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Archive for February 11th, 2010

If you want to get depressed or angry, the New York Times has an article celebrating the effort by politicians at all levels of government to lure more people into the food stamp program. New York City is running ads in foreign languagues asking people to stick their snouts in the public trough. The City is even signing up prisoners when they get out of jail. The state of New York, meanwhile, actually set up quotas for enrolling new recipients. And on the federal level, there apparently is a program that gives states “bonuses” for putting more people on the dole. No wonder one out of every eight Americans is receiving food stamps. By the way, this is not just the fault of Democrats. The ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee is a big defender of the program, in part because of the sordid pact among urban and rural politicians to support each other’s handouts. And President George W. Bush’s food stamp administrator actually had the gall to assert “food stamps is not welfare.” No wonder the burden of federal spending skyrocketed during the reign of so-called compassionate conservatism. The correct policy, of course, is to get the federal government out of the welfare business. If Mayor Bloomberg thinks it is a “civic duty” to expand food stamps, he should see whether New York City voters agree with him – and want to foot the bill.

A decade ago, New York City officials were so reluctant to give out food stamps, they made people register one day and return the next just to get an application. The welfare commissioner said the program caused dependency and the poor were “better off” without it. Now the city urges the needy to seek aid (in languages from Albanian to Yiddish). Neighborhood groups recruit clients at churches and grocery stores, with materials that all but proclaim a civic duty to apply — to “help New York farmers, grocers, and businesses.” There is even a program on Rikers Island to enroll inmates leaving the jail. “Applying for food stamps is easier than ever,” city posters say. …These changes, combined with soaring unemployment, have pushed enrollment to record highs, with one in eight Americans now getting aid. “I’ve seen a remarkable shift,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican and prominent food stamp supporter. “People now see that it’s necessary to have a strong food stamp program.” …The program has commercial allies, in farmers and grocery stores, and it got an unexpected boost from President George W. Bush, whose food stamp administrator, Eric Bost, proved an ardent supporter. “I assure you, food stamps is not welfare,” Mr. Bost said in a recent interview. Still, some critics see it as welfare in disguise and advocate more restraints. …The federal government now gives bonuses to states that enroll the most eligible people. …In 2008, the program got an upbeat new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. …Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office eight years ago, the rolls have doubled, to 1.6 million people… Albany made a parallel push to enroll the working poor, setting an explicit goal for caseload growth. “This is all federal money — it drives dollars to local economies,” said Russell Sykes, a senior program official. But Mr. Turner, now a consultant in Milwaukee, warns that the aid encourages the poor to work less and therefore remain in need. “It’s going to be very difficult with large swaths of the lower middle class tasting the fruits of dependency to be weaned from this,” he said.

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Since we’ve been talking about the snow, here’s a story about city that must have no real crime. At least, that’s the only sensible thing to conclude after reading that cops in Harrisonburg, VA, arrested (on felony charges!) two college kids for the horrific offense of tossing snowballs (technically they were charged with “throwing a missile at an occupied vehicle”). This would be understandable if the kids embedded rocks in the snowballs, or even if they compacted slush to make ice balls, which also can be dangerous. But the city’s press release offered no evidence of anything other than kids having fun. The Smoking Gun has the details:

Felony snowball throwing charges have been leveled against two Virginia college students for allegedly pelting a city plow and an undercover police car during Saturday’s blizzard. Charles Gill and Ryan Knight, both 21, were nabbed by cops in Harrisonburg, where they attend James Madison University. According to police, the pair first targeted a city plow last Saturday afternoon. …If convicted of the felonious snowball tossing, the men each face between one and five years in prison, and a maximum $2,500 fine.

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For the fourth day in a row, the federal government is shut down because of snow. This causes me mixed feelings. Because federal workers already are so vastly overpaid, part of me is irritated that they are getting what are, for all intents and purposes, extra vacation days. On the other hand, isn’t it better to have bureaucrats sitting at home instead of hunched over their desks figuring out new ways to tax and regulate? And let’s not forget that Harry Reid has been forced to delay the so-called jobs bill because of the snow, so the economy at least will be temporarily spared this new stimulus scam. But then I saw a story that it costs $100 million for each day the government is shut down. This perplexed me. While I have great faith in the ability of government to waste money, how could it cost even more for bureaucrats to stay home? It turns out this number is fake. As the story excerpted below indicates, the $100 million figure is a government estimate of “lost productivity.” For people in the real world, however, fewer IRS audits, fewer OSHA inspections, and fewer Dept. of Energy subsidies translate into higher productivity:

While D.C. residents take out their snow shovels for untold hours of back-breaking labor, the Office of Personnel Management estimates that the shuttering of the federal government is breaking the bank as well — costing taxpayers about $100 million every day in lost productivity, or work that’s not getting done. With Friday’s half day, and three full days of government shut-down this week, that adds up to $350 million — and it could top $500 million if the government, with its 230,000 D.C.-area employees, remains closed through the end of the week.

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