Pennsylvania to Impose Sanctions Against the Poor

Category:  BloggERy
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 1:06 PM
Pennsylvania to Impose Sanctions Against the Poor by Jay Stevens
Time

Any of y'all see this in the news?

Pennsylvania plans to make the amount of food stamps that people receive contingent on the assets they possess - an unexpected move that bucks national trends and places the commonwealth among a minority of states.

Specifically, the Department of Public Welfare said that as of May 1, people under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings and other assets would no longer be eligible for food stamps. For people over 60, the limit would be $3,250.

Is it me, or does this seem like a terrible idea?

The DPW plan caught many by surprise, but has been widely condemned by Philadelphia city officials, business leaders statewide, and advocates for the poor.

They point to federal statistics showing that Pennsylvania has one of the lowest food-stamp fraud rates in the nation: one-tenth of 1 percent.

In fact, the state recently won a federal award for running its program efficiently, federal officials say.

Moreover, about 30 percent of people who are eligible for food stamps in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation don't access them, making the entitlement program under-subscribed.

Critics of the DPW plan say it would particularly punish elderly people saving for their burials, poor people trying to save enough money to get out of poverty, and working- and middle-class people who lost their jobs in the recession and may now have to liquidate assets to feed their families.

Nope, it's not me.

I can't wrap my head around this. Wouldn't performing an audit of everyone who receives food stamps be, you know, expensive? Wouldn't punishing people in poverty who are accumulating savings and assets be, you, know discouraging them from improving their condition? Wouldn't this program actually give welfare recipients a financial incentive to remain poor?

Well, yes.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a student in a writing class. The student was writing a research paper arguing against abstinence-only sex education in schools. His problem was that he was entirely dismissive of those who held abstinence-only views. I explained to him that he needed to argue against the opposing viewpoint rationally, and to do so he needed to consider their viewpoint seriously, and with empathy.

"But their viewpoint doesn't make sense!" he said. "Abstinence-only sex education doesn't work!" Which is true. Teens in abstinence-only sex ed classes are more likely to get STDs or have unwanted pregnancies. He was looking at sex education as a pragmatic tool to solve or mitigate a real social problem. Either the program worked, or it didn't. Abstinence-only sex ed programs don't work; therefore, it shouldn't be included in any school's curriculum.

What he didn't understand was that many who argue for abstinence-only sex education don't see it that way. For them, teaching anything but abstinence-only sex ed to teens is immoral. Sex ed should impart particular values. Whether it "works" or not is beside the point. What's important is affirming a particular ethos.

That's the case with a lot of conservative stances. Torture? Doesn't work. Worse, it's counter-effective, producing unreliable, unactionable intelligence. (But those bastards deserve it!) Outlawing abortion? Doesn't reduce abortions. Worse, it demands government intrusion into our personal lives on a scale we can only begin to imagine. (But abortion is murder!) These are punitive only, and completely uneffective for solving real problems.

How else could you view Pennsylvania's asset test for food stamp recipients as anything other than a punishment of food stamp recipients who have -- in the eyes of Governor Corbett and the state government -- too much money?

It's no way to run a government.

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 9
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