Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Student sympathizes with undocumented immigrants who arrived as children

The immigration policy DACA is important to me, and I want to express my opinions about it. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows people who came to the United States as children from getting deported for a two-year renewable period. President Obama announced the policy in 2012. He had wanted Congress to provide a law to protect these immigrants, but Congress did not provide a law, so the President made this a policy through executive order, giving instructions to the Department of Homeland Security and the immigration and border security entities in the federal bureaucracy to follow this new policy.  

I like this policy for many reasons. First of all, it is not the children’s fault for coming to the United States illegally. They could not make the decision to come or not because some of them were only two or three years old. The United States is all they know and remember. A lot of the people who came here that young do not even know how to speak the language from the country they were born in, so if they were to be sent back, they could not communicate with other people there. It is also really scary to be forced to move to some country where you know nothing about their culture, or it could be a place that has a high crime rate; they could get raped or killed. They would have to leave their jobs here, and those jobs probably pay a lot better than what their native country pays. The United States is supposed to be full of opportunity, so how can we deport people where this is all they know? It is wrong. 

I have heard of President Trump talking about getting rid of DACA; it seems possible that people will get deported if they go to renew their DACA status, and the deportation protection is not available any longer. I cannot imagine how scary it is to one day being forced out of the only place you remember growing up and living. If we send them back, we are basically just sending some of them to die because of how dangerous their countries really are. I personally know someone that is a DACA recipient. I am very close with her, and imagining her not here any longer makes me panic. Why doesn’t everyone who is not a Native American face a risk of being sent out of the United States? This land is not just for European-American people anymore. We need to learn that different people deserve to be here, and especially people who have been here their entire lives. They have just as much of a reason to stay here as someone who was born here.

There are some important issues you raise in your little reaction essay.  You assert that the United States is not just for the European-Americans who have been here 1-12 generations, but that other groups have claims to the USA as their home. This means, I think you're implying, that part of the opposition to the DACA policy comes from persons who fear that many of these undocumented immigrant Americans are culturally or racially different from “true” Americans.  An interesting thing to note is that many of these “aliens” who come to the United States as children may have genetic ancestral lineages that are mostly Native American.  There is a person in my family, for example, who was born in Latin America, and has had a DNA test, and shows that her genetic heritage is 100% Mayan, without any detectable European contributions to her genes.  Another member of my family had grandparents who came to the USA during the Mexican Civil War back in the 1910s, and her DNA shows her to be about 50% Native American.  

But, of course, our genetic inheritance and heritage is not so meaningful as our cultural inheritance and the experiences we have had in our lives that have given us our culture.  And, for immigrants who came here (perhaps without permission from the USA government) as young children and have grown up here, they are culturally American. This is their home.  Some may be highly assimilated, and others may not be, but in any way that matters, this society and country is their “home country” rather than their native country.  So, if you take a genetic approach to who is “really” American, many of these persons who were protected by DACA have better claims to belonging here in the Americas than the European-Americans who are supporting the policies of excluding them or kicking them out.  And, if you reject the idea of genetic ancestral claims to land (as I mostly do), and go with cultural values and socialization as the root of a person’s identity and sense of belonging somewhere, then most of these DACA immigrants are just as American as those of us who were born here.  

It’s only in the realm of state-sanctioned legalities related to citizenship and “immigration status” that anyone can claim that many of these DACA immigrants aren’t American and don’t belong here. What value hierarchy and moral perspective is it that vaunts the regulatory perspectives of states and their bureaucracies over the facts of what culture and identity and socialization mean in terms of a person’s claim to belong to a particular country? If we do believe that the letter of the law must be upheld over the facts of who is really an American in the sense of their culture and life experiences, then what of the laws of the nations that pre-exist the government of the United States?  Can the tribal nations of our land offer membership to persons who are more closely genetically linked to them than than the European-Americans and African-Americans and Asian-Americans who have set up the governance of the USA?  And, if any of the many tribes decided to do this, wouldn't their tribal law hold precedence over the immigration laws of the United States?  I don’t know the answer to this question, but it is one I wonder about.

Student believes policy to change SNAP to food delivery program is wrong-headed.

Trump has recently suggested that instead of giving SNAP recipients more cash benefits we should instead cut the amount of food stamps they receive in half and give them a box of food each month. This would provide food for the poor and hungry people along with making it cheaper for the government, but it is not a good idea.
First off, as it stands right now SNAP only provides the equivalent of about $1.45 per meal per person, that means that each person receives only $4.32 to eat each day. For many Americans that is not enough to be able to eat three meals a day, let alone three healthy meals. Buying a full meal for $1.45 that is not fast food is nearly impossible in America. This means that those who receive SNAP are more times than not skipping meals every single day, or are having to skip full days because of this problem. This will cause a lot of health problems as well as other problems such as being able to function properly during the day. If a person does not eat much they will not be able to focus in school or work as well as they would with a full stomach. This loss of productivity may cost the adult their job if they have one, and if they don’t, it may make their motivation to look for one go down. If anything, the government should provide these people with more money so they can sustain healthier, more enjoyable lives. Providing them with more money for food could possible keep their medical bills lower later on, which would save the government more money on Medicaid. It is cheaper to prevent a problem than to treat one later on. Also with more food security they are more likely to become better members of community, because they would be happier, healthier, and more motivated since they are more stable in life. 
The food box would take away family’s rights to self-determination, their rights to choose what food they want. They may feel more like animals being fed than humans since they would not be allowed to choose their own food which is likely to make them more depressed. Along with that the food they would provide in these boxes would not be healthy food at all. The boxes would contain mostly starches because they last the longest which could make these poor people also become obese and have more medical problems in the future along with lowering their self-worth. 
Other problems may be in how they would receive the box. Many poor individuals do not have reliable transportation to go pick up the box every month. If the boxes were delivered what would happen when the poor person moves because they are often moving to stay with different friends and family members of theirs often. If they have their own living space they are at high risk of being evicted since they do not have much money. How would the homeless receive their boxes every month and where would they store all of that food if they are living on the side of the street somewhere?
In conclusion we should be proving poor people with more food security, not less. This can save the government expenses in other areas later on such as through Medicaid. The miserly benefits targeted for cuts are only $1.45 per meal, and that is not enough money for a meal in America, so I believe this amount should be re-determined and the government should provide them with more money for food. With the money they receive now they cannot eat healthy foods, and cutting that money in half and forcing them to eat mostly starchy food will only make matters of health for these people worse. Lastly, the problem of how would the people receive and store their food each month is also something that would need examined.

As this is only a reaction paper, I would not expect you to make a fair and impartial analysis of this policy suggestion.  Your strong negative to the proposal gets some sympathy for me.  You have criticized the idea of reducing spending on food security by reducing benefit levels and transferring some of those reduced benefits to a program where the government selects and provides food rather than allowing recipients to shop for their food in the normal way.  You criticize it on the following grounds:
1) Benefit levels now are insufficient, and ought to be increased, rather than decreased.  The cut in spending on food security cannot be entirely gained by new efficiencies, and must result in fewer benefits and corresponding poorer nutrition and health for poor persons.
2) Benefit programs are already stigmatizing, when in fact the right to adequate food and nutrition is a human right, and securing it for everyone is a way to enhance freedom and health in our society; but changes in the program of food and nutrition benefits that remove autonomy and freedom of choice from the beneficiaries will increase stigmatization and remove human dignity.  Welfare safety net programs such as SNAP ought to encourage autonomy and human dignity, rather than further alienating and infantilizing persons who are experiencing poverty. 
3) The government could not possibly provide the right foods to everyone, and the government-selected non-perishable foods provided in the proposed policy would likely contain foods that were less nutritious or perhaps even harmful to recipients.

There are also many other objections to the policy proposal, but in a reaction essay like this, you are supposed to only allow yourself an hour to write yor paper, so you did not have time to question many other troubling flaws in this policy suggestion.
There are also several reasons to support the policy, or look at aspects of it with sympathy, or fairly present the arguments and then raise doubts about those arguments.  Again, given the limitations of this reaction paper, you didn't have time to do that, and perhaps you weren't inclined to do so.  But, it's worth thinking through why anyone would suggest such a revolutionary policy change with SNAP. For  example, while non-perishable foods might be starchy and unhealthy, current practice by most SNAP recipients may not be very wise or healthy (on average) anyway, and possibly pastas would be better than what people buy now.  Certainly canned or dried beans and rice might be staples distributed in food boxes, and at least with beans you might be helping people change to healthier diets compared to what they eat now. Do the meat industries and wheat farmer interests, as well as the grocery interests prefer the current SNAP arrangement, and might bean farmers, rice farmers, and nut growers benefit from the proposed change in SNAP policies?  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Student is distressed by the problems with law enforcement and prisons

Many of the topics we are going over now are extremely interesting. There is a strong realization that to be able to help, or advocate, for someone it is important to understand how the system functions. While I feel that there is still much of the information I haven’t quite yet grasped, I feel confident enough that I could find the information if I needed to. People in the social work program, I feel, will greatly benefit from this class. I know that it is a subject that can be difficult to grasp, but I think everyone is benefiting from this class (even if they make it sound like they aren’t). 

Reading about the prison system was a real eye opener. I know that with every business, government or non-government, you will see corruption. The depths of corruption are another matter. While reading the undercover story about the prison you begin to realize that if it is happening there, then chances are it is happening everywhere. Everyone, prisoner or not, should have basic rights. I know that prison isn’t a place that should be fun but programing benefits not only the prisoner but the entire staff at the prisons. The prisons, I feel, are just making more work for themselves when they deny prisoners an outlet. All prisons should have programing to let them expel some bottled up energy. Private prisons should not be making an obscene amount of money either. It seems that goes against every ethical standard that exists.

The problem with excessive police force is something that I think everyone knows about but is still too blind to see. Ferguson is a prime example. The system is flawed. I also still fail to see the logic behind their actions. I know that they were giving excessive citations to raise more money for the city. When you look at the total cost of housing (in jail) those who cannot make bail or pay their fines, and compare that to the potential income from their fines, the city isn’t coming out ahead are they? I feel like people who make the “rules” are not seeing the big picture; they see only potential dollar signs.

I do feel like I have a grasp on the problems that exist. I can see where the money is coming from for the array of programs offered by local, state, and federal programs. The waters are still a little murky on how the government functions. I can look at it on paper and still not fully understand it. I think that my generation, and especially the ones after me, find it overwhelming to think that they could change any of these laws or policies. I am especially guilty of that. This class has definitely expanded my knowledge on the subject of social welfare.

At the state level I am certain that you can participate in changing laws. Some of the bills in the Illinois State House this semester that our professional organization (NASW) is supporting are likely to pass, but if the students will let their State Representatives and State Senators know about those bills, and educate them about how those bills are beneficial, then I think that could make a significant difference.  

The Justice Department’s report on how the police department was operating in Ferguson, Missouri will horrify any reader who cares about justice and human rights. I do wish more people would look at that report or any of the excellent summaries of it. Our society suffers from a continuing reliance on harsh penalties and prison sentences, and our prisons and jails are not working to rehabilitate prisoners.  The monstrous activities described in the historical survey by George Ives seem to to reflect a set of continuing problems: one of these is the human nature tendency that makes people embrace a sadistic and righteous attitude toward punishment, sometimes directed at children, but nearly always directed at persons accused of (or found guilty of) crimes. The other problem is that  people imagine a horrible “criminal” in which the deviance and criminality of a person become their defining features (no doubt some people we imprison deserve this stereotypical generalization, but it must surely be a small minority of the 2.2 million people we keep locked up). It’s a form of dehumanization we use to justify our penal system’s orientation toward punishment rather than rehabilitation. It seems to me similar to the dehumanization and sadistic glee some Americans have when they speak of “being tough on welfare cheats” and “immigrants” when in fact they mean (but would not say aloud or admit to themselves) that what they really detest are the poor and the sick and the people who are made “different” by their disabilities or limitations. There is a fear of failure in the souls of many people, and so the condemned prisoners and the “failures” in life (paupers) are a psychological threat to such persons, and I do believe a kind of terror (or lack of love, at least) animates their animosity.  I’m not a member of any Christian congregation, but I’ve read the Bible, and it is clear to me that the moral teachings of Christianity require, demand, and insist upon charitable behavior towards prisoners.  

I will quote my cousin in closing:

Built on the model of the deity of Darkness, we find the villain of the novels and plays, in which either the authors have not followed human nature’s strange and many-motived workings, or, as is much more probable, they have exaggerated for effect and contrast. Thus the conventional villain is of course utterly bad, loves sin for sweet sin’s sake with fine disinterestedness, and is consigned to utter damnation, to the intense and very natural satisfaction of the indignant audience, and the great credit of the play or story.

Next to what we may call the petty devil of the melodrama stands out the “Criminal” of popular imagination, who is largely the creation of people who generalised without knowledge and imagined without thought; and he is almost as much a scarecrow of the fancy as was that other most unpleasant individual the “Economic Man.” This quite imaginary sort of person, one who should or would go about always contriving crimes and villanies, if he were not “deterred” therefrom by the terrific penalties that were attached to them, all the grim working of which was to be kept before him by their infliction on detected people. And every crimson tragedy the Law set forth, and every consignment of its captives, though to a doom far worse than death itself, was always justified upon its day of doing, by one well-worn, all-extenuating plea: that though such sights were sad yet they were salutary, because “the criminal” was then looking on, and he would slink away and be deterred.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Minimum Basic Incomes

Outside of class after week 2, our homework was to find a social policy article related to economics that we found interesting. The article I found interest in was “Capitalism Has a Problem: Is Free Money the Answer?" This article discussed how the world could fix problems capitalism has created, such as the large inequality between the global elite and the world’s poor. It toyed with the idea of a universal basic income. Some of the ideas it listed are as followed:

  1. Universal basic income would “soften the edges of capitalism”.
  2. Whether or not a person is working, everyone receives a check from the government.
  3. This ensures that all people receive support for food and shelter, and “the stigma of public support” is removed.
  4. Universal basic income lets the market work on its own while offering economic growth; it will help cushion people who fail.
  5. It liberates those unable to leave poverty on their own and gives them time for artistic expression.
  6. It liberates people from working at, let’s say Walmart, where they will not be paid as much as they want. If they have this universal basic income, they do not have to work at Walmart.

This article also talks about other countries that have played with this idea. Some cities have been pursuing it to find benefits and potential. Finland; Oakland, California; Ontario; several cities in the Netherlands; and even more communities are working towards understanding if a basic income will help their citizens and bring them out of their deep poverty. Because there is such an issue with economic inequality in the world, cities and countries feel the need to provide more to their lower class.

The article then turns towards to a conservative’s point of view. It states their fear of handing out money to people who then become dependent on it and slack the rest of their life. Speaking based on the United States level, it is also a difficult subject because the number of citizens we have and its cost to the economy. Some also say universal basic income does not have the potential of being beneficial, especially if it is used as a replacement to the other government subsidies, because it still is not enough to live off.

While it was interesting to see both point of views, as well as the economic point of view, this is a subject that I do not agree with. Let’s say that all United States citizens receive a certain amount of money a year. That will amount to billions, possibly trillions, of dollars. Who is going to pay for that? The American people who work, that’s who. If everyone is paid a certain amount, whether they need it or not, we all have to pay for that through taxes and other fees. The dollar would not go as far, and people would still be in poverty with that amount of income if that was the only money they were making. Also, I firmly believe in teaching a man to fish. If citizens earn what they receive by working for it, they would feel better and more grateful for the money they earned. It would mean more to them. They also would not like seeing extra money going out of their paychecks to pay for those who willingly do not work. Whether poor or rich, it is hard for everyone to see money leaving their paychecks. Also, many people do not need to the universal basic income. Why pay someone who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars or more the same as someone living on government aid? That just does not make sense to pay people who truly do not need the money the same amount as someone who truly does need the money. There are many reasons why I do not believe a universal basic income would work. It is not economically smart or feasible, especially with the amount of citizens our country holds.

You have identified some of the main issues with guaranteed minimum incomes.  I think  you will find that there are ethical dilemmas in all sorts of social welfare programs, and basic minimum incomes are not unique in introducing some inequities to address other inequities.  

Let's consider how much it would save, and how much it would cost.  Let's say that the universal minimum basic income is set at $7,000 for single persons, $16,000 for married couples, $24,000 for married couples with one child under the age 18, and $29,000 for married couples with two or more children. For single parents with one child under 18 the income is set at $15,000, and for a  single parent with two children the basic income is $22,000, and for a single parent with three or more children the basic income is $25,000.  There are no increases for additional children.  You notice I'm giving a huge incentive for marriage, and also some incentive for having children (but more incentives for having children in married families), and the incentives only increase incomes for up to two children (for married couple families) and three children (for single-parent families).  How much would this actually cost.  To estimate this, we can look at Census data.  

Here is my understanding of the population profile of the United States, based on Census Bureau records:
Single individuals living alone: 35.3 million  
Persons living in two person households that aren't families (not married; no family relationship):  21.6 million
Persons living in family households, not married couples, no children under 18: 91.7 million 
Married couples with no children under 18:  23.7 million
Married couples with one child under 18: 9.8 million
Married couples with two or more children under 18: 15.3 million
Single parents with one child: 6.7 million
Single parents with two children: 4.0 million
Single parents with three or more children:  2.3 million

With this model, the total amount we would by paying out in basic incomes would be $2.4 trillion, approximately.  

But, we could reduce Social Security by about half (because the $7,000 per person basic income would provide about half of what typical retirees or persons with disabilities now get from OASDI).  We could scrap SNAP, and TANF, and Housing vouchers and subsidies, and the school lunch program, and a few other odds and ends.  I think we would still keep Medicaid, but far fewer persons would qualify for it, so let's assume with the basic income the costs of Medicaid would decline by 75%.  We would keep Medicare.  We could scrap the EITC or reduce it significantly (let's say cut it in half).  We could also reduce SSI by about half.  We could reduce unemployment insurance by half. 

Cut half of OASDI (Social Security):  $450 billion
Cut half of EITC:   $32 billion
Cut all of the Child Tax Credit:  $24 billion
Cut all of TANF: $17 billion (just the federal contribution)
Cut all of SNAP: $73 billion
Cut all of HUD's expenditure on housing vouchers and half of the spending on public housing: $30 billion
Cut 75% of Medicaid:  $441 billion
Cut half of SSI:  $29 billion
Cut half of UI:  $15 billion.

So, this basic income could reduce welfare expenditure by about $1.1 trillion, at least.

So, to provide the $1.3 trillion extra, we would cut Social Security taxes by about $400 billion, and increase income taxes from their current revenue of $1.84 trillion by $1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion additional taxes and $0.4 trillion transferred from payroll Social Security since we're shifting some of the safety net from that over into the basic income).  We would need to get $3.54 trillion from income taxes instead of the current $1.84 trillion.  But, now that everyone is getting this basic income, incomes will have increased tremendously.  Families of married couples with two children that had been earning $30,000 (and paying almost no net taxes after adding benefits and subtracting taxes) would now be earning $59,000.  All across the poor, working class, and middle class these basic incomes would be pushing people who now pay minimal income taxes or no income taxes into new tax brackets where they would pay more taxes.  Thus, we don't actually have to raise taxes by 80% or 90%.  Probably it would suffice to raise income taxes by 70-75%.   A married couple without children under the age of 18 that had income of $74,000 and paid $7,300 in federal income taxes (about 10%) would now earn $90,000 (adding their $16,000 to their $74,000), but instead of paying about 10% in income taxes, they might pay about 16% (paying $15,300 in taxes instead of $7,300 in taxes) or 20% (paying $18,000 in taxes instead of $7,300).  Their after-income-tax income would now be higher (about $700than it was before the basic income. So, for middle-class families like that, an increase from 10% of income paid in income tax to 17-20% paid income tax wouldn't decrease their consumption (because the $16,000 basic income they would receive is a bit higher than the increases in their income taxes).  

Wealthy people who now pay 20% of their income in income taxes would be paying 34% of their income in income taxes, but that is still far less than the taxes people pay in Scandinavia.  And, that basic income would nearly eradicate poverty and insecurity.

You've got to think through the numbers when you consider a policy like this, to see how feasible it would be, and what it would mean.  Your moral objections to the policy are well-grounded, but there are these other aspects of the policy worthy of consideration.  A basic income along the lines of what I've suggested here would involve a massive transfer of wealth from households now earning over $80,000 to households now earning less than $50,000.  Taxes on the income earned by wealthy households would need to be increased significantly, but they would not need to be doubled. Rich people would end up paying about 34% to 45% of their incomes in income taxes.  Everyone's payroll taxes would drop.  Every person would have at least $583 per month, and married couples would have at least $1,333 per month.  This would go a long way towards liberating everyone from the aspect of capitalism where workers are forced to take any job, no matter how demeaning and low-paying it is.  But, those who did work would see real increases in their living standards. Earning $12,000 or $20,000 per year in a relatively low-wage job now would yield a real and substantial increase in living standards, because the tax rate for persons earning $36,000 or $28,000 or $19,000 and so forth are still relatively low, even after 70% increases in the approximately 5% people now pay if their incomes are around $36,000. For modest incomes (households earning $35,000 to $40,000), income taxes would go up from 5% to 8.5%, but payroll taxes would be cut by a few percentage points, so the result is almost no change in actual federal taxes paid, and probably a higher incentive to work. Now without the minimum income, when people work hard and bring their incomes up from nearly nothing to $20,000, they lose so many benefits that they face what is essentially a marginal tax rate well over 50%.  

When you consider that aspect, the basic income might actually provide a greater incentive for people to work.  Also, with a basic income, we could lower the minimum wage, since low wages would be understood as supplements to the basic income.  Thus, the basic income might stimulate more business growth.  That is, the basic income, by distributing the ability to consume through taxes and basic income expenditures, shifts the burden of raising consumption (income) from businesses and the wages they must pay, allowing businesses the advantage of lower minimum wages, but also the advantages of higher incomes in the population, and the increase in demand among consumers that would be stimulated by that. 

One of your moral objections is that persons who do work will not appreciate having their money taken from them and distributed to those who do not work.  That is indeed an unfair aspect of welfare systems; they do transfer money from some people and give it to others, and the people who get the money are not always the sort of persons we would choose to supply with any portion of our incomes.  That particular unfairness has to be weighed against a variety of other forms of unfairness that also obtain when people keep their money and do not pay taxes that get transferred into income for other persons.  

Imagine that a married couple earning $74,000 and now paying 10% of that in income taxes would see their income taxes go up from $7,400 to $15,750 (because their taxes would go from 10% to 17.5%). But, with the added $16,000 in basic income, their after-tax and after-basic-income income would be up too.  Even if they pay 20% of their $90,000 income ($74,000 earned plus $16,000 in basic income), they end up with $72,000, which is more than they had with 10% taxes on $74,000, which was $66,600.  A household of a married couple with no dependent children under 18 earning $128,000 and paying 16% income taxes now would see their tax rate go up to 28%, but they would be earning (with basic income added) $144,000, so their net after-tax and after-basic-income level goes down only from $107,520 to $103,680, a decrease of about $320 per month).  The basic income and the resulting increases in taxes doesn't make much of a burden to the middle class; households earning less than $75,000 would probably come out ahead, and households earning $75,000 to $150,000 would suffer increases in taxation that would not substantially reduce their consumption or their lifestyles.

What I'm trying to illustrate here is that the basic income and the resulting increase in income taxes of about 75% over what they are now involves not any big change in after tax / after transfer incomes for middle class persons.  Most of the money won't be going to persons who earn nothing and live on $7,000 per year or $16,000 per year; rather, most of the money is going from households earning over $80,000 or $90,000 to households earning $30,000 to $50,000.  For the very poor, the basic income is replacing SNAP and subsidized housing and the earned income tax credit they are already getting.  The very poor would still get Medicaid, but many people whose incomes are now between 60% of poverty and 130% of poverty would see income increases to a point where they would lose Medicaid, and just use their basic income to pay for subsidized health care insurance on one of the health care exchanges.  So, for most poor persons and near poor persons, the basic income really won't dramatically increase their consumption, but it will give them security; as they won't have to worry about losing benefits and they will know their income floor, and understand that they will never fall below that floor.  

Also, while you see the universal aspect of it as objectionable (because, as you point out, poor people will be paying taxes so that money can go to wealthy people, as even wealthy households will get the basic income benefit), the net effect is to move income and consumption down from the wealthiest 20% of the income distribution to the bottom 2/3rds of the income distribution.  So, the idle able-bodied recipients will not be getting a big portion of all this basic income transfer.  

One problem we have now is that the near-poor are resentful and jealous of those who live with little or no income and have consumption levels that approximately equal what the working near-poor have. This is because as we phase out benefits and reduce subsidies and credits to people as they move from poverty to near-poverty, we impose upon them a marginal tax rate equivalent that is very, very high.  That is a terrible injustice.  With the basic income, we diminish this injustice considerably, by introducing a graduated income tax right from the start, with the start already so high, we will be letting the working poor keep a higher portion of their income.  So, we'll get a diminishment of that particular injustice (of high decreases in benefits imposing what is essentially a ridiculously high marginal tax rate on low income persons), but there will be an increase in the injustice of letting lazy and shiftless people remain idle.  

But let's also think about those people who remain idle and refuse to work, who claim that we owe them a living.  Are they wrong in making that claim?  Surely we agree that everyone deserves freedom.  Giving people a basic income is a way of distributing freedom, since we are freeing people from the capitalist pressure to conform to the expectations of employers and capitalists.  We now pay lots of money to defense to protect our freedom from hostile powers and violent groups.  About 48% of income tax dollars go to defense spending or related costs.  We're told this is to protect our freedom (although I suspect a high percentage of this spending is really purposed to enrich defense contractors who then contribute campaign funds to the politicians who vote to appropriate money to buy the things sold by those defense contractors).  Why not pay taxes also to protect people and their freedom from the power of hostile employers and soul-crushing work?  Once you accept that we can take taxes from the public to protect freedom, why do we make a distinction between the freedom from conquest by foreign powers and the freedom from being coerced by the economic pressures of life?  Also, what proportion of the population would really be satisfied to live lives of leisure on incomes of $583 per month?  That's enough for a studio apartment in a low-rent area of the country where monthly rents on studio apartments might be found for $400 per month, and that leaves $183 for food, recreation, transportation, and so forth. The USDA estimates that people need about $50 worth of food per week, so the $7,000 per year basic income isn't really going to offer people any sort of luxury.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Women, Infants, and Children

The federal nutritional assistance program, commonly known as WIC or Women, Infants, and Children, provides low income mothers with food assistance to provide herself and child with healthy groceries.  There are certain eligibility requirements that the mother must meet to qualify for assistance, there are four main categories; categorical, residential, income, and nutrition-risk.  The women who is applying for assistance must be pregnant, breastfeeding, or mothering a child up to five years of age.  You must be living in the state for which you are applying, but unlike other government programs, there is no time limit to be living within the state before you are eligible.  Each state has set a limit to which the applicants income must meet or fall below this rate to qualify.  Lastly, all applicants and children must go to monthly check-ups to assess nutritional health of the mother and children.  They must rule the mother or children as being of nutritional-risk or diet-risk.  This means that if you or your child is anemic, underweight, history of poor pregnancy, poor diet, etc., you should qualify for this type of nutritional assistance.  

The Department of Agriculture created Women, Infants, and Children nutritional assistance in 1972 to provide health assistance to low-income families to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children.  Most states will allocate money to participants through a reloadable card, which will be added monthly at the regular check-ups the mother and children must attend.  There are nearly 50,000 stores nationwide who participate in the WIC program and allow the government issued cards to be used as payment.  This allows women to purchase fruits, vegetables, baby formula, baby food, whole grains, milk and other fresh foods.  

I have created my own pros and cons list to this program. Some positive things I have found that this program offers are:
  • Women who are breastfeeding can make the most from this program.  They can purchase healthy foods and have a higher intake in vitamins and minerals through natural foods that will be transferred to the infant through the breast milk.  Once the child stops breastfeeding, formula becomes the main expense on the WIC monthly budget for the mother due to how expensive it is.
  • Breast-pumps are provided to new mothers who are in need and cannot afford one and promotes the child drinking breast milk over formula. 
  • Qualified foods you may purchase include all fruits and vegetables, whole grains, formula and baby food, certain cereals, milk, eggs, meats, etc.  

There are negative aspects as there are in every government program.  Some of the cons I found are:
  • Appointments can be hard for new mothers to attend each month. This makes it harder in rural areas where women must drive some distance to get to the nearest WIC clinic.
  • This program does not cover the costs for any special diet formula the infant may need unless they have a serious metabolic disorder.  Babies who are lactose intolerant or low iron who need a specialized formula will not be covered by the WIC program.  This leaves a large bill for new mothers who are having to buy even more expensive, specialized formula. 
  • Once the money allocated for the year for WIC programs, when the money runs out, it is gone until the following fiscal year.  The more families who need help, the faster the money will run out.
  • There is also poor fraud control with this program, mothers are applying for assistance and then cashing out the money that they have not spent for the month.  [Where did you get this idea?  Is there a study or an article that makes this claim? I'm aware of studies of trafficking (selling food benefits in exchange for cash) in the SNAP, but I've never heard of such a study of WIC. I suppose families could re-sell the milk and cereal and juice and cheese they buy with WIC coupons. I wonder how commonly that occurs.]

There are both positive and negative aspects to this program; however, the benefits for women and children seem to outweigh the negative aspects of it.  I encourage government officials to continue to promote and fight for these nutritional assistance programs.  

Student reacts to SNAP reform proposal

What caught my attention and I have a strong view on this policy is the SNAP proposal that President Trump has recommended for the 2019 budget.  I have read multiple articles on this policy and I will go through each of them with pros and cons.  

While doing homework over this past week I was looking at one of the UIS sites you have created for this class.  I found a policies website and was looking around at the articles that they had the one that caught my attention was the one about SNAP.  The website is the center on budget and policy priorities and the article I read was “President’s Budget Would Cut Food Assistance for Millions and Radically Restructure SNAP”.  In this article it talks about how the president proposed to alter the SNAP program to save billions of dollars over a ten-year period.  The budget proposes to cut the SNAP program by more than $213 billion over the next ten years   This would cut eligibility to four million people and reduce benefits for others.  The president also wants to reduce SNAP by doing a food delivery program like the Blue Apron program.  Here are some of the cons that I see based on this budget proposal.

  1. This proposal does not have dietary restrictions in mind when doing the food box delivery.
  2. The next con I see is that he is raising the maximum benefit amount from 49 to 62 which will cause food insecurity to many elderly and disabled persons. The Trump proposal was to raise the age of exemption from time limits from 49 to 62.  Currently, able-bodied persons of sound mind who have no minor children aged 18 to 49 are only allowed to participate in SNAP for at most three months in any 3-year (36 month) period.  Trump thinks that persons aged 39 to 62 should also be subject to this time limitation (when they are able-bodied, of sound mind, and have no minor children). 
  3. Third con is that they leave the delivery and costs to each state.  The state is supposed to cover the cost of distribution and delivery of these food boxes.
  4. Fourth con is that people who do receive SNAP will not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The box of food that the state would ship to the beneficiaries would not have fresh fruit and vegetables, but my understanding is that families would still have a (small) portion of their benefit provided in traditional credits on a sort of "debit" card like our Illinois Link card
  5. Another con is that the boxes will contain a pre-portioned number of items of all processed food and does not include meat other than canned meat.
  6. I feel that this would cause a social stigma for the people who receive these boxes.  It will also cause the delivery of thousands of heavy boxes and what happens if the boxes don’t get delivered or get stolen where does that leave the recipient?
  7. This proposal would get rid of SNAP nutrition education.

The next thing I'll list are the pros of this budget

  1. This budget could create additional jobs for the packing of boxes.
  2. A nutritionist would manage the food going into the boxes and it could mean more healthy and nutrient dense foods.
  3. These boxes would be delivered to people’s homes which would help those who are disabled and those that do not have transportation.
  4. It could be cheaper with buying the food wholesale instead of each person going to the grocery store themselves.

I see more cons than pros with this budget.  Whether you’re from the left side or the right side there are a lot of issues that are not met with this proposal.  The other thing with this proposal is that the president is trying to make cuts and strict regulations on all safety net programs that help low income people.  

This proposal will be very hard to pass through Congress, and the money that is cut would be used for military.  Maybe the government can come up with a better replacement for the SNAP food box proposal.  

According to an article I read, Maine's governor Paul LePage threated to remove his state from SNAP if the USDA did not allow him to restrict the purchases of sugary food and drinks.  Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to drug test any adult who receives food aid.  There is a big social stigma against people who receive SNAP and a lot of people make judgements and stereotype everyone in the same category.  That they are all drug addicts, and lazy people who don’t want to work.  

I am very opinionated when it comes to speaking about things or talking about subjects that are important to me.  These cuts would affect my family with SNAP.  While I’m in school and raising two kids, money is very tight and without SNAP my family would not be able to eat.  I already must choose between which bill is going to get paid first; if I had to choose between bills and food that would be even more stressful.  I am glad for all the safety net programs in the country.  They help a lot of families who otherwise would struggle immensely.

Student offers a review of the Frontline documentary Poor Kids

In class, we watched the film Poor Kids, a documentary involving three families and focusing on the children and how being poor affected them. The film showed many different living situations, from living in a very tiny motel room to a family in a homeless shelter, the effects of poverty were obvious in each situation. The families all had many similarities. Two of the three families were two-parent households which to me is a good point to show that poverty can happen even to the “all American family”. I feel that some people may have the misconception that most poor children come from a household headed by a single mother and this is not necessarily true. Also, the adults in each of the families were actively searching for work or working a job that was inconvenient just to try and make any money they could for their family. 

For example, the one family in which the father did have a job, he was working in a factory that was something like an hour away and his wife and children all had to pile in the van and make the commute to his job every day. The reason his wife had to bring the kids every time is because the homeless shelter they were living in would not allow the children to be unsupervised. Other parents were putting applications in at every place in near vicinity and just hoping for the best. 

In the case of the third family, which was a single mother and her two children, the town that they lived in looked to have absolutely nothing. It was run down, and you could tell its glory days were long past. The mother had learned a trade, she was a hairdresser, but she couldn’t find work at any salons. In this case, the physical effects of poverty were very evident. The mother didn’t have money to dress in what would be considered salon appropriate clothing and she had poor dental care (assumingly from lack of ever being able to afford it), and these things only exacerbate the struggle to find a job. Her 12-year-old son was mowing lawns to try and make any extra money possible to give to his mother to help feed the family.

 In all cases, these children were very aware of the situations going on around them. They knew that their families were poor and struggling, and most of them mentioned that their lives weren’t always like this. The hardest part for me was to hear these children express such grim outlooks for the future. One little girl mentioned that in the future all the jobs will be gone, and this is just sad. This is something most children never think of, but when this is all children see, it is easy for them to believe that there aren’t opportunities. 

This movie shows how poverty is a cycle that is hard to end. Five years after the initial movie was filmed, they went back to revisit the children, and in all cases, they were still struggling. They may have been a little better off but they were by no means out of poverty’s grasp. In one family, the father had finally found a job and the son, who was now out of high school, was working along side his father, and they were both just hoping that these jobs would hold out. This is an example of the son going down the same path his father had, and I would guess that throughout his adult life he is going to struggle just like his father because his only option was to get out of school and go straight into working a low wage job just to make ends meet.  In all the families, it seemed that the boys struggled to make it through high school, they either got in trouble or just didn’t have motivation; and the girls were a little more focused on trying to do well in school and make it somewhere.

All in all, I think everyone should have to watch this movie and be exposed to how kids in poverty are living. This is a hard reality, but all communities have children that are struggling, and there needs to be a focus on resources that help these children and their families. If we don’t make it a goal to help children, more than likely they are going to continue down the path of poverty throughout their life.