Paul Ryan Has a Plan for the Poor. It’s Terrible.

How his 2015 budget could sink America’s neediest deeper into poverty.

Tony Alter/ Flickr

House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has lately rebranded himself as an advocate for the poor, albeit with his own makers-versus-takers, Ayn Randian twist. He recently issued a lengthy study of federal anti-poverty programs and over the past year and a half he has embarked on a “listening tour” to hear from low-income Americans. On Tuesday, Ryan issued the House GOP’s 2015 budget proposal, which would make major changes to two of the federal government’s primary anti-poverty programs, food stamps and Medicaid. Using as his model the supposedly successful welfare reform effort of the 1990s, Ryan envisions turning these programs into block grants that are handed over to the states to administer. But his plan to “help families in need lead lives of dignity” is likely to make matters worse for America’s neediest. Here’s why.

In 1996, Congress reengineered the federal program that provided cash assistance to the poorest families. Along with imposing stiff work requirements, Congress turned the old entitlement program, whose budget rose and fell automatically with need, into a block grant with a fixed budget. The grant was then distributed to the states, with few strings attached, under the premise that they were “laboratories of innovation” that would revolutionize the way the government helped the poor.

But as welfare reform has shown, giving states this sort of flexibility in how they spend federal money can lead to a lot of abuse that Republicans are so keen on rooting out.

According to data crunched by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states have diverted billions of dollars of welfare block grants for uses these funds were not intended to support. In the first year of welfare reform, about 70 percent of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant went to pay for basic cash assistance for poor families. By 2012, that number had fallen to 29 percent and states were spending just 8 percent on providing transportation, job training, and other services intended to help people transition from welfare into the workforce.

The numbers are even more dismal in some individual states. In 2012, Louisiana spent 7 percent of its $261 million in TANF funds on basic assistance, down from 36 percent in 2001. Just 4 percent of the funds went to programs to help welfare recipients get back into the workforce. A mere 2 percent of the funds paid for child care, another critical component of a reform effort that was geared toward nudging women with small children into low-wage jobs.

What happened to the rest of the money? According to CBBP, 71 percent of it went to other services, including “other nonassistance,” a nebulous category used to mask payments for a hodgepodge of programs that the state didn’t want to spend its own tax revenues on.

Read more at Mother Jones

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And if you feel like you need still more Paul Ryan, you can check out Michael Thomasky’s article in the The Daily Beast: Paul Ryan: Still a Total Jerk

Paul Ryan Claims Black Men Are Lazy And The Cause Of Poverty In This Country

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was on the conservative radio show ‘Morning In America’, which is hosted by Bill Bennett. Bennett is the former Secretary of Education under President Reagan. He is also known for gambling away millions of dollars while at the same time preaching about living a virtuous life. Anyway, Bennett had Ryan on to discuss Ryan’s recent ‘War on Poverty’ report, where Ryan stated that anti-poverty programs developed under President Lyndon Johnson and after were actually the root cause for the continued existence of poverty in this country.

During the interview, Ryan used thinly-veiled ‘code’ language to claim that black men do not want to work and are satisfied with being poor. He also stated that anti-poverty programs create a culture of laziness and that what we really need is for affluent white people from the suburbs to spend more of their time mentoring those in the inner-city. Obviously, the answer for those living in abject poverty in a jobless environment is to have someone come down from their lofty perch and whitesplain about how to lift yourself up by your bootstraps.

Read more at PoliticusUSA

7 Bipartisan Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage

The minimum wage debate is back. Since last year, historically unorganized workers at fast food and big-box retailers across the country have been demanding a higher minimum wage and better working conditions. They are gaining popular support as they become more visible, rallying in big cities and during attention-getting events such as Black Friday.

President Obama, liberals in Congress, and liberals seeking office are making the federal minimum wage a central plank in the effort to combat runaway inequality—now at levels unseen since the 1920s—and push back poverty. Obama has called for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, with a built-in cost-of-living adjustment tied to inflation. He later announced an executive order requiring federal contractors to observe the $10.10 minimum. And activists at the state and local levels have gone further. California may vote this year on raising its minimum wage to $12.

Increases enjoy wide public support. Recent polls find 76 percent of Americans support a $9 minimum wage. Republicans are split, with 50 percent backing an increase.

There are at least seven reasons voters, if not politicians, in both parties favor a higher minimum wage. They involve concerns about inequality and poverty, about responses to poor wage growth, and about the status of work as well as community. These reasons sometimes conflict, but overall they explain why the minimum wage will continue to play an important role in politics and policy.

Read more at the Boston Review

The War on Poverty

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWvHr-0BXhc&feature=plcp
Syrian refugees in Lebanon (image via Wikipedia Commons)

Poor people are being murdered, beheaded, raped and terrorized by well armed gangs of mostly young men in Syria and in Mexico. What do these places and people have in common? Almost nothing. Is it about religion? Obviously not. I will bet you that most Mexican drug cartel members consider themselves Christians and have Christian symbols tattooed on their bodies. Muslims and Buddhists are no different, and depending upon where you are in the world, a Buddhist is as likely as a Muslim or a Christian to be involved in the murder or persecution of another person simply because they are of another ethnic or religious identification. The common denominator here is poverty. That’s what it is really all about. These people have no hope, no chance at a good education, a good job, or a decent life. They are hopelessly ignorant. Violence and criminality are their only alternatives. Recognizing and understanding this simple fact, we can see that the real war is of the wealthy against the poor, and that this war is an international war that knows no borders and no boundaries. By understanding and joining forces with ordinary people around the world who are also struggling for existence, we take the just fight to a higher level. When we help a poor person in Egypt, we help ourselves. When we help the poorest among us, we help ourselves. Sounds like something Jesus would have said, doesn’t it? That’s because he did. “What you do unto the least of my brothers…”

© 2014 by Paul Kennedy

Mexico’s tomato-farm workers toil in ‘circle of poverty’

Landowners make big money on tomatoes, but the hard work falls to armies of workers from Mexico’s poorest states, who labor for paltry wages.

Farmworker Ramiro Castillo stands in front of his living quarters near Villa Juarez in Mexico’s Sinaloa state. Half the tomatoes eaten in the U.S. this time of year come from Sinaloa. (Javier Valdez / For The Times / November 9, 2013)

VILLA JUAREZ, Mexico — They sure do have tomatoes here in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Elongated red ones. Round green ones. Cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, grape tomatoes.

Vast fields of tomatoes, lining the roads out of the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan, miles and miles of mesh tenting shielding the plants from the sun.

Last year, Sinaloa exported 950,000 tons of vegetables, mostly tomatoes and mostly to California and other parts of the United States, worth nearly $1 billion. Half the tomatoes eaten in the United States this time of year are from Sinaloa. The tomato is the symbol on the Sinaloa license plate.

But while a short list of landowners make millions, the planting, weeding, pruning and picking of the vegetables fall to armies of workers from Mexico’s poorest states — Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas — who have little opportunity for schooling or other forms of legal employment.

So they are here in these fields, recruited by enganchadores — or “hooks” — who round them up in their home villages, and working in conditions that vary from producer to producer but that many critics say amount to indentured servitude.

Felipa Reyes, 40, from the violent state of Veracruz, has been toiling in the fields of Sinaloa for seven years. “You have to do the work they want, or you don’t earn anything,” she said. Complain? “And I’d end up with nothing.”

Carmen Hernandez Ramos is 52 and looks 80. She has been sticking tiny tomato plants into the earth, then harvesting the fruit months later, for 15 years, but still earns the same daily wage as Reyes: $10. Originally from a small village in Oaxaca, the mother of six works back-wrenching nine-hour days. “If we work, we have security,” she said, waving her thick-knuckled hands. “If we don’t, we have nothing.”

The two women live in tin-roofed adobe shacks set behind chain-link fences.

Conditions, the women said, have changed little over the years. They have electricity but no running water; some floors are tiled, others are dirt.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times