House Rich, Dirt Poor

New Orleans    During farm crises, as prices get lower for crops and property taxes get higher, the old saying in rural areas about being “land rich, and dirt poor” comes to mind, especially in the states that have property taxes.  Talking to a relative about his aging father’s house, he mentioned that his son would love to have the house but couldn’t afford the likely $30,000 in carrying costs to hold onto the property in insurance, maintenance and property taxes.  Talking to a fair housing specialist recently about changing neighborhood demographics triggered by natural and speculative gentrification, it was hard to escape the fact that rising property taxes were making it harder for older, especially fixed income families, to avoid trying to cash in as the market rises, because they have little choice when their combined taxes and insurance have them against the wall, and they’ve become “house rich and dirt poor” as well.

How can we continue to avoid the regressive nature of property taxes as an income source for local governments when it so disproportionately burdens lower income and working families and exacerbates the gap between the real rich and the rest of us?

So, first things, first.  A progressive tax is one that equally distributes the burden based on income, like for example the income tax, not because it is a fixed percentage, but because it is based on ability to pay.  The wealth tax being promoted by some politicians has this notion at its heart.  A regressive tax is set at a flat rate and therefore takes a larger bite out of lower income or fixed income families than it does for the rich.  The best examples are sales taxes, especially when they do not exempt food and medicine, classic ACORN campaigns I might add, and property taxes, because these taxes do not make any allowances for income or the ability to pay.

Looking at property taxes, if they increase willy-nilly without any exemptions or caps for fixed income and lower income families, as gentrification raises its ugly head, there’s no way a family can survive without serious bucks.  Gentrifiers and developers are callous about this issue.  They will rationalize that the lower income family made a couple of dollars when forced to sell and will be better off somewhere else without taking into account their love and seniority for their community, travel distances, and the likely lack of affordability of alternative housing for them when they are dislocated, much less the value of diversity in the urban scene.  All of which will create cities of the rich, if there are not diverse sources of city income and hard and fast public policies to allow everyone to be able to live and thrive in the city.

Inability to grow food on farms will get someone’s attention someday.  Maybe even the problem of boomers and their families not being able to save their homes because of the burdens of taxes will be noticed eventually.  We might hope change will be triggered as well by displacement due to gentrification in cities that is happening throughout the world now.

Hope is not a plan, so sadly it may be too late for most people.

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Arkansas Playing Gotcha with the Poor to Cut Them Off of Medicaid

New Orleans  In a sordid and shameful episode a few weeks ago Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pridefully announced that the state had managed to bar 4300 people from health care support through Medicaid because of its new work requirement policies.  Seema Verma the head of the federal Center for Medical Services (CMS) who had approved this draconian attack on the poor played clueless cheerleader.

As more information come forward the real evil that underlies this shame emerges.  Let’s look at the facts.

Arkansas began the experiment by exempting two-thirds of the eligible recipients from having to report work hours, knowing this was going to be a problem.  30,000 people were then required to report.  16,000 didn’t report any qualifying activities to the state, either work, training or volunteer time.  In fact, according to the New York Times, “only 1200 about 2% of those eligible for the requirement, told the state they had done enough of the required activities in August, according to state figures.”  That’s pickle-poor!  It screams to a state failure not a people failure, and it foretells thousands more that will be denied coverage.

State officials tried to cover their rear ends, claiming they had done everything possible:  mailings, calls, and even putting out fliers some places where Medicaid patients congregate.  Even more ridiculously they touted the fact that they send emails and posted on social media sites.  Who are they trying to fool?  Arkansas ranks 48th among all of the states in the US in terms of connectivity and 30% of the population is underserved.  230,000 people in Arkansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.  Who wants to guess whether embedded in these sorry statistics lie most of these lower income Medicaid recipients?

Shockingly, the Times then quoted Amy Webb, the chief communications and engagement officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services saying, “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”  Yeah, really?  She doesn’t mention that the state legislature forbade any use of media to increase enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.  Nowhere do they claim they were on the television or radio airwaves.  As the manager of KABF, a 100,000-watt noncommercial smack dab in the middle of the state with more than 50,000 listeners per week, more than half of them lower income, I can absolutely tell you we never received a public service announcement from them, much less any support for a real information promotion of the program.

Every other indication is one of abysmal failure.  The state conceded even when they had email address, only 20 to 30% opened the email.  Call centers said many didn’t answer their phones.  A professor from New York visited three counties in August and interviewed 18 people and 12 were unaware that work requirements even existed.  Other experts noted that an incentive system, even a punitive one trying to get more people into the workforce, won’t work if people don’t know about it.  Duh!

Adding injury to injury, all of the work hours are required to be submitted through the internet.  That’s the same internet thing that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans are not able to access, and even with access are not necessarily all-pro at using the state’s clunky website.

State officials in Arkansas need to start some truth telling.  These so-called work requirements are nothing of the kind.  This a pure and simple way to push eligible people off of Medicaid.  Hopefully a coming court hearing will stop this hypocrisy.

In the meantime, this is a scandal that none of us should be able to stomach.

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Please enjoy Johnny Guitar from Twisted Wheel.

Thanks to KABF.

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