth at least through 2016, which would make the expansion the fourth longest since the Civil War, according to NBER.

Put simply, a sucky recovery is a long recovery, perhaps even the longest. Congratulations Obama, you’re the world’s tallest dwarf.

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So Much Owed to So Many by So Few

In the few remaining minutes we can even remotely trust anything from the Census Bureau…

Buried deep on the website of the U.S. Census Bureau is a number every American citizen, and especially those entrusted with public office, should know. It is 86,429,000.

That is the number of Americans who in 2012 got up every morning and went to work — in the private sector — and did it week after week after week.

Of the 103,087,000 full-time, year-round workers, 16,606,000 worked for the government. That included 12,597,000 who worked for state and local government and 4,009,000 who worked for the federal government.

Why does he single out private sector workers? Don’t public sector workers work too (after a fashion)? Maybe so, but they are paid by the taxes of the 86 million private sector workers.

Which gets to his point:

At first glance, 86,429,000 might seem like a healthy population of full-time private-sector workers. But then you need to look at what they are up against.

The Census Bureau also estimates the size of the benefit-receiving population.

This population, too, falls into two broad categories. The first includes those who receive benefits for public services they performed or in exchange for payroll taxes they dutifully paid their entire working lives. Among these, for example, are those receiving veteran’s benefits, those on unemployment and those getting Medicare and Social Security.

The second category includes those who get “means-tested” government benefits — or welfare. These include, for example, those who get Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Women, Infants Children.

There were 108,592,000 million people in the fourth quarter of 2011 who lived in a household that included people on “one or more means-tested program.”

Those 108,592,000 outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private-sector workers who inhabited the United States in 2012 by almost 1.3 to 1.

This brings us to the first category of benefit receivers. There were 49,901,000 people receiving Social Security in the fourth quarter of 2011, and 46,440,000 receiving Medicare. There were also 5,098,000 getting unemployment compensation.

And there were also, 3,178,000 veteran receiving benefits and 34,000 veterans getting educational assistance.

All told, including both the welfare recipients and the non-welfare beneficiaries, there were 151,014,000 who “received benefits from one or more programs” in the fourth quarter of 2011. Subtract the 3,212,000 veterans, who served their country in the most profound way possible, and that leaves 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers.

The 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private sector workers 1.7 to 1.

How much more can the 86,429,000 endure?

Baby boomers are starting to retire. Each former worker who starts to collect benefits represents a two-person swing. (If ten people work to support ten beneficiaries, and one retires, the difference is now two, nine to eleven.)

One can make a moral case against this (it’s unfair and improper for a nation of 320 million people to be supported by barely a quarter of the population). But one doesn’t need to resort to moral arguments (fear not, liberals). Who thinks this is sustainable? When does the precarious balance come crashing down? Always sooner than you think is the answer.

And only Mark Steyn will be laughing as he cashes his royalty checks.

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What, Really, is the Point?

We barely notice Tom Friedman anymore, much less quote him. The other sages of the Times op-ed page, Kristof, Dowd, et al appear here more rarely still, if at all. The page has shrunk itself to insignificance.

About the only one who anyone notices these days is Paul Krugman. And that’s only because…

Well, have a look:

Yesterday, New York Times columnist and CUNY economics professor Paul Krugman had some very strong words about the position in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s new poverty report that American welfare programs discourage work and “actually reduce opportunity, creating a poverty trap.” In fact, after contrasting the Ryan report’s view on poverty traps with some data on inequality and welfare states, Krugman resoundingly concluded that Ryan’s ideas were a total sham:

So the whole poverty trap line is a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy; the alleged facts about incentive effects are mostly wrong, and in any case the entire premise that work effort = social mobility is wrong.

Despite Krugman’s strong conclusions, however, Ryan’s views about US welfare policies and poverty traps are actually pretty mainstream – cited by people across the political spectrum as a big reason to reform state federal poverty programs. In fact, a New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor expressed these widely-held views on the Old Grey Lady’s pages a mere two months ago:

But our patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position: the more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates. A large fraction, in some cases 80 cents or more, of each additional dollar they earn is clawed back by the government.”

Even more, the Ryan report’s “poverty trap” analysis is based on the work of the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle’s (see p. 7 of the Ryan report), on whom the very same Princeton professor once wrote:

[I]t’s actually a well-documented fact that effective marginal rates are highest, not on the superrich, but on workers toward the lower end of the scale. Why? Partly because of the payroll tax, but largely because of means-tested benefits that fade out as your income rises. Here’s a recent discussion by Eugene Steuerle…

That professor, if you haven’t already guessed, was none other than Paul Krugman.

That could be called mailing it in, but he isn’t even licking the stamp. To have an intellectual debate, you need an intellect. This discussion is a waste of time. Krugman evidently did as much to earn his Nobel Prize in Economics as Barack Obama did for his in Peace.

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Breaking News From the Welfare State

A post not about the stinking pile of poo that is ObamaCare—for once.

No food stamps for fun bags:

New York State Senators have voted to ban the withdrawal of EBT funds in casinos, liquor stores and strip clubs after a passionate debate Tuesday in Albany.

Those caught using their public assistance for any of the above circumstances more than three times will have it revoked for a lifetime, according to the proposed act.

It seems like common sense, doesn’t it? The state senators certainly thought so. Here’s part of Republican Sen. William J. Larkin, Jr.’s plea urging for responsibility and accountability among those using federal assistance:

“It is not ‘their money’! It’s the money of the taxpayers. […] Those who take this and abuse it, don’t deserve to get it [...] “Why should I pay for someone to go to a nightclub or strip club. You wanna do that, find your own money. Don’t use mine or my constituents tax dollars.”

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed reforms of his own in his 2014-2015 executive budget. His version, however, would not punish people on public assistance based on what they buy and the penalties he’s proposing are less severe.

As New York goes, so goes Maine:

The data released by the governor show more than 3,000 transactions from Jan. 1, 2011, through Nov. 15, 2013, at smoke shops, and more than 650 transactions at bars, sports pubs and strip clubs. Those transactions include purchases at the check-out counter and withdrawals from on-premises ATMs. The state does not track what is purchased in EBT transactions.

“This information is eye-opening and indicates a larger problem than initially thought,” LePage wrote in the release. “These benefits are supposed to help families, children and our most vulnerable Mainers. Instead, we have discovered welfare benefits are paying for alcohol, cigarettes and other things that hardworking taxpayers should not be footing the bill for.”

We’ve been going through the same nonsense here—worse:

A Granite Street woman was charged with drug trafficking Thursday afternoon after police said they recovered nearly 19 grams of heroin stuffed into her bra.

Police said 37-year-old Kelly Jean Gagnon also had 13 Massachusetts EBT food stamp cards and 13 Suboxone pills, which are prescribed to counter heroin addiction, stashed away in her first-floor apartment at 11 Granite St.

Electronic Benefits Transfer cards are commonly used by drug users and dealers in lieu of cash, according to police.

Really?

A Dorchester man accused of selling crack cocaine door to door had 22 packets of the drug in his underwear and a $200 EBT card he bought from another man when he was busted, police report.

Kelvin Barrow, 29, drove in a vehicle registered in Maryland to three separate locations in Dorchester and Mattapan Thursday night, conducting what police allege was “a drug delivery service.”

He was pulled over for driving with a suspended license. Later, cops report, they also found drugs and the EBT card on him. Barrow told police that he purchased the card from another man for $100, according to the police report.

Different strokes for different folks:

After recently legalizing marijuana in the state of Colorado, many people became upset over rumors that shops that sell medical and recreational marijuana would be allowed to have EBT-ready ATM machines, which would allow welfare recipients to get cash for their purchases. Recently, legislation approved the use of EBT benefits at marijuana shops.

State Senator Vicki Marble does not support improper use of government welfare funds being available to support recreational marijuana usage. Republican supporters have tried to add strip clubs and marijuana shops to a list of establishments that do not allow EBT cash withdrawals.

Republicans. The party of buzz-kills.

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Weed is the New Welfare

Those of us lucky enough to have Howie Carr on radio (New England, and pockets of the country elsewhere), heard about welfare abuse in Maine yesterday.

It sure sounded like welfare abuse in Massachusetts, maybe with a Down East accent:

They were at smoke shop ATMs when they used their welfare cards to withdraw cash. At race tracks. At tattoo parlors. Even at Disney World-area resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

One example after another of apparent spending by Maine’s welfare recipients was contained in data released by the state last week.

Lawmakers immediately called it misuse. Abuse. Fraud.

But it can also be called something else: completely legal.

You might be surprised to learn that thus begins a defense.

[U]nder the rules, recipients are still allowed to buy whatever they want elsewhere, even if what they buy elsewhere is the same thing they would have bought in one of the prohibited places, including alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

In fact, a brochure for TANF recipients and the website that recipients use to access their accounts both make one thing clear: “Any item may be purchased using your cash benefit account.”

It’s an allowance that has been around as long as the TANF program itself.

What made the Howie Carr show different is that he talked not to a Maine MSM hack, but a conservative journalist who actually did the reporting.

Among his stories:

Maine Welfare Cash Spent in All 50 States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands…

Maine Welfare Cash Spent at Liquor Stores, Bars, Strip Clubs and Smoke Shops

Maine EBT Cards Used at Bowling Alleys, Tattoo Parlor, Pet Store…

Welfare Jackpot: Gambling with TANF Cash…

Welfare Cash Spent at Funtown Splashtown, Aquaboggan…

But entirely legal!

And you think Maine is bad?

An interesting debate in Colorado concerning marijuana shops was just resolved in a way that goes against what the owners of pot stores wanted. Colorado’s Republican legislators proposed to add stores that sell recreational or medical marijuana to the list of places where recipients of public assistance couldn’t use their EBT cards at ATMs.

Democrats on the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee voted along party lines to allow the use of public assistance cards on ATMs in pot shops. Their reasoning is that many neighborhoods are “banking deserts” with few bank outlets and few ATMs. State Senator Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) explained, “I’m not comfortable limiting that access until I’m certain we’ve done that due diligence to make sure people can access their benefits when they need to.”

Because who doesn’t go to a head shop to do their banking?

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Obamavilles Springing Up All Over

Doing to American health care what he’s already done to American prosperity:

An alternative way of measuring poverty shows that nearly 2.8 million more people are struggling across the country than officially calculated, the U.S. Census Bureau reports – and California has by far the biggest share of people in poverty, eclipsing states such as Mississippi and Louisiana.

The alternative yardstick, known as the supplemental poverty measure, is different from the official poverty rate in a few key ways: It takes tax credits and other government benefits into account. It also counts necessary expenses such as child care and out-of-pocket medical costs.

In addition, it considers the different costs of housing from state to state. That makes a big difference in California, where the broader measure counts more than 8.9 million people living in poverty between 2010 and 2012 — far higher than the 6.2 million tallied the official way.

The alternative measure found that 16% of Americans, nearly 50 million, are living in poverty, versus the 15.1%, or roughly 47 million officially counted.

Here, BTL is torn. His first instinct is to tease Obama and the Democrats (especially California Democrats) for their historic levels of poverty despite years in office. (Fox Butterfield, is that you?)

But his second instinct is to observe that this ain’t your granpappy’s poverty:

According to data contained in Census Bureau charts “Extended Measures of Well-being: Living Conditions in the United States, 2011” in 2011, 80.9 percent of households below the poverty line own a cell phone and 54.9 percent own a landline phone.

More than 96 percent of households below the poverty line owned a television and 83.2 percent owned a videocassette recorder (VCR).

Air conditioning cooled 83.4 percent of households with incomes below the poverty line and microwaves and stoves heated the food of 93.2 percent and 96.2 percent respectively.

Nearly 98 percent of such households owned a refrigerator, but just 26.2 percent owned a food freezer and 44.9 percent owned a dishwasher.

Additionally, 68.7 percent of households in poverty owned a clothes washer and 65.3 owned clothes dryer.

Those poor people—having to own a VCR! Consigned forever to watch reruns of “Who’s the Boss?”

Now, I won’t say that the lifestyle of welfare recipients could be confused with that of Bill Gates or George Soros. But they do sound better off—way better off—than many recent college graduates.

Does it sound right to you that almost one in every six Americans lives in poverty? It does not to me. Either I’m wrong, or the definition of poverty is wrong.

Even the Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature is looking twice:

The Massachusetts House today will take up a welfare reform bill that, at long last, may actually constitute real reform.

The bill, House 3737, follows the contours of a Senate measure that won passage earlier this year, and requires most recipients to at least look for work, while also implementing several anti-fraud measures, including photo identification on benefit cards, requiring Social Security numbers, and calling for state workers to check on the status of accounts with high balances, those with undeliverable addresses, and those that have not been accessed for a long period of time.

At the heart of the legislation is the creation of a “pathways to self-sufficiency program” which will be mandatory for all able-bodied welfare recipients age 18 and older who are not in school full-time or already participating in an education or training activity.

[T]he bill would require case reviews for those with benefit balances of $1,500 or more, and allow the state to recoup balances in excess of $2,500.

The emergence of substantive legislation on welfare reform follows abundant evidence that Massachusetts’ system is riddled with deficiencies that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in fraud.

You could call them on their cell phones to make your enquiries; and if their washing machines or microwaves are too loud, you could email their computers.

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If You Like Your Welfare, You Can Keep Your Welfare

What he meant to say:

The first month of the new health law’s rollout reveals an unexpected pattern in several states: a crush of people applying for an expansion of Medicaid and a trickle of sign-ups for private insurance.

This early imbalance — in some places, nine out of 10 enrollees are in Medicaid — has taken some experts by surprise. The Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid to cover millions of the poorest Americans who couldn’t otherwise afford coverage, envisions a more even split with an expanded, robust private market.

“When we first saw the numbers, everyone’s eyes kind of bugged out,” said Matt Salo, who runs the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “Of the people walking through the door, 90 percent are on Medicaid. We’re thinking, what planet is this happening on?”…

The yawning gap between public and private enrollment is handing Republicans yet another line of criticism against President Obama’s health overhaul — that the law is primarily becoming an expansion of a costly entitlement program.

“What planet is this happening on?” Indeed.

Untitled

This was never going to work, but if it was ever going to come close—close enough to lie about—people who didn’t need health care had to enroll in expensive health care plans to subsidize those who do need health care, and “overuse” it.

The website is just a hospital screen obscuring the festering wounds, the oozing pustules, deliberately embedded in the Abortable Care Act.

PS: File under Death by a Thousand Cuts:

A U.S. appeals court in Washington Friday struck down part of the Affordable Care Act, ruling mandated coverage of contraception “trammels” religious freedom.

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, found in favor of the owners of Freshways Foods and Freshways Logisitcs, who challenged the contraceptive mandate on the grounds it violates their exercise of religious freedom under the First Amendment.

Referring to the healthcare reform law as “the behemoth known as the Affordable Care Act,” the court said the case was not about the law’s “constitutional authority.”

“Instead, we must determine whether the contraceptive mandate imposed by the Act trammels the right of free exercise — a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties — as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We conclude it does.”

“Trammel”: great word. “Behemoth” isn’t bad either.

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Barack “Heartless Bastard” Obama

Strong, maybe. But how else would you describe someone who takes money away from “folks”?

Starting Friday, Joyce Lewis and her family will lose $44 from their monthly food stamp benefits.

The food stamps buy a lot of economical rice-based meals for the family — four adults and a grandson who live with Lewis in Spring Hill, Florida.

Occasionally, when her grocery store is running a deal, Lewis indulges the family with spare ribs or chicken.

The benefit — totaling $800 for four adults — never lasts Lewis and her family a full month.

“When I get to the end, we always run out. I try to go to all the food pantries,” Lewis said.

Food stamp benefits will be trimmed by $5 billion starting Friday, when a temporary bump-up enacted during the recession expires. Millions of families will be affected.

What about that free money he once gave away in Detroit from his “stash”?

But you may have noticed something hidden in the language. It’s not a cut; it’s an end to a increase (a “temporary bump-up”). This was all part of Obama’s “stimulus” package. Nancy Pelosi and Obama defended these payoffs as job-creators. Hey, someone’s gotta stock those packages of Doritos and Slim Jims.

Do I sound heartless myself? If the shoe fits… But at least I never promised you could keep your doctor. And I would just ask those receiving these benefits: how you liking your recovery? We’re into our fifth year of it, but you-all know how that feels:

Enrollment in food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has soared.

Some 47.6 million people, or nearly 15% of the population, get them, according to September federal data. That compares to 26.3 million, or 8.7% of the population, in 2007.

If the extra few bucks are job-creators, why doesn’t Ms. Lewis have one? Why is she still on food stamps, and why are there now two of her for every one there used to be?

Forty-seven million people get food stamps; 93,000,000 may lose their health insurance plans. You know what Stalin called people like that? A statistic.

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The E Word

Let’s pause in our incessant bashing of President Obama (briefly, I promise!) to bash everything he stands for:

Let’s drop the whole notion of “entitlement.” Just eliminate it. Politicians, pundits and academics who talk about entitlements would then have to name the actual programs and argue their merits and demerits. This would encourage clarity and candor. Of course, that’s why it won’t happen.

Social Security, Medicare (health insurance for the elderly) and Medicaid (health insurance for the poor) aren’t the only big entitlement programs. Here are 12 of the largest in 2012, ranked by the number of recipients, according to the Office of Management and Budget. (Note: CHIP stands for “children’s health insurance program.” Child nutrition is mostly subsidized school meals. Supplemental Security Income aids the aged, blind and disabled.)

1. Medicaid/CHIP: 63.2 million

2. Social Security: 55.8 million

3. Medicare: 49.9 million

4. Food stamps: 46.6 million

5. Child nutrition: 35 million

6. College loans: 11.3 million

7. Unemployment insurance: 8.9 million

8. Supplemental Security Income: 7.9 million

9. Veterans compensation: 3.8 million

10. Civil service retirement: 2.5 million

11. Military retirement: 2.2 million

12. Farm subsidies: 1.3 million

There’s overlap. Most Medicare recipients receive Social Security. Some unemployed get food stamps. After eliminating double counting, about half of U.S. households have some federal benefit.

Sometimes, there’s overlap of the overlap: one—many more than one—could conceivably receive Medicaid/CHIP, Food Stamps, Child Nutrition, and SSI, among a few other possible “entitlements”.

That’s no accident. If Americans knew the true cost of the Welfare State, they would plotch. As every good money launderer knows, you have to break the money roll into bite-size chews. But when Mitt Romney called out the shameful, unsustainable situation where almost half the people suck from the teat of the state, he was roundly slammed. So, maybe America knows, but just doesn’t give a hoot.

In 2012, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone represented 44 percent of spending; all entitlement programs were 63 percent. But it’s hard to control entitlement programs because their constituencies are so large.

However:

[T]he popular view of entitlement has little standing in law. In a 1960 decision, Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress can alter Social Security benefits as it pleases. The court made it clear in later decisions that “the payment of Social Security taxes conveys no contractual rights to Social Security benefits,” says a Congressional Research Service report. Legally, other entitlement programs are similarly vulnerable.

They should be.

[W]e’d be better off ditching the notion of entitlement. It has outlived its usefulness. Programs shouldn’t be shielded from constructive criticism and change just because they’re hiding behind an obsolete label. Given most programs’ popularity and big constituencies, draconian cuts are unlikely and undesirable. But huge savings over decades can result from modest shifts in eligibility requirements and benefit levels. These could be phased in to make them more palatable and less disruptive to the economy.

Say, don’t we have a “transformative” president? Sound like just the man for the job!

Too much change is being forced onto too little government. Deadlocks persist because, without Democratic entitlement concessions, Republican tax concessions are implausible. Ideally, the president would seek to change public opinion by confronting its contradictions. But he has done little, leaving the White House and Congress in a state of perpetual warfare.

It’s the permanent campaign. Governing is boring. (Told ya we’d be bashing Obama again before you know it!)

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Illegal Eagles

You might think the reputation of the Massachusetts welfare system—euphemistically named the Department of Transitional Assistance (what’s transitional about it?)—had plumbed its deepest depths with the revelation that Speed Bump, Tamerlan Tsanaev, had had his extended palm stuffed with fifties and hundreds (thereby making his multiple murders and mass maimings “state-sponsored” terrorism).

But you would be wrong: those deepest depths just got deeper still:

State welfare officials — despite a widely touted crackdown on fraud — never even returned the call of a Dedham cop who reported EBT benefits flowing to a house loaded with drugs and cash.

Police Detective Bob Walsh alerted the state Department of Transitional Assistance that welfare benefits were being paid to a Dorchester woman whose live-in boyfriend was busted in a raid that netted heroin, cocaine, more than $65,000 in cash, an EBT card and WIC and MassHealth documents in their apartment and cars.

A drug task force led by Dedham police raided the couple’s Dorchester apartment in late March and found $65,225 in cash inside a safe, a bureau and a shoe holder, as well as approximately 52 grams of heroin and 40 grams of cocaine, according to police reports.

Odelio Sepulveda-Guerrero, 34, a native of the Dominican Republic, was arrested, and he was indicted last week on a slew of drug charges, including trafficking heroin and cocaine, prosecutors said.

But cops report also finding an EBT card with the name of Sepulveda-Guerrero’s girlfriend. The woman asked police to help her “locate the paper work for her WIC program so she could get milk,” according to a police report.

Cops believe Sepulveda-Guerrero was using the apartment as a home base for a drug-dealing enterprise — using two SUVs registered under aliases used by the woman, according to Walsh.

At one point during cops’ surveillance, they saw Sepulveda-Guerrero sell cocaine to an undercover officer while he was with “his girlfriend and two young children,” according to a Dedham police report. Cops also found Puerto Rican birth certificates, a Boston Housing Authority Certificate of Homelessness dated 2011, a Venezuelan passport and a Social Security card under a variety of names and aliases.

Which prompts a question in my mind…

“I wanted someone to do something — or at least look into it,” Walsh told the Herald. “Finding that much cash in the presence of documents that would suggest the occupants were receiving public assistance … I felt a report should be made.”

But five weeks passed without a peep from the state — not even a return call to Walsh on the case of the couple, both illegal immigrants, according to immigration officials.

That’s what I was afraid of. For it’s not bad enough that the state sat on this information and did nothing. Not bad enough that decent, worthy recipients of “transitional” assistance are discredited by these leeches (whose blood-sucking must deprive someone of something). What makes it worse is that these people are not only ineligible to receive a dime, they’re ineligible to be here at all.

The DTA has desperately tried to demonstrate it’s turning the corner after a series of blistering scandals. They include overpaying food stamps recipients by $27 million and then shelling out $3.4 million in overtime pay to fix the glitch. A stunning inspector general report found $25 million in EBT money went to recipients who may not have been eligible. And a Herald review uncovered that DTA couldn’t locate thousands of EBT recipients.

Oh, did I say the state sat on the information and did nothing?

That was yesterday; this is today:

Welfare-fraud investigators were jolted into action yesterday after a front-page Herald report said they failed to follow up when a Dedham cop told them he found an EBT card and paperwork for other benefits during a raid on a Dorchester apartment loaded with drugs and cash.

Dedham police Detective Bob Walsh said a representative from the state auditor’s Bureau of Special Investigations called him yesterday after the Herald reported his tip to the Department of Transitional Assistance went five weeks without an answer.

“He told me he had just been assigned the case, and would follow up with me sometime next week,” Walsh said.

After refusing to tell a Herald reporter on Wednesday how it handled the tip, the DTA said yesterday it received Walsh’s complaint March 30 and referred it to the auditor’s office April 1.

Sepulveda-Guerrero was indicted on state drug-trafficking charges, and a separate federal case for re-entering the U.S. after being deported. The woman was not charged with a crime.

The DTA has touted its own anti-fraud unit after a slew of embarrassing reports, including $27 million overpayment to food-stamp recipients and $25 million to people who may not have been eligible. But the agency sought to distance itself from the case yesterday. “DTA is not a law enforcement agency and does not investigate criminal matters. … If the tip is criminal in nature, it is immediately referred to BSI,” it said in a statement.

It is unclear how the woman obtained an EBT card in her true name, as illegal immigrants are ineligible for welfare.

So, the investigator had “just been assigned the case”, while at the same time it had been assigned over five weeks ago. Okay…

It’s debatable, but I think this story is worse than the bad joke that DTA now stands for Department of Terrorist Assistance (though it does, literally). Tens of millions of dollars wasted, lost to fraud. Let me see a show of hands who believes that’s a complete accounting. Anyone? Me neither.

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Dispatches From the Front Lines of Socialized Medicine

This one, finally, is urgently anticipated!

Nearly 900,000 people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claim to the payments rather than undergo a tough medical test, latest government figures show.

The 878,300 who decided not to have an official assessment of whether they were fit for work was more than a third of the total number of people claiming sickness-related benefits.

The statistics also revealed that some claimants cited conditions such as “blisters”, “sprains and strains” and “acne” as preventing them from having a job.

More than 46,120 people claimed incapacity benefit because of “behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol” while 29,130 claimants cited drug use.

As well as the 878,300 who chose to drop their claims, another 837,000 who did take the a medical test were found to be fit to work immediately, while a further 367,300 were judged able to some level of work.

Only 232,000 (one in eight of those tested) were classified by doctors to be too ill to do any sort of job.

Can you imagine trying that here? Requiring people medically to prove their disability? If two-thirds of layabout Brits were perfectly fit enough to hold a job, what would the numbers be like in the US?

But temper your expectations:

Mr Duncan Smith has admitted, as revealed by The Telegraph, that ministers have effectively given up trying to reduce the overall welfare bill and that the government is simply trying to “manage” the rise in payments.

Judging by our record numbers of food-stamp recipients, we’re not even trying to manage the system.

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SNAP, Cackle, Poop

Remember the old children’s ditty?

Everybody’s doing it, doing it, doing it.
Picking their nose and chewing it, chewing it, chewing it.

I have a modern replacement.

Everybody’s doing you, doing you, doing you.
Picking your pocket and screwing you, screwing you, screwing you.

The financial crisis is over and the recession ended in 2009. But one of the federal government’s biggest social welfare programs, which expanded when the economy convulsed, isn’t shrinking back alongside the recovery.

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the modern-day food-stamp benefit is known, has soared 70% since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012. Congressional budget analysts think participation will rise again this year and dip only slightly in coming years.

The biggest factor behind the upward march of food stamps is a sluggish job market and a rising poverty rate. At the same time, many states have pushed to get more people to apply for SNAP, a program where the federal government picks up the tab.

The food-stamp rolls have swollen since 2008 and are projected to stay that way for years. In 2008, SNAP enrollment was 28.2 million. Unemployment peaked in October 2009 at 10% and was at 7.7% as of February, but SNAP kept growing.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts unemployment will drop to 5.6% by 2017 but that SNAP enrollment will drop slightly to 43.3 million people, down 4.5 million from the current level.

That makes it very different from the other big federal support program, unemployment insurance, which shrinks as the economy improves. Continued jobless claims dropped to 3.1 million in February after peaking at 6.6 million in May 2009.

The recession ended in June 2009, as I never tire of reminding you, and unemployment has been ticking downward—slowly, sort of—yet all but one of the welfare programs in the above chart is still rising.

Just to give you a sense of perspective:

The government spent a record $74.6 billion on SNAP benefits last year, roughly equivalent to the combined budgets of the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Department of the Interior. Roughly 45% of recipients are children. In 2007, the government spent $30.4 billion on the program.

We are spending 150% more on food stamps four years after the recession ended than we spent on food stamps a year before it began. It’s Obama’s economy, we just pay for it.

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