Assault on the Poor

Over the past two years, we have seen a series of votes in the State Legislature that can only be called an assault on the poor. Over and over again, one house or the other has taken a vote that makes it more difficult for low income people to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Photo ID requirements for EBT cards. Proof of citizenship for public housing.

And it’s not only Republicans calling for more restrictions and more punishments. Conservative Dems have voted repeatedly for these measures (How did your State Senator vote? Refer to items #23,#24 on our 2011-12 Scorecard, #4, #6, #8 on 2013-2014‘s [which we are continuing to update]).

Leadership in both the House and the Senate attack these measures under the favorite pretext — “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Speaker DeLeo vowed in an Herald interview that he would “clean up two scandal-ravaged agencies in the Patrick Administration, [saying] the abuses in the welfare and early education departments must stop.”

Now, the debate is being stoked by a scathing audit report by State Auditor Suzanne Bump (Democrat).

We can’t comment on the accuracy of her reports — although both John Polanowicz (Secretary of Health and Human Services) and Representative Tom Conroy(Wayland/Sudbury) have strongly questioned the math.

Our concern is that the Speaker’s, the Senate President’s and the Auditor’s remarks lend credence to the implication that fraud is rampant, that poor people are gaming the system or that civil servants are lazy and inept, feckless in their administration of taxpayer dollars. And that the solution must involve, in Melissa Threadgill's words, “making poor families jump through additional hoops or restricting eligibility.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The audit report itself, even, points to the general accuracy of the work performed by DTA — over 99.99% of the funds issued by DTA were spent properly, and 99.98% of the recipients were eligible to receive benefits.

The dollars we are talking about are minuscule. Blogger Hester Prynne points out, “the argument that eliminating welfare fraud would significantly affect the state’s bottom line collapses when you consider that the (ENTIRE) program for cash assistance to families living in poverty — the primary target of the anti-fraud movement — accounts for less than one percent of the entire state budget.”

We join Representative Conroy in agreement that we “should always strive for 100% accuracy and rooting out fraud wherever possible” but we need to make investments to do so. As Threadgill points out, “while tech whizzes in Kendall Square develop the latest in mobile apps and cloud computing, civil servants across the state work with technology that is years out of date.”

Yet, we haven’t been willing to make these investments.

Instead,

...we demand that low income people work for welfare — and then deny 55,000 income-eligible children the childcare they need.

...we cut spending on government infrastructure repeatedly -- but give tax breaks to out-of-state millionaire filmmakers.

...we put money into the budget for more oversight of programs for low income people -- while watching significantly more money drain away through corporate tax loopholes.

Something is wrong with our priorities.

Progressives must stand up against conservative Democrats fueling a debate that is misguided and cruel.

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commented 2013-12-31 14:14:01 -0500 · Flag
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