by Max Brantley
Interesting article in Slate, focusing on Georgia as the poster child for a harsh fact — as the economy worsened and the jobless rate rose, welfare rolls didn't grow because of the growing political clout, particularly in the poorest states, on the part of those who are fed up with the "takers" and moochers. Sick, needy, children, unfortunate be damned.
The subject is vital in Arkansas as a new Republican-majority legislature prepares to take over. Just this morning, one of the most regressive of the continent, a putative evangelist from Conway name of Jason Rapert, was lamenting on Twitter abot Gov. Mike Beebe's tiny proposed increase in state spending, primarily to meet court orders on school funding adequacy, when there's a $138 million gap in Medicaid. Not that Rapert wants to close THAT gap mind you. He certainly doesn't want to expand Medicaid to more poor people. And he absolutely and perpetualy opposes the federal Affordable Care Act which brings the promise of adequate health coverage to a quarter-million more Arkansans, mostly from working families. He just wants to cut spending, doesn't really matter much where, though health care for working poor is at the top of his list.
Rapert's compassion is highly selective, we've long known. He's a steady apologist for Uganda, for example, where the desire to imprison and even execute gay people would curl the hair of someone who truly was a devotee of core Biblical principles. Let's just hope his reading doesn't include anything about Georgia's so-called welfare state. From Slate:
Even as unemployment has soared to 9 percent and 300,000 Georgia families now live below the poverty line—50 percent higher than in 2000, for a poverty rate that now ranks sixth in the nation—the number receiving cash benefits has all but evaporated: Only a little over 19,000 families receiving TANF remain, all but 3,400 of which were cases involving children only. That's less than 7 percent, making Georgia one of the toughest places in the nation to get welfare assistance.
What's Georgia's secret? According to government documents, interviews with poor Georgians, and those who work with them, it's a simple one: Combine an all-Republican state government out to make a name for itself as tough on freeloaders; a state welfare commissioner so zealous about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Zero candy bars to emphasize her goal of zero welfare; and federal rules that, regardless of who's in the White House, give states the leeway to use the 1996 law's requirement for "work activities"—the same provision that Republicans have charged President Obama wants to unfairly water down—to slam the door in the face of the state's neediest.
What this has created is a land that welfare forgot, where a collection of private charities struggle to fill the resulting holes. For the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that means sending out more than 3 million pounds of canned goods, bread, and other groceries each month to churches in and around Atlanta to help feed the state's growing number of poor and near-poor. The food bank’s staff also helps arrange for free tax prep services, and helps the city’s poor apply for food stamps and Medicaid. One thing they don't discuss, though, is welfare. "We don't talk about TANF anymore," says food bank advocacy and education director Laura Lester. "We don't even send anybody in to apply, because there's just no point."
It's a state of affairs that's left an increasing number of Georgians with nowhere to turn.