Does The Safety Net Need Fixing?

Does The Safety Net Need Fixing?
By Andrew Sullivan

Jordan Weissmann argues that Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan is a solution in search of a problem, and that the safety net as it is has been successful at keeping most Americans out of long-term poverty:

In 2011, according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the annual U.S. poverty rate was 14 percent. But only 3.5 percent of Americans were chronically poor, meaning they had been impoverished for three straight years. … One take-away from these numbers is that, yes, chronic poverty is real, and we need to work toward fixing it. But another is that, by and large, most people don’t need a life contract to escape poverty; the existing safety net catches them and helps them back onto their feet.

To his credit, Ryan makes some of these distinctions. The animating idea of his plan is that our approach to poverty should be customized person by person. His plan even distinguishes between the sort of approach the government could take to help a woman facing “situational poverty” versus someone stuck in “generational poverty.” He clearly sees the poor as individuals, which is far better than many politicians. But in order to make custom poverty prevention a reality, he wants to tear down a system that already works fairly well for the majority and has without question diminished material deprivation in this country.

Bouie turns to similar statistics to fire back at Reihan’s defense of the Ryan plan’s inherent paternalism:

At some point in their lives, millions of Americans will experience a short spell of poverty. Not because they don’t have a plan to fix their lives or lack the skills to move forward, but because our economy isn’t run to create demand for labor, isn’t equipped to deliver stable work to everyone who wants it, and wasn’t built to address the distributive needs of everyone who works. The best way to confront this problem for most people is to just address those needs.

Yes, on the margins, there will be Americans who need an intensive approach, and I endorse government support for voluntary life coaching. (For example, look at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore.) But by and large, the easiest solution is to mail larger checks to more people. In other words, we need more solutions like Ryan’s expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit—the best part of his plan—and fewer life coaches for the poor.

Reihan goes another round, now arguing that caseworkers would make up for the failures of poor communities to provide “mutual self-help” to their members:

Mutual self-help still exists, yet its institutional manifestations seem to have decayed as U.S. culture has grown more individualistic and as the state has grown more inclusive. Civil society cannot, in my view, replace a robust safety net. There are some things, however, that mutual self-help networks can do better than the state, e.g., impart implicit learning or facilitate the transmission of beneficial social practices that must first be validated by in-group members, etc. And so the fact that mutual self-help networks, including invisible mutual self-help networks, are stronger among the nonpoor than the poor is a serious problem, albeit one that is hard to capture through anything other than ethnography.

What does any of this have to do with casework? Essentially, I see casework as a substitute, albeit a decidedly inadequate one, for mutual self-help networks. In an ideal world, casework might even contribute to their revival. For now, at least, casework strikes me as the best tool we have to see to it that the right help goes to the right people at the right time.

Earlier Dish on Ryan’s plan here.





July 29, 2014 at 11:22AM
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DACA Did Not Cause the Surge in Unaccompanied Children

DACA Did Not Cause the Surge in Unaccompanied Children
By Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

In June, 2012 the Obama Administration announced that it had authored a memo deferring the deportation of unauthorized immigrant childhood arrivals in the United States, a program known as deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).  The memo directed then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to practice prosecutorial discretion toward a small number of unauthorized immigrants who fulfilled a specific set of characteristics.  In essence, some unauthorized immigrants who had come to the United States as children were able to legally stay and work–at least temporarily. 

Did DACA Cause the UAC Surge?

Some politicians contend that DACA is primarily responsible for the surge in unaccompanied child (UAC) migrants across the border in recent years.  A recent House Appropriations Committee one-pager stated that, “The dire situation on our Southern border has been exacerbated by the President’s current immigration policies.”  Proponents of this theory argue that DACA sent a message to Central Americans that if they came as children then the U.S. government would legalize them, thus giving a large incentive for them to come in the first place.  Few facts of the unaccompanied children (UAC) surge are consistent with the theory that DACA caused the surge.

First, the surge in UAC began long before the June 15, 2012 announcement of DACA.  It is true that DACA had been discussed in late May 2012 but the surge was underway by that time.  From October 2011 through March 2012, there was a 93 percent increase in UAC apprehensions over the same period in Fiscal Year 2011.  Texas Governor Rick Perry warned President Obama about the rapid increase in UAC at the border in early May 2012 – more than a full month before DACA was announced.  In early June 2012, Mexico was detaining twice as many Central American children as in 2011.  The surge in unaccompanied children (UAC) began before DACA was announced.

Second, the children coming now are not legally able to apply for DACA.  A recipient of DACA has to have resided in the United States continuously from June 15, 2007 to June 15, 2012, a requirement that excludes the unaccompanied children coming now.   

Third, if DACA was such an incentive for UAC to come from Central America, why are so few Nicaraguan children coming?  They would benefit in the same way as unaccompanied children from El Salvdaor, Honduras, and Guatemala.  The lack of Nicaraguans points to other causes of the surge.

The timing, legal exclusion of the UAC from DACA, and lack of Nicaraguans indicate that DACA was not a primary cause of the surge.  Of the 404 UAC interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 2011, only 9 mentioned that U.S. laws influenced their decision to come to the United States.  Other American laws could have influenced the unaccompanied children to come but DACA is not the main culprit.           

Details on DACA

The DACA beneficiaries, at the time of the memo, would have to fulfill all of these requirements to have their deportations deferred:

  • Under the age of 31,
  • Arrived to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday,
  • Entered the United States without inspection or overstayed a visa prior to June 15, 2012,
  • Continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 to the time of the memo,
  • Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, as well as at the time of requesting deferred action from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
  • Been in school at the time of application, or have already graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Beneficiaries of DACA were also allowed to apply for employment authorization according to the Code of Federal Regulations.  There is a debate amongst legal scholars over whether the administration’s grant of deferred action was legal.  Those who argue that DACA was illegal contend that the President overstepped his constitutional authority to defer the deportation of some unauthorized immigrants.  Those who argue that DACA was legal point to the general power of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to defer enforcement action.  They argue that the Supreme Court has ruled that decisions to initiate or terminate enforcement proceedings fall within the authority of the Executive – an enforcement power used since the early 1970s.  Here is more of their argument.  This disagreement has not been settled.     

By the end of September, 2013, 580,000 requests for DACA were accepted by the U.S. government and 514,800, or 89 percent, were approved.  Seventy-six percent of the requests came from Mexicans.  Twenty-nine percent of the requests were filed from California, 16 percent from Texas, and 6 percent from Illinois.





July 29, 2014 at 3:41PM
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Gun Control and The Violence in Chicago

Gun Control and The Violence in Chicago
By Colion Noir

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I continue to have my issues with Colion Noir, but this is on point.

July 28, 2014 at 11:04AM
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Really? No Benefit Cuts?

Really? No Benefit Cuts?
By Andrew Sullivan

Suzy Khimm questions how Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan will pay for itself without them:

While Ryan says his plan is budget neutral, it does not appear to account for the additional cost of hiring case managers, imposing new work requirements, and creating a new bureaucracy to administer them. That could mean less money for benefits and more for services to administer them, said Donna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). “There are things about it that sound good, but when you get to the reality of it, it just falls apart,” she said, adding that federal agencies have often struggled to allocate limited resources to staffing and find enough skilled case workers.

“This individualized case management, the work requirements – all of that is really resource intensive. How you’d do that without pulling from resources that help people meet their basic needs?” said Pavetti, CBPP’s vice-president for family income support policy. She points to a state-level program called Building Nebraska Families, which proved effective at moving more welfare recipients to work through intensive home visits, but which was also costly, averaging $7,400 to $8,300 per participant.

In a more comprehensive critique of the plan, Pavetti faults Ryan for ignoring the tradeoffs and limitations it implies:

The case of “Steven,” whom Ryan also highlights, makes the point as well. A single 19-year-old non-custodial father, Steven is jobless and needs help to get off drugs.

Ryan’s proposal indicates that the Opportunity Grant would help him get drug treatment, move him into transitional housing (a form of subsidized housing), and get him help with attending parenting classes, finding work, and pursuing further education. These are all needed services, and limited funding keeps many people, particularly adults not living with children and who have the same needs as Steven, from obtaining that help. But the Opportunity Grant structure would not provide additional resources (and as my colleague Robert Greenstein points out, could well provide fewer resources), so the only way to provide this richer set of supports for Steven is to cut the help that other families receive.

Running down how Paul Ryan proposes to keep the plan revenue neutral, Chuck Marr criticizes the cuts he would make to existing programs:

First, he would pay for it in part by eliminating the refundable part of the Child Tax Credit for several million children in low-income immigrant working families, including citizen children and “Dreamers,” thereby pushing many of them into — or deeper into — poverty. He would also eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, a flexible funding source that helps states meet the specialized needs of their most vulnerable populations, primarily low- and moderate-income children and people who are elderly or disabled. (This program provides the kind of services and state flexibility that Ryan says we need more of when he promotes other parts of his plan that would enable states to cut food stamps and rental assistance and shift the resources to services.)

Also among the programs that Ryan would end is one that provides fresh fruits and vegetables primarily to children in schools in low-income areas. By contrast, the President would pay for his EITC expansion by closing tax loopholes for wealthy taxpayers.

In Jared Bernstein’s take, the plan is a potentially costly solution in search of a problem:

The broader reason his plan is misguided is because Ryan starts from the mistaken assumption that the current U.S. anti-poverty system is broken, when in fact it’s actually quite effective, and not just in lowering market-based poverty rates, which it does by almost half, but also by investing in the longer term well-being of its beneficiaries. (Bob Greenstein provides the details here.) That’s not good enough by a long shot, but neither is it motivation to radically change the system in ways that introduce a dangerous set of new risks, as this new plan does, I fear. …

The implication here is that while a faceless bureaucrat in D.C. can’t possibly evaluate your nutritional needs, for example, a bureaucrat in Albany or Sacramento can easily and efficiently do so. And while the plan requires state officials to use the resources for poverty reduction, and not, say, tax reduction, consolidation also raises serious risks of diverting funds to areas of anti-poverty interventions that state officials favor vs. areas of need.





July 25, 2014 at 2:51PM
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A Gift To Obamacare Foes, Ctd

A Gift To Obamacare Foes, Ctd
By Andrew Sullivan

In 2012, Obamacare advisor Jon Gruber said, “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits,” an interpretation of the ACA that supports the anti-Obamacare Halbig ruling. He made this point more than once. Nicholas Bagley dismisses the fracas over these comments:

[I]f you think what Gruber said is some evidence about what the ACA means, you can’t ignore other, similar evidence. That’s cherry-picking. So go ask John McDonough, who was intimately involved in drafting the ACA and is as straight a shooter as there is: “There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Democratic lawmakers who designed the law intended to deny subsidies to any state, regardless of exchange status.” Or ask Senator Max Baucus’s chief health adviser, Liz Fowler. She says the same thing. Or ask Doug Elmendorf, the current CBO Director: “To the best of our recollection, the possibility that those subsidies would only be available in states that created their own exchanges did not arise during the discussions CBO staff had with a wide range of Congressional staff when the legislation was being considered.” …

Better still, ask the states, which were on the receiving end of the supposed threat. According to a report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, there’s no contemporaneous evidence that the states feared that declining to set up an exchange might lead to a loss of tax credits. How can it be that Congress unambiguously threatened the states with the possible loss of tax credits if the states never understood that threat?

How Ezra views this controversy:

Gruber’s comments aren’t getting so much attention because anyone actually believes them. They’re getting so much attention because some people want other people to believe them.

It would be much simpler if the argument about Obamacare could simply be about what it’s actually about: some people believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a good law. Others believe it’s a bad law and they would like to see it repealed.

The problem is that the people who believe it’s a bad law haven’t won the elections necessary to repeal it. So they’ve turned, in desperation, to the courts. But the Supreme Court doesn’t strike laws down for being bad. It strikes them down for being unconstitutional, or incomprehensible. And that’s forced Obamacare’s critics to make some very weird and very weak arguments.

Adrianna McIntyre chimes in:

Though the controversy over what Gruber said — and what he did or didn’t mean by what he said — has been newsy and potentially embarrassing, it’s not actually very consequential, legally. Courts put much more stock in the words that Congress chose when enacting the law, and the context in which Congress put those words, than what people say about the law.

While Gruber was certainly a key advisor during the Obamacare debate, he was not a member of Congress who voted to pass the actual law. And that likely gives his words less weight than those of legislators in front of the courts.

Weigel thinks the “timing of the speech is important”:

Gruber said this in January 2012. It wasn’t until May 2012 that the IRS issued a rule, clarifying that subsidies would also be available to the states that joined the federal exchange. And it wasn’t until July 2012 that Cannon and Adler published their paper making the argument that the language of the law forbade any such mulligan for states.

But this bolsters the libertarians’ case. Gruber is acknowledged, by everyone, as an architect of the ACA. There is, to date, no evidence that he flogged the carrot/stick subsidies idea on Congress, and as Cannon writes in a piece at Forbes, Gruber has done hours of scoffing at the rationale behind Halbig. It just happens that in early 2012, when Cannon was barnstorming states to get them to avoid creating exchanges, Gruber was telling them they had better create exchanges or they wouldn’t get subsidies.

Ben Domenech celebrates:

It’s rare that a piece of video evidence comes along which, in an instant, so clearly and thoroughly undermines the case that one faction has made so consistently. I’m a little shocked myself, and interested to see how the people who’ve been calling Michael Cannon nuts for years offer their mea culpas. Because they will do that, right?

McArdle makes simular remarks:

We can draw two conclusions from this: First, the reading of the law by Halbig’s plaintiffs is clearly not ridiculous or dishonest; if it is a mistake, it is a mistake that one of the law’s chief architects could make. And second, we should be very skeptical of people who are now telling us, four years later, what the legislative intent was. Memory really is extraordinarily unreliable, and as we see here, it’s very easy to forget what you believed even a couple of years ago. This is one reason that courts ignore post-facto statements about intent and concentrate on the legal text and the legislative history.

But Scott Galupo calls the controversy “pure unmitigated cuckoo cockamamie BS”:

The cherry-picking of off-the-cuff remarks isn’t the worst thing about this absurdist drama. Take a step back: Michael Cannon, the Cato mastermind, basically went on a fishing expedition to find someone with standing in the Halbig case. His lightbulb: the average citizen has standing! And now this bombshell video: the Gruber remarks were the first and so far only piece of documentary evidence I’ve seen that anyone actually believed subsidies weren’t intended to be offered via the federal exchanges. This evidence was discovered two years after the lawsuit was filed.

Waldman piles on:

If this was actually what Congress thought the law would do, then liberals would have been freaking out about this provision for years, because it would mean that millions of people wouldn’t be able to get coverage. And conservatives would have been crowing about it for years, for the same reason. But nobody on either side was, because it was never part of Congress’s intent. It was a mistake, and one contradicted by multiple other provisions in the law.

I have no doubt that when the Halbig case is re-argued before the full D.C. Circuit, either the plaintiffs’ attorneys or one of the conservative judges will bring up Gruber’s 2012 comments. Let’s just hope it gets shot down like the baloney it is.





July 28, 2014 at 2:24PM
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More Block Than Grant?

More Block Than Grant?
By Andrew Sullivan

Josh Voorhees spells out his main concern with the Ryan plan, i.e., that the block grant mechanism he proposes for assistance programs like SNAP will result in benefit cuts:

Under the current setup, any American who qualifies for SNAP benefits receives them, regardless of how much money Washington has already spent on the program that year. But switching to a block grant would effectively set a cap on SNAP spending by stopping the program from automatically increasing along with need. That, critics warn, could leave the program unprepared and underfunded when the next economic downturn sends more Americans than expected scrambling to put food on the table.

The best case for those who want to protect SNAP and other social welfare funding would be for Congress to freeze current funding levels for the foreseeable future. That technically wouldn’t be a reduction in funding, but inflation would tell a different story. That’s what happened to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program during Washington’s last attempt at major welfare reform. Since that program was block-granted in 1996, funding has remained pretty much flat at $16.6 billion per year while the program has quietly lost nearly one-third of its spending power to inflation. Under Ryan’s proposal, food stamps would risk a similar fate.

To illustrate this point, Andrew Flowers imagines that the Ryan plan had been in place during the recession that began in 2007 and calculates how big a hit the program would have taken:

At the end of 2007, the number of SNAP recipients totaled more than 26 million, with cumulative expenditures at more than $33 billion. By 2013, expenditures had more than doubled to nearly $80 billion, with recipients surging to about 47 million. If funding had remained constant, the average monthly benefit would have fallen from $133 (its actual number in 2013) to about $53.

The impact of these safety-net programs is dependent not just on how the funding is delivered — whether as separate programs or one catch-all Opportunity Grant — but also on how the programs respond to economic conditions. It’s the difference between leaning back too far in a rocking chair and on a bar stool.

Mike Konczal also looks to the 90s for historical clues as to how a block grant system would fare:

Rather than a “welfare reform — yay or nay?” conversation, it would be really useful if people arguing for the block-granting of the entire anti-poverty agenda would point out what they do and do not like about what happened in the 1990s. Especially as proponents hold up welfare reform as the model.

As Matt Bruenig notes, the work requirements and other restrictions go against the concept of subsidiarity. Greenstein writes, “the block grant would afford state and local officials tantalizing opportunities to use some block grant funds to replace state and local funds now going for similar services…That’s what happened under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.” In retrospect, TANF didn’t survive the business cycle, and it clearly has cut spending by cutting the rolls. Is that what people want to accomplish with food stamps, which have done wonders to boost childhood life outcomes? If not, what can be done other than assert that this time will be different?

Meanwhile, Max Ehrenfreund argues that a universal basic income is a more conservative solution to poverty than what Ryan proposes:

Another reason to see why a universal basic income is more conservative than Ryan’s block grant proposal is to compare it to other aspects of his plan. The tax code offers a yearly bonus to poor people who work, called the earned-income tax credit. It is another one of Friedman’s good ideas, and liberals should support it as well because it helps the poor get by, as Matt O’Brien argues. Ryan, like President Obama, wants to expand the earned-income tax credit for adults without children.

Yet if the goal is really to reward the poor and out of work for finding jobs, then this tax credit isn’t a perfect solution. The bonus is not available for those who earn a little more money, so the working poor have less of a financial reason to aim for a raise. They’ll pay a larger share of their income in taxes when they do. A universal basic income would solve this problem. Your payment from the government doesn’t get smaller if you start making more money.





July 28, 2014 at 4:45PM
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YOUR BODY: the missing manual

YOUR BODY: the missing manual
By

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July 28th, 2014next

July 28th, 2014: The early models that didn’t include the protective skin coating as a standard feature were… kinda terrifying to look at.

HEY GUESS WHAT?? The final issue of The Midas Flesh is out now! You can read a preview here, and catch up with all you missed at midasflesh.com!

– Ryan





July 28, 2014 at 12:00AM
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