Sunday, November 29, 2009

28, 15, and 8 percent

From the NYT:
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times.

The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.

In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.

. . . . Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs.

Read the rest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Smart Talks

And Rick Perlstein, if the wonky video continues to refuse to be embedded below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Welfare and the Poorest of the Poor"

Peter Edelman on TANF -- must reading, I think, for those of you in SWK 6201. An excerpt:
. . . Nonetheless, the main message was to downsize the rolls, and downsize they did. The palpable result thirteen years later is the virtual disappearance in many states of cash assistance for low-income mothers with children, with caseloads going down by well over 90 percent. Overall, the rolls shrank from 14.3 million mothers (and a few fathers) and children in 1994 to under four million in 2007. In 1995, nine million of the 14.5 million children then poor were in families that received welfare. By 2006, only four million of the 12.8 million poor children were in families getting TANF. That the gap bespeaks a failure to respond to legitimate need seems obvious.

These are the techniques of radical reduction: shut the front door almost completely; staff the back door with the equivalent of a tough nightclub bouncer; and, in between, hassle applicants to the point where they just give up and go away.

At the front door many states just say no, evoking memories of the pre-1960s period, when unbridled discretion ruled. Some cloak the turndown with the euphemism of “diversion,” which means, “You look able-bodied. Go out and look for a job.”

At the back door there is sanctioning—kicking people off the rolls because they were late to a work assignment (no excuses for sick children, late buses, or car breakdowns) or didn’t show up for an appointment at the welfare office (no excuses for failure to receive notice of an appointment or inability to understand English). In some states multiple infractions of this sort can result, legally, in lifetime disqualification.

In between there are requirements to bring an entire dossier of documents in order to navigate the application maze, intrusive questions about the applicant’s private life, assignments to demeaning work programs that sometimes ask people to work without necessary protective equipment, regular and irregular summonses to come in for redetermination of eligibility, and much more. Many needy people refuse to undergo the indignities associated with asking for help.

Since the current recession began, it has become even more obvious that TANF is not responsive to the real level of need. The number of people receiving food stamps, to which there is a statutory right, now exceeds thirty-three million, while the number receiving TANF has remained stuck at around four million. The numbers have increased somewhat in some states in recent months, but even a 25 percent average increase nationwide would bring the total caseload up to something like five million. And there are states where an eligibility administrator will routinely approve an application for food stamps and just as routinely turn away the same person’s application for TANF. A sideshow barker might say, “Step right up, step right up. Only a nickel to see the incredible shrinking TANF program.

17 Million Households, 49 Million People

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2009 - USDA's Economic Research Service's (ERS) today released its annual report on Household Food Security in the U.S., which revealed that in 2008, 17 million households, or 14.6 percent, were food insecure and families had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year. This is an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, in 2007. The 2008 figures represent the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995. The full study is available at

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth

Energy and the Environment

A good collection of data and analyses on environmental policy is at Public Agenda. And note this also, posted handily right below, and follow the links. Grim, indeed. Oh, and you might as well look at Pew's Center on Global Climate Change and these two CRS reports on energy policy. (Add in Rushefsky, Chapter 6, and that's what the week look like for you POL 1105 folks. As I said, Grim.) [UPDATE: For a good primer on the state of the science of global climate change, see this Brief. And here's the IPCC Report. And this meta-analysis of the published research.]

You know you're in for a bout of grim reading when the international agency charged with worrying about how we power the planet starts off its fact sheet with a question like this: "Why is our current energy pathway unsustainable?"

That's the message from the International Energy Agency, which issued its World Energy Outlook report, the organization's annual examination of the big picture. That picture itself hasn't changed all that much. The fundamental challenge is still to meet surging worldwide demand for energy while at the same time coming up with ways to avoid global warming and keep energy relatively affordable.

Basically, the IEA says everything depends on whether or not world leaders get serious about climate change, very soon.

If we do nothing, then worldwide energy demand is projected to soar by 40 percent by 2030. The vast majority of that increase is going to come in the developing world, as people in China, India and throughout Asia see their standard of living rise. Even keeping up with that demand would require investing another $26 trillion. And unless things change, most of that energy is going to come from fossil fuels, which means "dire consequences for climate change" and air pollution, the IEA said.

On the other hand, if world leaders committed to fighting climate change with cap-and-trade policies, increased energy efficiency, and greater use of renewable energy, that would cost another $10.5 trillion (on top of the $26 trillion). But energy demand growth could be cut in half, and greenhouse gases would decline.

Not that the prospects for this look particularly good right now. Most observers say hopes for a real deal out of next month's Copenhagen climate conference are fading, one major reason being that the United States still hasn't figured out what it wants to do. There's a chance the Obama administration will put something in place on its own even if Congress doesn't act, but in any case, it's unlikely a deal with be struck without American leadership.

Chances are you've never heard of the IEA. While the agency has enormous influence among policymakers, and while there are bitter disputes over its estimates, it barely registers with the public. But despite the IEA's wonky tone and elite audience, the report has one great strength when it comes to getting the public involved: it focuses on choices and alternatives.

The world has decisions to make about energy. Everything we've learned about how people get engaged in making policy decisions shows that choices are essential. Nothing's perfect, and there are always tradeoffs to everything. Setting those options out fairly to the public is critical to building public support for change.

The IEA actually lays out the cost of those alternatives for policymakers. We can only hope that policymakers will turn around and do the same for the public.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Context

As we think about the potential costs if various reform plans; from the Washington Post's not terrible 8 Questions about Health care Reform.

Legalized Bribery?

Or something else? From FAIR:
As powerful lawmakers debate healthcare legislation of enormous potential impact, corporate media have largely failed to explore the problem of health and insurance industries attempting to influence many of these legislators with a flood of campaign contributions.

Despite Deep Throat’s urging journalists to “follow the money,” there’s a longstanding media taboo against discussing the role of campaign contributions in healthcare initiatives (Extra!, 1–2/04). This reluctance is particularly striking this year, when health industry spending on lobbying efforts and political contributions is unprecedented.

In what the Washington Post (7/6/09) referred to as “a record-breaking influence campaign by the healthcare industry,” $1.4 million is spent on lobbying every day. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, lobbying expenditures for all health and insurance sectors total $263 million so far this year, while those sectors have directly donated more than $23 million to federal lawmakers.

Some of the greatest beneficiaries of these donations also happen to be pivotal arbiters in the shaping of healthcare legislation. Yet corporate media have rarely raised the issue of these lawmakers’ potential conflicts of interest.

. . . . . .

Baucus has received nearly $3.4 million in campaign contributions from health and insurance industries since 2003—more than any other member of Congress. These donations represent about 23 percent of Baucus’ total fundraising (including from his PAC) during that time. This includes “$853,000 from pharmaceutical and health products, $851,000 from health professionals, $467,000 from hospitals and nursing homes, $466,000 from health service and HMO interests, and $784,000 from insurance” (Montana Standard, 6/14/09). Baucus also ranks fourth all-time in financial contributions from pharmaceutical companies (Capital Eye, 6/25/09). A Nexis search for “Max Baucus” among the seven outlets in the survey found mentions in over 100 healthcare-related stories from June 1–September 1, 2009, but Baucus’ financial ties to the healthcare industry came up only six times (Washington Post, 7/6/09, 7/21/09, 7/25/09; New York Times, 6/24/09, 8/19/09; ABC World News, 8/14/09).

Only two of these reports noted that Baucus continued to collect campaign donations from health and insurance industries even as he chaired the Finance Committee’s work on a healthcare reform bill. The July 21 Washington Post noted: “Top health executives and lobbyists continued to flock to the senator’s often extravagant fundraising events in recent months.” Aides to Baucus told the Post that he had refused donations from healthcare PACs after June 1. “But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations.” The New York Times (6/24/09) reported that Baucus’ fundraising after June 1 also included “industry interests” like “drug companies and insurers.”

More often, though, news accounts portrayed Baucus’ industry-friendly approach to the healthcare issue—including his dismissal of a single-payer approach and his opposition to a public option—as a reflection of his “more cautious approach” (New York Times, 6/16/09), his “long history of collaborating with Republicans” (New York Times, 7/23/09) or his “pursuit of a centrist compromise” (New York Times, 6/8/09). Or he was portrayed as simply bowing to political reality (Washington Post, 8/7/09). . . . .

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: And yet. . . . .

Monday, November 09, 2009

For the Lazy

Comparing Health Reform bills: here, here, here, and here. UPDATE: See also this. And, again, there's always the CBPP and Ezra. UPDATE II: CBO estimates, HR 3962, Baucus bill, Kennedy/HELP bill. See also, more generally, the CBO here. UPDATE III: To clarify, reports are that there will be a CBO estimate of the unified/merged Senate bill soon, but likely too late for it to be of any use for our discussion.

ADDING: Ezra Klein makes the case that a poor bill is better than no bill -- camel's nose/thin end of the wedge and all that, mostly.

OH, AND: Some handy charts.

Monday, November 02, 2009

New Study

Familiar findings.
Estimating the Risk of Food Stamp Use and Impoverishment During Childhood

Mark R. Rank, PhD; Thomas A. Hirschl, PhD

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(11):994-999.


Objective To estimate the lifetime risk that an American child will reside in a household receiving food stamps and, as a result, will encounter poverty and a heightened exposure to food insecurity.

Design Thirty years of longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics survey data set.

Setting Nationally representative sample of the US population.

Participants Approximately 90 000 childhood years of information are pooled together to create a series of life tables that span the ages of 1 to 20 years.

Main Outcome Measure Self-reporting measure of whether survey households received the Food Stamp Program during the prior year.

Results Between the ages of 1 to 20 years, nearly half (49.2%) of all American children will, at some point, reside in a household that receives food stamps. Households in need of the program use it for relatively short periods but are also likely to return to the program at several points during the childhood years. Race, parental education, and head of household's marital status exert a strong influence on the proportion of children residing in a food stamp household.

Conclusions American children are at a high risk of encountering a spell during which their families are in poverty and food insecure as indicated through their use of food stamps. Such events have the potential to seriously jeopardize a child's overall health.

UPDATE: Nice new succinct precis on the Food Stamp (now SNAP) program from CBPP.

The Opt-Out

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Panoply of Policy Papers

Well, actually, they're books reviews (but I seemed to need the alliteration today -- dreary out). All are from the most recent NYRB, and all are worth your attention (the first two, especially). The subjects:
And then, as a reward, read this lovely essay on Dorothea Lange.