Punishing the Poor

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Labor Organizing

February 2, 2009
            New Orleans               The often coercive and restrictive control that states are now exercising over the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) monies that replaced the old welfare system during the Clinton Administration finally got some much deserved criticism, through it was buried, in Jason DeParle’s story on the front page of the Times. 

The recently released figures reporting on public assistance rolls indicated that close to a dozen states, even ones like Michigan and Rhode Island with terrible unemployment, are managing to achieve double-digit reductions in TANF roles.  Despite the “who me?” quotes in the article, the reductions including significant ones in Louisiana and Texas simply smack of meanness.  This continued punishing of the poor, rather than acceptance of the purpose of such assistance and the ability to achieve and stabilize citizen wealth, has had a long tail dragging across more than 40 years now.

Shockingly the news last week that the State of California facing a $40 Billion deficient was simply going to hold back payment of these welfare checks to desperately poor families depending on such checks hardly got yawn, while billions of dollars of bonuses were passed out on Wall Street thanks to taxpayer subsidies.  For all of the talk about who paid the bonuses and was it private investors or public funds, the very fungible nature of the money makes that point a mere academic exercise.  Without one, the other would not have been possible, money being real money after all. 

Yet, the bold and arrogant heartlessness of the California authorities announcement that welfare checks would not go out in a timely fashion for families for whom there is always more “month than money.”  There is no safety net when the net itself is pulled back into the boat!

If states cannot accept their role in delivering critically necessary benefits to poor families, then TANF is not a program that states should be allowed to administer.  TANF may be another program that needs to be nationalized again, because we cannot allow anyone to play fast and loose with the dollars designated for the desperately poor. 

We cannot allow a culture or a government that says that banks are too big to fail and that budgets can be imbalanced, but families can be allowed to starve.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger