Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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Double Whammy on the Desperate in Ontario

ACORN Canada Board Meeting

Hamilton         The ACORN Canada board and annual general meeting was in full force before the biennial convention was scheduled to begin in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton is a former steel-making, industrial city along Lake Ontario, roughly midway between Toronto, the queen city of Canada, and Buffalo, New York.  Hamilton is having a revival of sorts, but that has also meant more pressure on affordable housing for low-and-moderate income families in the city.  It wasn’t long in the leadership meeting before these issues came front and center in the conversation.

Lower income families are caught in a double bind on housing between rapacious landlords trying to take advantage of galloping gentrification and new anti-poor policies of the conservative government in the province led by Doug Ford, something of a Trump-wannabe.  In Ontario clawbacks are still king, unlike British Columbia where ACORN led a victorious campaign to stop “clawbacks,” which are forced deductions in welfare-related payments to offset any income received by recipients of aid.

We’re not talking big money, but it’s critical for family support.  In Ontario, a single person on welfare receives $656 monthly; a single person with one child, $941; and a couple with two children, $1,173. A single person on ODSP or Ontario Disability Support Program receives $1,098 monthly; a single person with one child, $1,515; and a couple with two children, $1,791.  Getting a little bit extra in some month would be a godsend, and certainly if the policy were designed to support independence, rather than acting punitively towards the lower income, it would be seen as a godsend.

Landlords in Hamilton, like one of the largest in the downtown area, Malleum, with whom ACORN has been campaigning, specialize in evicting renters or renovictions, claims that apartment units are being renovated in order to remove tenants.   One of the main tactics in renovictions has been to offer tenants a couple of hundred dollars in moving or relocation money by making the case that they are going to be evicted anyway, so they might as well take the money to move because of the extra expense.

The Hamilton ACORN leaders told the story of one of their members, named Elizabeth, who had agreed with Malleum to relocate and find another place, and accepted the money to pay for the move.  She duly reported her changing address and the moving payment to the welfare.  The day she moved she went to collect her check and found that it was zero.  The province had clawed back every cent claiming that the moving money was actual income, leaving her with nothing but the double whammy of extra expenses for moving and relocation and no income support for the month.  Outrageous!

The leaders bounced around various ideas to stop this two-pronged attack on lower income families.  Could they block this at the Hamilton level, since it was unlikely that they could win at the provincial level?  Could they get a credit union to create an account or have some other third party, take the payments when negotiated fairly rather than used to facilitate evictions, so that the money would not count as income?

One-minute leaders were talking about policies like rent control, landlord licensing, inclusionary zoning, and other anti-gentrification measures to protect tenants, but the next minute they were dealing with the real-world immorality and family crises fomented by existing policies with little purpose other than to punish.

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