Posts Tagged 'economy'

Spaniards Protest Health Care Reforms: privatization, closures of public facilities

Spaniards Protest Health Care Reforms

By HAROLD HECKLE
Associated Press

Protestors march as they carry a banner reading, “Public health care” and “24 hours strike” during a demonstration against regional government imposed austerity plans to restructure and part privatize health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers. Spain’s regions are struggling with a combined debt of 145 billion euro ($190 billion) as the country’s economy contracts into a double dip recession triggered by a 2008 real estate crash. Andres Kudacki / AP Photo

MADRID — Thousands of people marched in Madrid on Sunday to protest plans to privatize parts of their public health care system, with some questioning the motives behind the government’s actions.

The march by employees and users of the system is the year’s second large “white tide” demonstration, named after the color of the medical scrubs many protesters wear. Several similar marches took place last year.

Demonstrators thronged main boulevards in the center of the Spanish capital, carrying banners saying, “Public health care should be defended, not sold off.”

The Madrid region has proposed selling the management of six of 20 large public hospitals in its jurisdiction and 10 percent of its 268 public health centers. It says these reforms are needed to secure health services during Spain’s economic crisis.

A protestor carries a banner reading, “Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, serial fraudster” during a demonstration against regional government imposed austerity plans to restructure and part privatize health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers. Spain’s regions are struggling with a combined debt of 145 billion euro ($190 billion) as the country’s economy contracts into a double dip recession triggered by a 2008 real estate crash. Andres Kudacki / AP Photo

But protesters were skeptical.

“This measure is politically inspired and not financial,” said mechanical engineer Mario Sola, 47. “If public hospitals were unsustainably loss-making as we’re being told, private enterprise wouldn’t be interested.”

Health care and education are administered by Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions rather than by the central government.

Many regions are struggling financially as Spain’s economy has shrunk due to a double-dip recession following the 2008 implosion of the once-prosperous real estate and construction sectors.

Some regions overspent during boom years, but are now excluded from borrowing on the financial markets to repay their accumulated debts, forcing them to seek savings and even request rescue aid from the central government.

Regional health councilor Javier Fernandez-Lasquetty called the protests irresponsible and said that “everyone has their point of view, but we are all fighting to defend the same thing.”

Jose Gabriel Gonzalez Martin, president of Spain’s Independent Civil Service Trade Union Center, said many people’s suspicions were aroused when former government health officials acquired jobs with private companies lining up to take over medical analysis functions.

“It might be purely coincidental, but some coincidences are surprising,” Gonzalez said.

Protestors shout slogans during a demonstration against regional government imposed austerity plans to restructure and part privatize health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers. Spain’s regions are struggling with a combined debt of 145 billion euro ($190 billion) as the country’s economy contracts into a double dip recession triggered by a 2008 real estate crash. Andres Kudacki / AP Photo

 

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Can We Please Stop Pretending Obama is “Capitulating” on Social Security?

Firedoglake, Wednesday, December 19, 2010

Can We Please Stop Pretending Obama is “Capitulating” on Social Security?

By: Jane Hamsher

Everywhere you look, the media narrative is that President Obama is “capitulating” to Republicans by agreeing to cuts in Social Security benefits.

And I have to ask, where is this collective political amnesia coming from?

Obama has made a deliberate and concerted effort to cut Social Security benefits since the time he took office.  FDL reported on February 12, 2009 that the White House was meeting behind closed doors to consider ways to cut Social Security benefits, and that the framework they were using was the Diamond-Orszag plan, which was co-authored by OMB Director Peter Orszag when he was at the Brookings Institute.

The birth of the now-ubiquitous “catfood” meme came on February 18, 2009 with this FDL headline:

“Hedge Fund Billionaire Pete Peterson Key Speaker At Obama “Fiscal Responsibility Summit,” Will Tell Us All Why Little Old Ladies Must Eat Cat Food”

As I wrote in August of 2010, Peterson’s keynote spot was the worst kept secret in town; I knew about it because I had been on a conference call with about 40 representatives of various DC interest groups, many of whom had received written notice from the White House that Peterson was scheduled to headline the event. But nobody wanted to go on the record for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with the administration in its early days.

After FDL broke the news, Peterson was “disinvited” from the summit. Both he and the White House denied everything, but Robert Kuttner subsequently confirmed in the Washington Post that Peterson had, in fact, been scheduled as the keynote speaker that day.

The administration backed off its immediate plans for reforming Social Security. The New York Times reported that they were “running into opposition from his party’s left” who are “vehement in opposing any reductions in scheduled benefits for future retirees.” But NYT columnist David Brooks reported that shortly after the summit, “four senior members of the administration” called him to say that Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security.”

Undeterred, the White House began telling journalists off the record that they were interested in “establishing an independent commission (outside the congressional committee structure) to look at creating a specific reform plan.”

In January of 2010, a bill sponsored by committed Social Security slashers Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad which would have created an official commission to make recommendations about the nation’s deficit was defeated by the Senate on a bipartisan vote — 22 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted no.

After the Senate defeat, on February 18, President Obama issued an executive order creating what subsequently became known as the “Catfood Commission” anyway.

Unlike Bill Clinton’s Danforth Commission, which ended in deadlock, Obama set this commission up in such a way that it was stacked with deficit hawks who largely agreed on what needed to be done: 12 of the 18 members were to be appointed by Senate and House leaders in each party, and 6 would be appointed by the President. This virtually guaranteed that Social Security privatization fetishist Paul Ryan would be on the commission, as would Gregg and Conrad.

Among the President’s six appointments:

  • As Bowles’ Republican Co-Chair, the President appointed loose cannon Alan Simpson, the former rich kid GOP Senator from Wyoming once famously said that those who were complaining that Social Security needed protection were “people who live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount.”
  •  David M. Cote, the Republican CEO of defense contractor Honeywell

The composition of the Commission was conveniently stacked with 14 of the 18 members committed deficit hawks looking to start balancing the federal budget on the backs of old people.

And who supplied the staff to the commission? Why, Pete Peterson.

Are we to believe that the President was blissfully ignorant of the agendas of the people he appointed to this commission, created with the goal of bypassing Congressional process?

With the exception of a few public dog and pony shows, the Commission conducted its deliberations in secret.  But on June 16 of 2010, Alex Lawson of Social Security Works blew a hole in that secrecy on the front page of FDL when he caught Alan Simpson on live streaming video as he was exiting a meeting of the Catfood Commission.   In real time, Alex got Alan Simpson to say what everyone in the room was thinking but wouldn’t say publicly. Simpson told Alex that the commission was “really working on solvency”:

“We’re trying to take care of the lesser people in society and do that in a way without getting into all the flash words you love dig up, like cutting Social Security, which is bullshit. We’re not cutting anything, we’re trying to make it solvent.”

The Catfood Commission ultimately failed it is mission, due in no small part to the work of people like Alex, Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson of Social Security Works who have consistently been out there informing and uniting interest groups and educating the public to the fact that, yes, the White House has an agenda of cutting Social Security benefits.

I don’t know why Obama wants to cut Social Security benefits. I do know that Obama has been honest about it from the start. In January of 2009, even before he took office, he told the Washington Post that he believed Social Security was a broken system and that “entitlement reform” was something he wanted to achieve during his tenure in office:

“Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices–particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare – should be made on his watch. “We’ve kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,” he said.”

Perhaps Obama wants to do what Bill Clinton couldn’t do.  It’s clear the oligarch class has decided that this is what must happen, and that in order to be considered a “serious” person, this is what a President must do.  Perhaps Obama simply wants to be considered a “serious person” by those in the ruling class.

But it’s clear that he did not arrive at the decision to “reform” Social Security and cut benefits because he is a poor negotiator, or because of Republican arm twisting.  It defies all logic and reason to look at his actions over the years and think that the President is now “capitulating” on Social Security.

The President has been very forthcoming about the fact that cutting Social Security benefits is something he wants to do.  When he said during the debate that he didn’t differ from Mitt Romney on entitlement reform, he meant it.   It’s time for people to remove the rose-colored glasses and stop projecting their own feelings on to the man.  It’s time to take him at his word.

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Here’s Real History in the Making: Fighting to Save SF City College

Here’s Real “History in the Making”:
The People Fight Back to Save City College
Friday, January 11, 9–10:30 AM
SF City College, Ocean Campus
Between Diego Rivera Theater & Visual Arts Bldg.
MUNI # 9X, 9AX, 9BX, 29, 36, 43, 49, 54, and K
Balboa Park BART 3 blocks away on Geneva
See map of campus: http://tinyurl.com/aoq7yp6

Contact:
Allan Fisher, afisher800@gmail.com
Wendy Kaufmyn ,(510) 714-8687, kaufmyn@aol.com

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Students cross Phelan Avenue at the main campus of S.F. City College, which is under fire by the accrediting commission. Photo: Megan Farmer, The Chronicle / SF

City College of San Francisco students, staff, teachers and department chairs will picket and boycott the interim chancellor’s welcome address which traditionally kicks off the new semester. Instead of listening to Dr. Thelma Scott-Skillman’s speech, “History in the Making”, City College’s community will make its own history by conducting a press conference and rally addressing the people of San Francisco.

The people of San Francisco overwhelmingly showed a vote of confidence in CCSF by passing Proposition A, a parcel tax specifically dedicated to offset budget cuts, prevent worker layoffs, maintain essential classes, programs and student support services. However, the district is intending to use the funds for other purposes, namely paying high-priced consultants and bolstering reserves.

During this event people will be asked to sign a Pledge of Resistance stating their intention to take drastic action if the district doesn’t spend Proposition A funds (or reserves) as intended.

“San Francisco voters sent a clear message of affirmation for City College’s mission to serve the whole community,” said Leslie Simon, instructor in Women’s Studies and former department chair. “We denounce the district’s downsizing our mission, downsizing our college and limiting student accessibility.”

Allan Fisher, ESL instructor, insisted that, “The administration has failed to promote student enrollment, thereby creating a ‘budget crisis’. Meanwhile they are spending excessive amounts on administrative salaries, high paid consultants and lucrative interim administrative positions.”

Wendy Kaufmyn, Engineering instructor of 29 years, said, “ We need to remain steadfast in our commitment to the California Master Plan and its vision of free education for all and to AB1725, legislation which encourages an administrative role by department chairs elected by their peers.”

We accept the accreditation commission’s legitimate suggestions, we will not accept the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges undermining of mission of our community college. We demand a commitment to the California Master Plan and its vision of free education for all, and to AB1725, encouraging an administrative role by peer-elected department chairs.

Speakers at the action will denounce:

* how Proposition A funds are not being used as the voters intended for classes, programs, and student services, and to prevent layoffs

* the limiting of student accessibility through the downsizing of CCSF

* the narrowing of CCSF’s mission to serve the whole community

* the failure of the administration to effectively promote student enrollment, thereby creating a “budget crisis”

* the administration efforts to limit democratic culture and institute an authoritarian, top-down business model for CCSF

* the dismantling of the Department Chair structure, and the negative impact on the “diversity departments”

* the excessive spending on administrative salaries and high paid consultants

* the unilateral take-backs (an additional 9% salary cut from employees on top 2.85%) after six years of employee pay freezes and concessions

* the district proposals to limit or terminate health benefits and pro-rata pay for part-time employees

* the use of CCSF funds for lucrative interim administrative hiring positions

* the mantra of productivity expressed by the administration under the name “enrollment management” that negatively impacts educational quality

* the chronic misrepresentation of CCSF in the media

* the taking away of power from the elected local Board of Trustees

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Fight Foreclosures and Evictions: Take Your Money Out of Wells Fargo

Indybay Media, December 18, 2012

Take Your Money Out of Wells Fargo

by Patricia Jackson

Gray Panthers leaving WF Bank after closing account

On Tuesday, December 18, two senior organizations took their money out of Wells Fargo and joined a protest rally outside at Grant and Market in San Francisco. James Chionsini of Senior Disability Action and Michael Lyon of Gray Panthers addressed the rally after they had closed their organizations’ accounts and called on other organizations to also take their money out of predatory banks. Prior to the rally and while members of Gray Panthers and Senior and Disability Action were inside closing their accounts, a Wells “undercover spy” approached several protesters and took our pictures. He then tried to pass himself off as “one of us.” All morning Wells Fargo customers had to show ID and Wells ATM cards before guards would allow them into the bank. Protesters engaged in conversations with customers and passersby to talk about alternative ways of banking, local credit unions. Speakers educated them about Wells Fargo’s foreclosures.

Senior & Disability Action is welcomed by WF Bank undercover men

Setting up for the protest

Tony Robles, a member of Senior and Disability Action and a 4th generation San Franciscan, started the rally citing case after case of folks who are in foreclosure, forced out of homes they have lived in for decades. Like Larry Fox being thrown out of his home he has lived since as a child when his father took him watch as it was being built.And Robert Moses, 92. year old WWII Veteran, refinanced his nearly paid-off loan with Deutsche Bank to bring his home up to city code. Deutsche raised his interest rate and payment to $3,400 a month. Many seniors living on Social Security and/or fortunate enough to have a pension usually average far less that that amount a month to live on.

Foreclosure Fighters speaking out

Another Foreclosure Fighter

Wells Fargo has been fraudulently processing mortgage documents with a practice called robo-signing for years. Placing quotas on employees and forcing them to sign a certain number of foreclosure files each day. While other documents required for homeowners to avoid foreclosure were ignored, left sitting on unattended fax machines. Wells Fargo has double the number of foreclosures of other banks- a despicable record of evicting record numbers of seniors, disabled and people of color with a $4.8 billion profit. Protesters call for them to negotiate with the 27 families who are in foreclosures.

Archbishop Franzo King, of St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and NAACP told us that Wells Fargo made money off trading slaves and now it is foreclosing on the African American decedents of slaves. These banksters have no morality if they continue to put seniors and poor people out of their homes and on to the streets!

Tommi Avicolli Mecca told us to come to a rally Wednesday, December 19th, at 8th & Castro to protest the evictions caused by the Ellis Act- currently 25 buildings in the Mission are being “Ellised”, throwing out people with AIDS, parents and children.

Henne Kelly of California Alliance of Retired Americans (CARA) warned us about the ads Wells Fargo is running in the SF Chronicle offering $20,000 loans, which would not have to be paid back if people stay in a home for 5 years. “Do we trust Wells Fargo?” We roared back, “No!” Chants followed- “Wells Fargo’s impunity Destroys Community!”

It feels good to fight back!

Speaking out against the Grinch that stole our homes.

All groups should take their money out of Wells Fargo!

John Stumpf, Wells Fargo CEO

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Drug Companies Refuse to Produce Generic, Less-Profitable Anti-Cancer Drug, Leading to Recurrence of Lymphoma.

Drug Companies Refuse to Produce Generic, Less-Profitable Anti-Cancer Drug, Leading to Recurrence of Lymphoma. This is a particularly eloquent illustration of the deadly effects of production for profits, rather than production for our needs. It also illustrates how the capitalists’ ownership of intellectual property (drug patents, in this case) is as toxic as their ownership of the factories, farms, hospitals etc, where we have to work to earn the money to buy back what we make in these places of employment. Bear in mind that the government pays for 80% of the research on drugs which the pharmacy companies then get patents on.

SF Chronicle, Thursday, December 27, 2012

Drug shortage, cancer recurrence linked

A drug given to lymphoma patients as a substitute for a chemotherapy medication that is in short supply has been linked in a study to an early recurrence of the cancer, according to a report released Wednesday that provides the first actual evidence of patient harm caused by a national shortage of drugs.

The shortage specifically includes older, generic medications needed for a wide range of uses such as cancer, surgery and pain management, say authors of the report, which involved Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto.

“These are drugs that have gone off patent a long time ago. They are drugs that are all generic and they are quite cheap, so there’s not much incentive for the manufacturers to make them,” said Dr. Michael Link, professor of pediatrics at Stanford’s School of Medicine and senior author of the report.

Drug shortages throughout the country have been attributed to various factors, including problems in production, difficulties in getting raw materials, federal recalls and enforcement actions, and corporate decisions to discontinue making certain medications for lack of profit or other reasons.

From 2006 to 2011, the number of pharmaceutical drugs considered in short supply by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration jumped from 70 to 250. Some reports show that the drug shortage rate has slowed, but some drugs that at one point came off the short-supply list are in short supply once again, and many drugs have consistently remained scarce.

Behind the report

Wednesday’s report, led by researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at more than 200 children, teenagers and young adults who had been enrolled in an ongoing national clinical trial to treat intermediate or high-risk Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This type of cancer, which accounts for about 6 percent of childhood cancers, originates from white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The trial focused on tailoring radiation therapy for patients, but had to be modified when one of the drugs used in the trial – an injectable drug called mechlorethamine, also known as Mustargen or nitrogen mustard – became unavailable in 2009. The shortage, brought on when production was moved to a new plant, forced researchers to replace mechlorethamine with a decades-old chemotherapy drug called cyclophosphamide, or Cytoxan.

Because cyclophosphamide is used almost interchangeably with mechlorethamine, researchers were not expecting much of a difference in outcomes for the patients, but while none of the patients died, the percentage of patients who remained cancer free two years after treatment fell from 88 to 75 percent.

“We were totally blindsided by the results,” Link said.

Study results end trial

Those who relapsed had to receive additional intensive therapy, which is associated with higher odds for infertility and other health problems. Researchers stopped enrolling new patients in the trials once the negative results from the substitute became apparent. The drug shortage was resolved in early November.

Hospital administrators, pharmacists and doctors have routinely found alternative medications when a preferred drug became hard to come by. But Link said his fellow physicians have long suspected that patients were being harmed by these substitutions.

The national drug shortage prompted new federal legislation this summer that requires drug manufacturers to report production interruptions and gives the FDA authority to speed approval of applications for drugs in short supply.

Maria Serpa, senior pharmacist at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento and former president of the California Society of Health-System Pharmacists who was not involved in the St. Jude study, wasn’t surprised that the results showed patients were being harmed by the inability to get certain drugs. She said she regularly sees shortages of various drugs such as those used in anesthesia and to control pain.

“I don’t think the list is getting any smaller,” Serpa said, referring to the FDA’s shortage list. “What’s frustrating is the re-emergence of some of the older shortages from two or three years ago. This just seems to keep coming back.”

More information

For more information about the drugs in short supply, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website: http://www.fda.gov/drugs/drugsafety/drugshortages/default.htm.

Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: vcolliver@sfchronicle.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Drug-shortage-cancer-recurrence-linked-4147866.php#ixzz2GGqG9Qaf

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Senior and Disability Groups Protest Wells Fargo Evictions, Shutter Accounts

Fog City Journal, December 18, 2012

Senior and Disability Groups Protest Wells Fargo Evictions, Shutter Accounts

By Christopher D. Cook

A fiery crowd of as many as 50 seniors and their supporters including green-clad, Doctor Seuss-styled grinches, rallied this afternoon in front of Wells Fargo Bank at the intersection of Market and Grant streets, calling on the national bank to halt its evictions of struggling homeowners and to change its foreclosure practices.

“Wells Fargo, I had a home but you took it back and sold it—you’re a grinch!” activists from the San Francisco Grey Panthers and Senior & Disability Action yelled under crisp clear winter skies. “I’m a kid who had a warm house to live in but you took that away from me—you’re a Grinch!”

An hour earlier, representatives from the two groups entered the bank and closed their Wells Fargo accounts to protest home foreclosures that have “disproportionately shuttered the homes of seniors, people with disabilities, and people of color,” the groups stated.

“Too many families have lost their homes due to predatory lending, dual tracking, and simple greed,” the groups said in a media release. Dual tracking involves the selling of a house even while the current homeowners are negotiating a new loan to try to keep their home. “Wells Fargo is at the center of the foreclosure crisis in San Francisco.  They have more foreclosures in their name than any of the other banks.”

Grinch-clad protesters.

Evelyn Luluquisen, Executive Director of Manilatown Heritage Foundation, admonishes Wells Fargo over its foreclosure and eviction practices.

According to their research, Wells Fargo has held 92 auctions on foreclosed homes in San Francisco—more than double the combined total of JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

The groups demand “immediate action to stop the holiday foreclosures and evictions,” listing 27 San Francisco families who are at risk of eviction over the holidays.

“We’re encouraging all other organizations” to close their Wells Fargo Accounts, said James Chionsini, director of healthcare advocacy for Senior & Disability Action (SDA). “We can’t in good conscience support an organization that’s displacing our members, it’s just unethical.”

The rally was supported by an array of local labor and social justice groups including Occupy Bernal, Causa Justa: Just Cause, Housing Rights Committee, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Jobs with Justice, the Coalition on Homelessness, OPEIU Local 3, Poor Magazine/Prensa Pobre, Occupy Action Council of SF, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation.

The groups are joining forces for a “Happy Holidays, Now Get the Hell Out!” press conference and rally tomorrow at noon at 18th and Castro to share their stories about people facing evictions during the holidays. Learn more at http://www.ellishurtsseniors.org.

Christopher D. Cook is a San Francisco author and journalist who has written for Harper’s, The Economist, The Nation, Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. You can find more of his work at www.christopherdcook.com.

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Clinton’s savage program of Welfare Reform, effects on women and children

Sunday’s New York Times has a significant article on women’s’ and children’s poverty, and Welfare Reform of the 1990s.  It’s reprinted below, and is available at http://tinyurl.com/cubfjcn .

The next time you hear liberal Democrats prattle about the good old days under Clinton, with his budget surpluses, remember his 1996 Welfare Reform, the savage program that stole billions from welfare recipients and gave the money to the rich, who invested it in the stock market,  driving up stocks and giving us our vaunted “prosperity”.  Extreme poverty has doubled since Welfare Reform, and poverty and near-poverty have jumped hugely, but Obama and Pelosi say nothing about this, only talking about the “middle class.”  Clearly Democrats are as devoted to corporate profits and enriching the rich as Republicans.

Here’s the facts of the New York Times article in a nutshell

This is the fallout from the 1996 Welfare Reform, which was

  • promoted by Clinton as “ending welfare as we know it,” and
  • supported by Obama in his 2008 campaign, when he bragged about his role cutting welfare rolls as an Illinois legislator.

Welfare Reform replaced AFDC (Aid to Dependent Children) which

  • dated from New Deal,
  • gave states unlimited matching funds
  • with no time limits and little requirements for recipients
  • with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which
    • imposed time limits on how long you could receive welfare, (usually 5 years)
    • imposed work requirements on recipients,
    • capped payments.
    • Gave states fixed federal payments, which encouraged states to withhold aid. Since then:
      • 32 states have reduced rolls by at least 66%
      • Welfare rolls are now down 68% from the 1990s peak

Those dropped or turned away were mostly single moms and their kids. Now

  • 25% of low-income single moms are without jobs or welfare;
    This is 4 million women and children, twice the rate under AFDC.
    Over 40% of them are jobless and without assistance for over one year.
  • Since 1996, the share of households with kids living on a average of $2 per person per day has almost doubled, to almost 4%.
  • Only 20% of poor children get welfare money, lowest level in 50 years.
  • 10%  of households headed by women are in “deep poverty” (under $4,500 for family of three)

Since start of 2007 recession:

  • Welfare roles have risen only 15% during the worst unemployment since 1930s
  • 16 states have cut welfare rolls
  • 11 states cut welfare rolls by 10% or more, including states with highest unemployment
  • Benefits are cut to a national average of $350/mo for family of three
  • Arizona alone
    •  Cut welfare rolls by 50%, is using federal welfare money to plug state deficits
    • Shortened time limit from five to two years
    • Cut benefits 20%

For more information on the growth of poverty and its effects on women and children read

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Poverty Rate Second-Highest in 45 years” Sept 14, 2011

Available at http://tinyurl.com/3ct69xs

World Socialist Web Site: “Extreme poverty in US has more than doubled since 1996” Feb 25, 2012

Available at http://tinyurl.com/82t6wyk

World Socialist Web Site: “(California Budget Project) Study shows harmful impact of economic crisis on California’s women.”  Available at http://tinyurl.com/7jxdoah

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The article:

New York Times, Sunday, April 08, 2012

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

By JASON DePARLE

PHOENIX — Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to “end welfare as we know it,” which joined the late-’90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love.

But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged.

Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said.

Maria Thomas, 29, with four daughters, helps friends sell piles of brand-name clothes, taking pains not to ask if they are stolen. “I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “I’m just helping get rid of them.”

To keep her lights on, Rosa Pena, 24, sold the groceries she bought with food stamps and then kept her children fed with school lunches and help from neighbors. Her post-welfare credo is widely shared: “I’ll do what I have to do.”

Critics of the stringent system say stories like these vindicate warnings they made in 1996 when President Bill Clinton fulfilled his pledge to “end welfare as we know it”: the revamped law encourages states to withhold aid, especially when the economy turns bad.

The old program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, dates from the New Deal; it gave states unlimited matching funds and offered poor families extensive rights, with few requirements and no time limits. The new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states to turn poor families away.

“My take on it was the states would push people off and not let them back on, and that’s just what they did,” said Peter B. Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the law. “It’s been even worse than I thought it would be.”

But supporters of the current system often say lower caseloads are evidence of decreased dependency. Many leading Republicans are pushing for similar changes to much larger programs, like Medicaid and food stamps.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the top House Republican on budget issues, calls the current welfare program “an unprecedented success.” Mitt Romney, who leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would place similar restrictions on “all these federal programs.” One of his rivals, Rick Santorum, calls the welfare law a source of spiritual rejuvenation.

“It didn’t just cut the rolls, but it saved lives,” Mr. Santorum said, giving the poor “something dependency doesn’t give: hope.”

President Obama spoke favorably of the program in his 2008 campaign — promoting his role as a state legislator in cutting the Illinois welfare rolls. But he has said little about it as president.

Even in the 1996 program’s early days, when jobs were plentiful, a subset of families appeared disconnected — left with neither welfare nor work. Their numbers were growing before the recession and seem to have surged since then.

No Money, No Job

While data on the very poor is limited and subject to challenge, recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income single mothers is jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million women and children. Many of the mothers have problems like addiction or depression, which can make assisting them politically unpopular, and they have received little attention in a downturn that has produced an outpouring of concern for the middle class.

Poor families can turn to other programs, like food stamps or Medicaid, or rely on family and charity. But the absence of a steady source of cash, however modest, can bring new instability to troubled lives.

One prominent supporter of the tough welfare law is worried that it may have increased destitution among the most disadvantaged families. “This is the biggest problem with welfare reform, and we ought to be paying attention to it,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who helped draft the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans and argues that it has worked well for most recipients.

“The issue here is, can you create a strong work program, as we did, without creating a big problem at the bottom?” Mr. Haskins said. “And we have what appears to be a big problem at the bottom.”

He added, “This is what really bothers me: the people who supported welfare reform, they’re ignoring the problem.”

The welfare program was born amid apocalyptic warnings and was instantly proclaimed a success, at times with a measure of “I told you so” glee from its supporters. Liberal critics had warned that its mix of time limits and work rules would create mass destitution — “children sleeping on the grates,” in the words of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who died in 2003.

But the economy boomed, employment soared, poverty fell and caseloads plunged. Thirty-two states reduced their caseloads by two-thirds or more, as officials issued press releases and jostled for bragging rights. The tough law played a large role, but so did expansions of child care and tax credits that raised take-home pay.

In a twist on poverty politics, poor single mothers, previously chided as “welfare queens,” were celebrated as working-class heroes, with their stories of leaving the welfare rolls cast as uplifting tales of pluck. Flush with federal money, states experimented with programs that offered counseling, clothes and used cars.

But if the rise in employment was larger than predicted, it was also less transformative than it may have seemed. Researchers found that most families that escaped poverty remained “near poor.”

And despite widespread hopes that working mothers might serve as role models, studies found few social or educational benefits for their children. (They measured things like children’s aspirations, self-esteem, grades, drug use and arrests.) Nonmarital births continued to rise.

But the image of success formed early and stayed frozen in time.

“The debate is over,” President Clinton said a year after signing the law, which he often cites in casting himself as a centrist. “Welfare reform works.”

The recession that began in 2007 posed a new test to that claim. Even with $5 billion in new federal funds, caseloads rose just 15 percent from the lowest level in two generations. Compared with the 1990s peak, the national welfare rolls are still down by 68 percent. Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years.

As the downturn wreaked havoc on budgets, some states took new steps to keep the needy away. They shortened time limits, tightened eligibility rules and reduced benefits (to an average of about $350 a month for a family of three).

Since 2007, 11 states have cut the rolls by 10 percent or more. They include centers of unemployment like Georgia, Indiana and Rhode Island, as well as Michigan, where the welfare director justified cuts by telling legislators, “We have a fair number of people gaming the system.” Arizona cut benefits by 20 percent and shortened time limits twice — to two years, from five.

Many people already found the underlying system more hassle than help, a gantlet of job-search classes where absences can be punished by a complete loss of aid. Some states explicitly pursue a policy of deterrence to make sure people use the program only as a last resort.

Since the states get fixed federal grants, any caseload growth comes at their own expense. By contrast, the federal government pays the entire food stamp bill no matter how many people enroll; states encourage applications, and the rolls have reached record highs.

Among the Arizonans who lost their checks was Tamika Shelby, who first sought cash aid at 29 after fast-food jobs and a stint as a waitress in a Phoenix strip club. The state gave her $176 a month and sent her to work part time at a food bank. Though she was effectively working for $2 an hour, she scarcely missed a day in more than a year.

“I loved it,” she said.

Her supervisor, Michael Cox, said Ms. Shelby “was just wonderful” and “would even come up here on her days off.”

Then the reduced time limit left Ms. Shelby with neither welfare nor work. She still gets about $250 a month in food stamps for herself and her 3-year-old son, Dejon. She counts herself fortunate, she said, because a male friend lets her stay in a spare room, with no expectations of sex. Still, after feeding her roommate and her child, she said, “there are plenty of days I don’t eat.”

“I know there are some people who abuse the system,” Ms. Shelby said. “But I was willing to do anything they asked me to. If I could, I’d still be working for those two dollars an hour.”

Diverting Federal Funds

Clarence H. Carter, Arizona’s director of economic security, says finances forced officials to cut the rolls. But the state gets the same base funding from the federal government, $200 million, that it received in the mid-1990s when caseloads were five times as high. (The law also requires it to spend $86 million in state funds.)

Arizona spends most of the federal money on other human services programs, especially foster care and adoption services, while using just one-third for cash benefits and work programs — the core purposes of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. If it did not use the federal welfare money, the state would have to finance more of those programs itself.

“Yes, we divert — divert’s a bad word,” said State Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican and chairman of the Arizona House Appropriations Committee. “It helps the state.”

While federal law allows such flexibility, critics say states neglect poor families to patch their own finances. Nationally, only 30 percent of the welfare money is spent on cash benefits.

“It’s not that the other stuff isn’t important, but it’s not what T.A.N.F.” — the Temporary Assistance program — “was intended for,” said LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research and advocacy group. “The states use the money to fill budget holes.”

Even in an economy as bad as Arizona’s, some recipients find work. Estefana Armas, a 30-year-old mother of three, spent nine years on the rolls, fighting depression so severe that it left her hospitalized. Once exempt from time limits because of her mental health, Ms. Armas joined support groups, earned a high school equivalency degree and enrolled in community college.

Just as her time expired last summer, Ms. Armas found work as a teacher’s aide at a church preschool.

“It kind of pushed me to get a job,” she said.

Supporters of Temporary Assistance cite stories like that to argue that it promotes a work ethic. Despite high unemployment, low-skilled single mothers work as much now, on average, as they did under the old welfare law — and by some measures, a bit more. As a group, their poverty rates are still lower. And those without cash aid, they say, can turn to other programs.

“We have reduced our caseload, and we don’t have people dying in the street,” Mr. Kavanagh said. “There were an awful lot of people who didn’t need it.”

But the number of very poor families appears to be growing. Pamela Loprest and Austin Nichols, researchers at the Urban Institute, found that one in four low-income single mothers nationwide — about 1.5 million — are jobless and without cash aid. That is twice the rate the researchers found under the old welfare law. More than 40 percent remain that way for more than a year, and many have mental or physical disabilities, sick children or problems with domestic violence.

Using a different definition of distress, Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin of Harvard examined the share of households with children in a given month living on less than $2 per person per day. It has nearly doubled since 1996, to almost 4 percent. Even when counting food stamps as cash, they found one of every 50 children live in such a household.

The Census Bureau uses a third measure, “deep poverty,” which it defines as living on less than half of the amount needed to escape poverty (for a family of three, that means living on less than $9,000 a year). About 10 percent of households headed by women report incomes that low, a bit less than the peak under the old law but still the highest level in 18 years.

Some researchers say the studies exaggerate poverty by inadequately accounting for undisclosed income, like help from boyfriends or under-the-table jobs. They note that asking poor people about their consumption, rather than their income, suggests that even the poorest single mothers have improved their standard of living since 1996.

Mr. Haskins, the Temporary Assistance program’s architect, agrees that poverty at the bottom “is not as bad as it seems,” but adds, “It’s still pretty darn bad.”

Trying to Make Do

Asked how they survived without cash aid, virtually all of the women interviewed here said they had sold food stamps, getting 50 cents for every dollar of groceries they let others buy with their benefit cards. Many turned to food banks and churches. Nationally, roughly a quarter have subsidized housing, with rents as low as $50 a month.

Several women said the loss of aid had left them more dependent on troubled boyfriends. One woman said she sold her child’s Social Security number so a relative could collect a tax credit worth $3,000.

“I tried to sell blood, but they told me I was anemic,” she said.

Several women acknowledged that they had resorted to shoplifting, including one who took orders for brand-name clothes and sold them for half-price. Asked how she got cash, one woman said flatly, “We rob wetbacks” — illegal immigrants, who tend to carry cash and avoid the police. At least nine times, she said, she has flirted with men and led them toward her home, where accomplices robbed them.

“I felt bad afterwards,” she said. But she added, “There were times when we didn’t have nothing to eat.”

One family ruled out crime and rummaged through trash cans instead. The mother, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, could not get aid for herself but received $164 a month for her four American-born children until their time limit expired. Distraught at losing her only steady source of cash, she asked the children if they would be ashamed to help her collect discarded cans.

“I told her I would be embarrassed to steal from someone — not to pick up cans,” her teenage daughter said.

Weekly park patrols ensued, and recycling money replaced about half of the welfare check.

Despite having a father in prison and a mother who could be deported, the children exude earnest cheer. A daughter in the fifth grade won a contest at school for reading the most books. A son in the eighth grade is a student leader praised by his principal for tutoring younger students, using supplies he pays for himself.

“That’s just the kind of character he has,” the principal said.

After losing cash aid, the mother found a cleaning job but lost it when her boss discovered that she was in the United States illegally. The family still gets subsidized housing and $650 a month in food stamps.

The boy worries about homelessness, but his younger sisters, 9 and 10, see an upside in scavenging.

“It’s kind of fun because you get to look through the trash,” one of the girls said.

“And you get to play in the park a little while before you go home,” her sister agreed.

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