Living the good life on welfare…right

So this page came to my attention today from one of my co-workers. The first item on the page, ostensibly is a phone call to a morning radio call in show from a woman who is living off subsidized housing, utilities support, SNAP, and a free cell phone. Her husband supposedly will catch odd jobs when he feels like it and they have three kids.

The second story is about a report in the Rio Grande valley somewhere in which a guy claims he frequently gets people in his convenience store with balances of thousands of dollars on their Lone Star (SNAP/food stamps) cards.

In the first case, the woman claims to get about $1300 in supports including $425/month in SNAP and pays $50/month in rent from her own income.  I don’t buy it. They are supporting five people on less than $1500 a month? In Austin? Plus, I’ve never in my life heard of anyone so happy to be receiving benefits. I think the whole call is a hoax. I won’t claim that the folks at KLBJ perpetrated it, but they sure fell for it like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner.

As for the other story, they have exactly one person making claims that are completely uncorroborated. The only official numbers in the story, if you actually do the math show that the average recipient was receiving $109-$117/ month in the two counties for which they were able to get actual data. You try living on $25-$30 a week in food. Also, little known fact: when you apply for SNAP, your date of eligibility may be some weeks or months prior to your application date and the date you receive benefits, so your first month’s card could have considerable “back benefits” on it. Would that add up to a balance of thousands of dollars? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Well $7000 would surprise me but $2000 sounds reasonable. The down side? Your SNAP benefits expire at the end of the month so to get the full benefit of that card, you have to find a way to spend the entire balance before the end of the month. I guess there are worse problems to have.


The Conservative Argument in Favor of the Affordable Care Act

So the shutdown is over and we aren’t going to default on any debt. But the Republicans still vow to get rid of Obamacare. So let’s look at why health care reform is something Conservatives should be in favor of. Here’s a letter to my Tea Party-backed Representative:

Health Care is a jobs issue. Actually, I was pretty surprised that the President and the Democrats didn’t use this line when they passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place, because it is very true. I used to work for Dell, one of the bigger employers in our district. In the mid 2000′s (2005 give or take) Dell decided to bring call volume back from India and therefore opened new call centers. Did they open them in the US? No, they opened them in Panama and Canada. Why? At least in part it was because those countries had government health coverage and so employers weren’t burdened with providing insurance.

A small business I know of in Travis County was very proud to start providing insurance for their employees around the same time. Shortly thereafter, one of their employees and his family were in a terrible car accident. They lost at least one member of the family (as I recall) and the survivors had some serious medical bills. Now, I don’t know if these medical bills had anything to do with the employee leaving the next year, but I would hate to be the employer faced with the prospect of having my small business hit with suddenly increased premiums because of something like this. I hope the guy was not fired so that the company could continue to provide benefits, but I can’t rule it out.
Health Care is a huge burden on job creation in this country and I can say that from my own direct experience as well. Dell laid me off in 2009 and I investigated starting my own business during the year that I remained unemployed. I applied for private insurance during that time and was denied for “pre-existing conditions.” The insurance company so wanted to avoid covering me that they took my off-hand comments in my doctor’s notes as a diagnosis. I am not certified by any authority in the world to make diagnoses, but that apparently didn’t matter to the insurance company. They also invented a “smoking history” for me.

Last year, I had a heart attack. That’s a real pre-existing condition that is going to require me to have insurance in place because heart attacks are EXPENSIVE and so are the drugs to prevent them. I’m doing everything I can to prevent a future heart attack but there are no guarantees and the prevention isn’t cheap either. Under the old system, that means I’m tied to employer insurance until I get old enough to qualify for Medicare. How can I create jobs and grow the economy if I can’t get health coverage? Well, right now, the answer is Obamacare. What you thought the Republican alternatives would work? Why would an out-of-state insurance company want to cover me when an in-state company bent over backwards to avoid covering me, when there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with me yet? Tort Reform? We have tort reform in Texas already and it didn’t make Scott & White feel inclined to take my application seriously. The plain fact is that the GOP has no viable alternative to solve the problems that Obamacare solves. Technical problems with the website aside, there are quite a few reasonably priced plans available to me on the exchange that aren’t allowed to deny me based on my medical history. Now, if you want to do something different from Obamacare, go right ahead, but keep in mind, none of what you and your colleagues have come up with so far fix any of the problems that make the health care industry a drag on our economy. Real health care reform is totally in line with Republican Values. Even if we accept the cynical view that the only thing Republicans value is handouts for the rich, health care reform is in line with that value, too.

And if you’re worried about the insurance companies and their lobby, here’s my thought on that subject: Screw them! Ostensibly they are in the business of paying medical bills, but my experience with them is that they will take any excuse NOT to pay those bills. I could go on for days with stories of how the insurer providing our agency’s current coverage have used incompetence and red tape to avoid meeting their obligations under our policy. Honestly, I don’t see how a government bureaucracy could be any worse than the private bureaucracy I’m dealing with currently. As long as insurance is a for-profit enterprise, this will always be a problem.

So, your recent ill-advised efforts to defund Obamacare were ill-advised not just because it was a stupid strategy, but because it went against our county’s economic interests. I was always taught that the GOP was the party of fiscal responsibility and growing the economy. Getting rid of Obamacare with your current ideas on what to do instead is neither responsible nor does it grow the economy.


A Parable

A man went to the school to pick up his son after being informed that the son had been fighting. As they sat in the car on the way home, the boy holding an icepack on his swollen black eye, his dad asked him what happened.

“Johnny said he was going to beat me up if I didn’t give him my lunch money.”

“That’s not a good reason to get into a fight,” said his dad. “Why didn’t you just give him your lunch money?”

“That’s what I’ve been doing; every time he forgets his own money, he does this. A couple of times I talked him into letting me do his homework instead.”

“So if talking was working, why didn’t you talk to him this time?”

“Working? Talking wasn’t working! He started threatening me for my lunch money even when he didn’t forget his. Nothing was ever enough, so I decided that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. He told me yesterday to give him my lunch money or else and I told him no. I’m not giving up my lunch money any more. Well, he said he’d give me until today to think about it and I told him I wasn’t going to change my mind. He told me he would not only beat me up, but he’d beat my friends up, too and I told him I wasn’t going to give him my lunch money.”

“That was yesterday?”

“Yes, Dad. And today he walked up to me when I got to school, yelling at me to give him his money and I just ignored him. Then he said, ‘Okay, just give me half of your lunch money and I won’t beat you up.’ When I didn’t say anything, he said, ‘Okay, I won’t beat up on two of your friends.’ Then he said, ‘Okay, I won’t beat up on 3 of your friends.’

“Well, that sounds like a good deal, why didn’t you give him your lunch money then?”

“Dad! It’s my money. And it’s pizza day. And if i gave him my lunch money again today, he was just going to come back again next week or the week after and demand money again. And besides, I was winning. He kept asking for less the more I refused to give up.”

“Okay, now I’m confused. You did fight didn’t you?”

“Not really. He finally got so frustrated that he ran at me and tripped on someone’s bookbag. He accidentally hit me in the eye and broke his arm when he fell. But he didn’t get my lunch money.”

So, my lovely audience: Should the boy have given Johnny his lunch money? Who is to blame for the “fight”?


Progress…Finally

It’s not enough for me and if I were advising the President, I would advise that he stand firm, but the House Republicans have started to come to their senses. Speaker John Boehner yesterday announced an offer to the President (to try) to pass a debt ceiling increase good until around the end of November in hopes that the Democrats would come to the negotiating table about the budget. It’s a start.

Of course, their proposal still includes what Newsmax calls “several modest changes” to the Affordable Care Act. I remember when Republican partisans used to accuse me of Bush Derangement Syndrome, reflexively reacting to every move by GWB as if it were coming from the Devil himself (I may be exaggerating slightly). Apparently, GOPers aren’t immune to Obamacare Derangement Syndrome. Anyway, I digress. They should give that up. They should not only raise the debt ceiling but also pass a clean continuing resolution (which they may be considering). They should apologize to the American people and specifically to all those furloughed federal workers. But, for now, I’m going to be happy that they have taken any steps toward being reasonable and negotiating in good faith no matter how small those steps might be.


And now for something completely different

And now for something completely different

Okay, not completely different, but illuminating from a different perspective.


The Sheep and the Goats

Certain of my family have been passing this meme around and I found it quite timely and appropriate. I made some nitpicky modifications, but the original idea is signed by a Jason Leith. It’s a paraphrase of Jesus in Matthew 25:41-46

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you reduced funding for food stamps, I was thirsty and you prevented the EPA from guaranteeing me clean water, 43 I was a stranger and you vilified me and demanded that I be deported, I needed clothes and you substituted a sales tax for an income tax and slashed welfare payments, I was sick and you took away my only hope for health care, I was in prison and you tortured me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and endeavored to harm you further?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

And might I add, “I was homeless and you denied me affordable housing.”


Bringing it all together

It occurred to me that I’ve been preaching to my Congressman, presenting problems without presenting any solutions. Or at least not presenting any solutions to HIS problem as he (probably) sees it. So I realized that some of my other preaching on the relationship of the GOP to their base might be germane to our current budget/debt ceiling woes. So here’s the result:

I understand you’re in a tough spot right now. Having taken the position you have on Obamacare and the budget, you’re looking for a way to save face because, if you are seen as caving in on this position, you become vulnerable to getting “primaried” by someone even more conservative than you next spring. But the President isn’t budging on this and I don’t see any reason why he would. And I really don’t want to see you and your colleagues forced to give up because we’re already defaulting on debts and watching our economy crumble. That’s bad for everyone.

So, “caving” sooner rather than later is good for the United States of America as a whole but is bad for [you personally]. And I think the answer is to get comfortable with this idea: The Republican Base is too small and relying solely on playing to “the base” to get through the primary and then having to energize “the base” to make it through the general election is not a winning strategy in the long-term. Playing to and energizing “the base” only serves to push moderates away making the base even smaller. I know this is true, because that’s me. I’ve always considered myself a moderate Republican, but I can’t, in good conscience, support this party anymore. For many reasons, but not least of which is they don’t seem to want me around anyway. “Fine,” I say to myself, “I’ll take my vote where it’s appreciated.” Giving in on this budget fight is going to piss off “the base,” no doubt, but there are literally millions of people who don’t vote at all in the primaries that would easily dwarf the mere 2 million who voted in both primaries in May 2012. In [your district], even if every person who voted for you in 2012 voted against you (all 43,317), there are still 606,285 [that didn't vote in any primary, Democrat or Republican] in the voting age population to pull from. Now that’s a base! If you could get just one out of 6 of those to vote for you in the primary you’d blow a putative “attack from the right” out of the water. And are those people going to vote for the Democrat in the general? Please! Me personally, I think the GOP needs to repudiate the Tea Party, but for you, in the face of a very real possibility of having to cave in no matter what you might want to believe, I think this provides a way to still come out a winner. Think about it.

Actually, the 43,317 was my Congressman’s vote plus his only primary competitor. I don’t recall anymore if his competitor was tea-party-er than thou but in this district that’s the way to bet. I doubt that very many of those who opposed my Congressman did so because they thought him too conservative and so might respond favorably to a more moderate position.

But the real point is that I don’t think there’s any scenario in which he doesn’t have to give in on Obamacare and just go ahead and fund the government and raise the debt limit. And when he does cave in, it’s really going to hurt him in the next primary. And even if (somehow) it doesn’t, growing the base is going to be the way to remain competitive in the future (I mean 10-20 years out). And Daily Kos thinks this is one of the districts that is turning bluer these days. Moderating is probably good for my district in the nearer future (say, 5-12 years out).


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