Economy

Five Reasons Food Stamps Work Just Fine

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor L ast week, House Republicans passed a bill that would cut the food stamp program by about $40 billion over the next ten years. They’re drawing on headline numbers—the program serves about 47 million people each year and has the biggest price tag of any program in the farm bill, $80 billion—to drum up support. The aid, technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is still known as food stamps to nearly everyone who receives it. There’s little chance that the bill will be enacted, given the more moderate makeup of the Senate, although it’s likely that some cuts will end up on the president’s desk. (The Senate is cutting $4.4 billion from the program.) Still, food stamps are one of the most robust federal entitlements for the poor we have left, so it’s always going to be a target for cuts. It’s worth looking beyond those bold-face numbers in the news to see how the program is performing—and why it’s...

The Day after Shutdown

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Denis Paquin, File S o it’s October … or maybe it’s six or ten weeks later, after a short-term continuing resolution has come and gone. The clock strikes midnight, Congress has failed to fund the government, and the next day it shuts down. What happens next? There’s been plenty of talk about the possibility of a government shutdown, along with the potential ways it could be avoided. But what happens after the shutdown? I don’t mean how the government operates or doesn’t operate; the Congressional Research Service has a good explainer on that. I’m talking about how the bargaining situation changes. Because remember: Government shutdown or not (I'm on Team Probably Not, for those counting at home), sooner or later a deal will be reached. 1. It’s Getting Hot in Here People will be inconvenienced, directly, by a shutdown, whether it’s vacations ruined (thanks to national parks closing), Social Security applications postponed , or government grants and contracts not awarded. Which...

Playing Hunger Games with Food Stamps

When the House voted yesterday to cut $40 billion from the food-stamp program, they doubled the cuts the House had previously considered. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3.8 million people will be taken off the program, primarily because the House is removing some of the flexibility states have to meet the needs of their communities. They are restoring strict federal rules to the program. That’s an odd move for a bunch of Republicans. Most of the people who will be removed from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) rolls are adults in high unemployment areas who don’t have children and can’t find jobs, and families with gross incomes that are slightly higher than the poverty line, but whose disposable incomes fall below it. These changes were introduced a few years ago to meet a rising need. The poverty line is low, and doesn’t take into account how much families spend on the costs of necessities like housing and childcare. More than half of all food...

The Conservative Plan for Medicaid Expansion

AP Photo/Osamu Honda
AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Chris Russell A number of policymakers on both sides of the aisle cheered when, in April, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law both expanding Medicaid and transforming it into a service available in a marketplace of insurance options, a move known as the “private option.” Similar cheers erupted in June when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a similar measure. The legislation marked a major accomplishment—not because the policies are necessarily improvements over traditional Medicaid but because they establish politically palatable paths for conservatives who want to increase access to health care. In Pennsylvania, GOP Governor Tom Corbett—who was against Medicaid expansion and this week announced he is is tepidly for it—has pointed to the these new plans as a model he might consider (among other, more controversial changes.) The private option may be a way to make comprehensive health-care coverage viable in other Republican states—but that depends...

The Fed Stays the Course

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
F inancial markets rallied when the Federal Reserve defied the rumor-mongers and resolved to continue its program of keeping interest rates very low until the unemployment rate improves. There was only one dissenting vote on the Fed’s policy-setting open market committee. What’s going on here? Ever since the run-up to the collapse of 2008, what’s good for Wall Street hasn’t exactly been good for the rest of the economy. Are these ultra-low interest rates just pumping up more financial bubbles, as critics fear? Or does a still weak economy need this form of stimulus? Think of it this way. There are risks to continuing a policy of very easy money, but premature tightening would be even worse. The markets and the pundits got this one wrong because the hawks in the Fed system had been leaking rumors that they had the votes and that the Fed would soon be “tapering” (pulling back) its program of $85 billion-a-month in bond purchases. Chairman Ben Bernanke, to appease the hawks, lent...

The Obamacare Is Falling! The Obamacare Is Falling!

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Steve Browne, Valley City Times-Record As we approach the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the end of the year, confusion still reigns. Most Americans don't understand what the ACA does or how it works, which is perhaps understandable. It is, after all, an exceedingly complex law, and from even before it passed there was an aggressive and well-funded campaign of misinformation meant to confuse and deceive Americans about it, a campaign that continues to this day and shows no sign of abating. To undo uncertainty and banish befuddlement, we offer answers to a few questions you might have about Obamacare. What's happening when? The next important date is October 1, when open enrollment for insurance plans on the new exchanges begins. Those who sign up will begin their new insurance on January 1, when the rest of the high-profile components of the law take effect. The individual mandate, requiring everyone to carry insurance or pay a fine, takes effect, as does...

Obama Just Changed the Most Racist Law in the Country

(flickr/uncgspecia)
You may have missed it, but yesterday President Obama dramatically altered one of the most racially damaging laws in America when the Department of Labor announced that it would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. To say there's a backstory here would be a wild understatement. Seventy-five years ago, Franklin Roosevelt achieved a historic victory—but a morally compromised one—when he signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The law created the modern labor regulations that we're all familiar with today, including the minimum wage, overtime pay, and much more. Yet getting the FLSA passed entailed a major concession to southern Democrats, who successfully fought to exclude agricultural and domestic workers. Why? Because, as legal scholar Juan Perea has shown in his illuminating history of the law, that exclusion was seen as crucial to preserving a southern way of life that hinged on exploiting cheap African-American labor—both in the fields...

Shutdown Report: How to Play Chicken and Lose

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite R epublicans are likely to incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts. This routine has become an annual ritual, and in the past President Barack Obama has been the first one to cave. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic sequester, is one bitter fruit of the president’s past failure to hang tough in the face of Republican extremist demands. But this time is different. The Tea Party Republicans, who dominate the GOP House Caucus, are demanding that President Obama de-fund the Affordable Care Act in exchange for their willingness to fund ordinary government spending in the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. But they picked the wrong demand. In the past, Obama was willing to make deep cuts in federal spending in order to get a budget deal with Republicans. The Affordable Care Act, however, is a nonnegotiable for the president. It’s his...

We Shall Overwhelm

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite F our years ago, the modern Tea Party seemed to emerge from nowhere, leaving journalists bewildered and the public with few reference points to understand seemingly spontaneous rallies by middle-class people seeking lower tax rates. A search for the phrase “tea party” in connection with “politics” in major newspapers yielded fewer than 100 mentions in 2008—and when the words did appear linked together, they suggested studied formality and decorum. The next year, they appeared more than 1,500 times, often connected to “protest demonstration.” But little was spontaneous about the new party. “Social movements that explicitly defend the interests of the rich and the almost-rich have been a recurring feature of American politics,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, reminds us in his new book, Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent . “Such movements shook the American polity before the...

Time to Give America a Raise

AP Photo/Louie Balukoff
I t’s been a good week for the nation’s numerous poverty-wage workers. They’ve been way overdue for a good week. On Tuesday, the Labor Department issued a much anticipated and delayed extension of the federal minimum wage and overtime regulations to the nation’s 2 million homecare workers. Last Thursday, the California legislature passed (and Governor Jerry Brown pledged to sign) a bill that raised the mega-state’s minimum wage from $8-an-hour to $10. Taken together, these two measures limiting poverty-wage work underscore a host of significant changes to the political economy. The Labor Department’s extension of the minimum wage recognizes the growth of homecare as an industry increasingly like any other, with agencies big and small, many relying on partial government subsidies, employing millions of workers. It also signals the continuing extension of federal work standards beyond those that originally covered white men disproportionately. When the Fair Labor Standards Act (which...

A Long Way from the End of Men

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky T hough we’ve technically been recovering from the Great Recession since late 2009, the poverty rate in the United States has been stuck at about 15 percent since 2010. New data released yesterday from the Census Bureau showed that last year wasn’t much better. Poverty rates held steady at the highest levels in a generation. Median incomes have fallen in the last ten years by more than 11 percent. Coupled with recent studies showing that most of the recovery’s gains have gone to the top 1 percent of income earners, the data on poverty confirms what many already knew: Inequality is growing, and the middle class is dying. That’s especially true when you examine the status of women and racial minorities. The median incomes for Asian and white families last year were $68,636 and $57,009 respectively. For Hispanics and blacks, they were $39,005 and $33,321. These incomes are statistically unchanged from 2011, which means that if the economy is growing, the average...

Homeowners vs. Big Bad Banks

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File I n June, six former employees of Bank of America's loan-modification department testified in court that since 2009, they had been instructed to lie to struggling homeowners, hide their financial documents, and push them into foreclosure. In the most egregious example, the employees said they were offered Target gift cards as a bonus for more foreclosures, which generated lucrative fees for the bank. The employees, who were in charge of implementing the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) at the bank, described the same deceptive practices across the country. Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel dismissed the case , denying class-action certification to 43 homeowners in 26 states who suffered because of similar conduct. “Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that Bank of America utterly failed to administer its HAMP modifications in a timely and efficient way,” Zobel agreed, adding that vulnerable homeowners had to wade...

Did Summers Spoil It for Yellen?

AP Images/Mark Lennihan
AP Images/Mark Lennihan Now that Larry Summers is out of contention for chairman of the Federal Reserve, the nomination of Janet Yellen should be assured. Unfortunately, Yellen still is far from a safe bet. Her qualifications, certainly, are not in doubt. Yellen is currently vice chair of the Fed and before that she was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She has had a distinguished academic career, which she interrupted to serve as chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and after that, as a governor of the Federal Reserve. Yellen is better positioned than any other woman to break the glass ceiling that has kept the Fed from having any female chair throughout its century-long history. Yellen, who began her scholarly career as a labor economist, has also been outspoken about the need for the Fed to continue its policy of economic stimulus to help strengthen the faltering economic recovery. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who preceded her as chair...

Could You Live on $11,940 a Year?

A couple of months ago, Fox News host Neil Cavuto went on a rant against fast-food workers striking for higher wages, explaining that when he was but a wee pup of 16, he went to work at an Arthur Treacher's restaurant for a mere $2 an hour, setting him on the road to becoming the vigorous and well-remunerated cheerleader for capitalism he is today. For all his economic acumen, Cavuto seemed to forget that there's a thing called "inflation," and the two bucks he earned in 1974 would today be worth $9.47. That's less than the striking fast-food workers are asking for (they want $15 an hour), but significantly more than the $7.25 today's minimum-wage workers make. Not to mention the fact that so many of them are not teenagers but adults trying to survive and support families. (According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of those who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are over the age of 20; that and much more data on the topic can be found here .) Yesterday,...

Larry Summers and the Economists’ “Greed Exception”

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite I t is said that the late economist Milton Friedman was once asked how much money it would take for him to change his position that humans are primarily motivated by greed, which was at the core of his free-market fundamentalism. Friedman wisely dodged the question. He understood that if he said he could not be bought, it would undercut his economic theory. In order to avoid doing so, he would have had to admit that he, like everyone else, had his price. Lawrence Summers is certainly not a Milton Friedman conservative. But of the top candidates to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, he is the leading exponent of free-market dogma. He was an architect of financial deregulation, and champions unfettered global trade and limiting government intervention in the economy. He has also become wealthy selling his services to corporate bankers and brokers who benefit from such policies. Summers and his supporters insist that his ties to Wall...

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