Strengthening the Family
In the Proclamation On The Family, the First Presidency declared:
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Many members of the LDS Church interpret this to refer only to the protection of traditional family units by preventing homosexual marriage. I believe this can and should be interpreted as a much broader statement. There are numerous other areas where family-strengthening policies can be implemented. These might include:Read more
President Obama's Attack on Stay-at-Home Moms: Now with 100% More Context
A short video clip of President Obama has recently gone viral. In it, he states, “And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
The Food Stamp Surfer
As any viewer of Fox News will tell you, America has become an entitlement nation. This claim is reinforced by example after example of individuals gaming the system or dissected across Fox’s political theater. The right’s fixation on the poor has become so blatant Fox has even come up with a pseudo-correspondent that fuels the misleading perception. Jason Greenslate, or “Food Stamp Surfer”, has been remarkably effective reinforcing the narrative of widespread welfare abuse. In fact, he was even mentioned by Representative Tim Huelskamp (R) on the House floor before a taking a food stamp vote, "You can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you." Hmmm. I’m guessing Representative Huelskamp missed the irony.
The Republican grab bag of anecdotal examples is very effective in creating a “poor are lazy” perception. To many on the right, those who take advantage of entitlements or welfare services are parasitic or morally deviant. This unabashed stereotype is important when justifying their political ideology: Democrats want everyone to live off the government, Republicans want individuals to succeed driven by personal motivation which handouts undermine.
The problem with such logic is demographics paint an entirely different picture of welfare recipients. Did you know that half of food stamp expenditures benefit children? Or that one in five veterans take advantage of the program? Did you know that food stamps represent a minuscule 1.8% of our federal budget or that food stamp fraud accounts for less than 5% of the total program? Such information might change the perception of voters about the role of government which is why “Food Stamp Surfer” becomes the poster child of the Fox News repertoire. Collective data is not personal and unpersuasive. You might not know any of the millions of children and veterans that are supported by welfare but you do know your aunt’s best friend’s sister is sporting a $500 iPhone paid for by the government.
GOP: Dear Kids, 50% of all food stamps go to you. Work harder and stop being moochers.
— Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 19, 2014
Misinformation about our Nation’s entitlement programs (Welfare, Medicare, and Social Security) is equally exaggerated. Even the word “entitlement” conjures negative connotation driven by ignorance and misunderstanding. Many Conservatives are enraged that we spend 57% of our federal budget on entitlement programs without any consideration to the demographics. Over half of all entitlement dollars are spent on the elderly. Another 20% are spent on the disabled. 18% are spent on the working poor like Walmart employees. In fact, almost $1,000 annually is spent per employee offsetting Walmart’s benefit liability. You shouldn't be thanking Walmart for low prices, Walmart should be thanking you.
So what of the remaining 9% able-bodied freeloaders drawing entitlements? Let’s hang them. I’ll get the tar, you get the feathers. But let's be careful, in our haste to enact fairness and justice we might be punishing a demographic that has equal need for taxpayer’s help. There are thousands of students that are attending colleges and universities while trying to support families. Many are studying for high earning careers as dentists and doctors, easily returning the entitlements being invested today. Even if we do conclude the 9% are actual moochers like Jason Greenslate, we should still resist the urge to throw the baby out with the surfer.
When addressing the growing expenditures associated with the rising baby boom population, little has been proposed by either party. Instead, partisan rancor has been unleashed and misdirection has become the norm. I have several friends who openly blame President Obama for the escalating debt and the growth of entitlement spending behind Baby Boomers. This is incorrect for three reasons:
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
Even President Obama’s signature legislation, Obamacare, is deficit neutral (CBO) offset by mandates and penalties with no impact to our deficit. Where our anger should be directed is government’s inaction, as the last major change to entitlements was the 2003 Prescription Drug bill. We should be holding the House of Representatives accountable, since the Constitution dictates laws originate in the lower chamber, to generate common sense bipartisan solutions. But herein lies the problem for the GOP-led House. Any changes to entitlement programs that do not include Medicare and Social Security reform are a wasted effort and any successful change will anger core constituents. Trying to repeal Obamacare 50 different times is a much safer play for House members interested in keeping their jobs through the next election cycle.
All spending bills must originate in the House. So when the GOP is complaining about Obama's productivity, please ask what they are doing. — Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 27, 2014
Even if undermining entitlements fosters partisan opportunities our problems are not disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure my Libertarian friends would suggest a free-market solution. Remember when Medicare was passed in 1965? Only half of our nation’s elderly had healthcare and costs associated with medicine were skyrocketing. The Sixties’ free-market solution was basically a Darwin-driven model. Can you imagine being a 55 year old senior looking for healthcare coverage after being dropped by your company’s insurer upon retirement?
How about charities? Can they fill the void? Based off of IRS data charitable giving (currently $300B) would need to increase three-fold to cover current liabilities. This also assumes every donation dollar is appropriated against entitlements; not building churches, saving rhinoceroses in Africa, or giving to one of Karl Rove’s SuperPACs.
Regardless of any proposed solution the very first step in delivering lasting reform is awareness. Data has become the newest inappropriate four-letter word being replaced with trivial anecdotal examples. But I get it, fully understanding issues takes effort and who wants to waste their time when partisan blogs are like crack to drug addicts (just slap "liberal" on this post so the right can disparage the content).
We need to avoid assuming our best-friend’s cousin scheming the welfare system is representative of millions of Americans looking for help. As Jon Stewart said recently, stop looking for the elusive “Welfare Bigfoot”. Start looking across the street, recognizing that single mother struggling to provide for her child, and be thankful we are in a much better place. Once we understand who it is we are helping, the solutions will become more clear.
When the GOP says entitlements are for the lazy, they are talking about seniors and the disabled where 73% of our entitlement spending goes.
— Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 28, 2014
Interested in what our government spends? Here are the topline 2014 Total and Welfare budgets.
A Mormon on May Day
Written by Ron Madson
MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY!
Poverty is an anomaly to the rich, they cannot understand why the poor when hungry do not simply ring the bell. --Walter Bagehot
“May Day” repeated three times has become the internationally recognized distress signal for all vessels (planes, ships, etc) that are in peril. Even though technically the “May Day” phrase originated from the French phrase “venez m’aider”---meaning come help me---I would suggest that the International Workers’ Day held every May 1st in commemoration of the May 4, 1886 Haymarket Strike in Chicago adopt this distress call--- that is to be used only in the most dire of circumstances.Read more
A Liberal Mormon View of Workers and Zion
By Warner Woodworth, BYU Professor Emeritus
Today’s currents of economic malaise have long been the concerns of who seek a healthy economy and social justice. The LDS standard works are filled with admonishments to empower the downtrodden and remember that “the labourer is worthy of his reward” (I Tim. 5:17). Recent battles such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, Mitt Romney’s denigration of the 47 percent, the uproar over inequality, and low minimum wages illustrate these issues. Other damages against workers include corporate downsizing, exorbitant CEO pay, decline of middle class jobs, offshore manufacturing, flat wage structures, high unemployment rates, and so forth.
Mormonism addresses each of these concerns. Our alliance with society’s have-nots should begin with appreciation of the fact that Jesus Himself was a blue-collar worker, a low-paid carpenter engaged in manual labor. In today’s vernacular, we would say he’d be a trade union member and card-carrying member of the Democratic Party. In other words, he would probably be a Liberal.Read more
The Tyranny of Gross Wealth Inequality
In a 2012 General Conference address, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed concern about "the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor." Elder Ballard's concern about gross wealth inequality has been shared by many of his predecessors. Elder Orson Pratt once observed that "an inequality of property is the root and foundation of innumerable evils; it tends to derision, and to keep asunder the social feelings that should exist among the people of God.... It is a principle originated in hell; it is the root of all evils.... It is inequality in riches that is a great curse."Read more
Stop Subsidizing Walmart: Raise the Minimum Wage
A recent study of Wisconsin's Medicaid program revealed that Walmart ranked first on state's list of Medicaid enrollment by employer. In other words, Walmart employees in Wisconsin comprise a plurality of the state's Medicaid recipients. Altogether, a single Walmart Super Center costs Wisconsin taxpayers about $900,000 per year in poverty subsidies for its employees, such as food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, and housing assistance because the employees are paid significantly less than what is reasonably required to survive at a minimum standard. Most Americans have rightly decided that we will not allow our fellow citizens, especially children, to starve or go homeless. We have a safety net for the poorest Americans, most of whom live in working households. However, Walmart and all other minimum wage employers are passing on much of this burden from themselves to the taxpayers.Read more
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Explained
In 2009 when President Obama first took office, America faced a serious healthcare problem that had been ignored for decades. Significant changes needed to be made to address our nation’s problems, which included rising costs and inadequate care following a trajectory to insolvency. At President Obama’s inauguration forty-five million citizens did not have access to insurance, using the emergency room as their primary care facility. Medicare and Medicaid were facing default and driving federal deficits to record levels. The private healthcare industry accounted for 21 percent of total US GDP, contrasting with 11-13 percent for comparative nations. In addition, the US healthcare budget faced $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years, with no solution. To compound the problem, private industry was leveraging tax-payer dollars for short term profits, disregarding long term accountability.
At first glance the challenge to obtain healthcare solvency appeared insurmountable. Many demanded scaling back Medicaid, while others wanted to implement similar single-payer programs as found in Germany, Japan, Canada, or England. Several blamed insurance and pharmaceutical industries for driving costs, and others cited frivolous lawsuits which drove doctors to provide unnecessary care. Almost all voices aligned that cutting Medicare was not an option due to voter demographics, and any legislation to weaken private industry would be met with cries of socialism. It was under these conditions that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was debated and passed which brought together ideas from every political ideology.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is one of the most significant pieces of legislation signed into law in the recent history of the United States. Although the law is complex and appears ambiguous, understanding the intent of this law is critical to evaluating its merits. Simply stated, the ACA can be broken into three areas of responsibility:
Business: Shifts healthcare responsibility away from the government to private industry.
Individual: Levels the playing field between private healthcare providers through the use of exchanges, thereby fostering competition for individual policies.
Government: Expands state Medicaid to cover families under 133 percent of the poverty line (Medicaid currently covers up to 100 percent).
Large corporations with elastic goods depend on low cost structures and therefore low wages. In many regards these businesses are as dependent as the lazy, using government to subsidize their benefits and pocketing the difference. Almost half of the uninsured (46%) work full time with 28% working part time. Many of these full time workers are employed by companies like Wal-Mart, whose average associate receives $1,000 in annual government entitlements. Subsidizing benefits with governmental entitlements has allowed corporations and shareholders to enjoy record profits. They also place greater pressure on government liabilities and drive up costs to taxpayers.
Obamacare (ACA) holds all businesses and corporations responsible for supplying healthcare. If a business employs more than 50 full time workers, they are responsible for providing insurance or paying a penalty (the implementation of this mandate was recently postponed for a year). If a company employs 25 people or less, tax credits are provided to subsidize coverage. Seventy percent of all healthcare costs happen in the final fifteen years of an individual’s life, typically while under the umbrella of Medicare. Access to life-long preventative medicine is critical in lowering Medicare liabilities. Shifting coverage to private industry also lowers the government’s emergency room expenses which the uninsured use in place of primary care physicians.
There has been significant reaction to the healthcare law’s corporate directive. Mandating industry to provide insurance for their employees will increase costs for any entity not already doing so today. This is a fair criticism, especially when it comes to small businesses that cross the fifty employee threshold. However, looking at cumulative data and avoiding anecdotal arguments allows for a balanced discussion of the overall impact. When it comes to small business, less than ten percent fall into that much-discussed mandated responsibility, as the other ninety percent currently meet Obamacare (ACA) requirements. To assist both the ten percent and the 90 percent, Obamacare gives access to competitive exchanges (known as SHOP) which will drive down costs for employers currently offering healthcare.
When an individual is not covered by an employer or as a dependent, they are responsible for their own insurance. Beginning in October 2013, the government will create a competitive vehicle where insurance companies meeting basic requirements can compete for business. Similar to websites Expedia or Lending Tree, once personal criteria is entered, insurers will publish rates and the consumer can choose a plan based on price or benefits. Known as insurance exchanges, these will be launched nationally to help consumers make educated choices and provide a baseline for coverage comparison. Exchanges will soften interstate requirements and prerequisites allowing for productive competition between insurance providers.
Similar to existing employer-provided healthcare, a person's individual policy will also allow access to preventative medicine. Even more important, individual healthcare will allow small firms (fewer than fifty employees) to compete with the benefits of larger firms when attracting employees as benefits are universally.
Since the bulk of uninsured individuals are under 35 years (65%), providing coverage for them is critical to lowering costs for all private insurance companies, given their healthy age demographic. These younger, healthier participants are needed to offset high risk individuals, much like auto insurance or Medicare. Because the inclusion of low risk individuals is critical in driving down costs, it is imperative they sign up. One of the concerns is that uninsured individuals will forgo purchasing their insurance until they need it. At this point, the only penalty they will face is an $89 annual tax, which is not very persuasive. However, if the exchanges are able to drive down prices making health insurance affordable and attractive, this concern should be overcome (we will know in October).
On the government side, Obamacare (ACA) legislation mandated that State Medicaid programs cover individuals whose annual earnings fell within 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL currently covers at 100 percent, so the ACA provided funding to cover the increase; however, this mandate was struck down by the Supreme Court. States can now opt out of expanding Medicaid, forgoing federal subsidies and leaving millions of their state residents uninsured. Since those in this demographic tend to be part of the healthier population, the aforementioned balance between the healthier individuals providing offset to sicker individuals will be more difficult to obtain, and insurance prices may not reach their full potential.
Living in Arizona and watching the fight over Governor Brewer’s decision to expand Medicaid, it’s hard to understand why any state would opt out. The expansion will bring additional funding, jobs, and access to healthcare. States rejecting the Medicaid expansion will lose out on $8.4 billion in federal funding, exclude coverage for 3.6 million uninsured, and see $1 billion more in uncompensated spending. Even more problematic, states rejecting expansion will see non-reimbursable emergency room and Medicare costs grow.
While I have argued that healthcare coverage is a three-pronged responsibility, many feel that a single payer healthcare system is the preferred model. This caused some to level the charge that President Obama did not fulfill one of his signature promises from the 2008 campaign: obtaining single payer healthcare. Instead he took Governor Romney’s framework from Massachusetts, authored by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and leveraged the plan in a spirit of compromise. Initially this infuriated supporters as they felt betrayed on an issue they believed was mandated from the decisive election victory. While President Obama may have expected this, what he probably didn’t expect was the venomous backlash from the right, even though the ACA is based on a healthcare plan they helped create, implemented by a popular centrist Governor.
Perhaps what opponents are politically afraid of is not the demise of the American healthcare system, but the potential success of Obamacare (ACA). Currently three states have released preliminary pricing for their healthcare exchanges with better-than-anticipated results. By October all states will see competitive pricing on the exchanges and citizens across the US will begin shopping for their preferred rates and cutting through political propaganda. For the governors of states that rejected the expansion of Medicaid, they will have to explain to 3.6 million employed voters why similar citizens in other states have healthcare and they do not.
While no legislation is perfect, the ACA improves access to healthcare, not only for the uninsured, but also sets guidelines to improve care and protect consumers through some of the following benefits:
- Pre-existing conditions will not be a barrier to coverage.
- Preventative medicine will be included by every approved insurer saving billions of dollars on Medicare.
- A defined percentage of insurance revenue must be applied to the actual care.
- Parents can keep their dependent kids on their insurance until the age of 26.
- Insurers cannot drop coverage due to personal changes in healthcare.
- Doctors will be paid with Medicare rates, currently higher than Medicaid rates.
- The “lifetime cap” for individual reimbursements is removed.
Perhaps the biggest criticism is the expense of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But according to the non-partisan CBO, Obamacare (ACA) is deficit neutral. If Obamacare was to be repealed, there would be no change to our annual deficit or national debt. Any additional costs associated with the law are offset primarily by scale and penalties paid by those unwilling to buy private insurance. In fact the latest projections by the CBO resulted in $150 billion budgetary savings over 10 years versus the system currently in place. Opponents also charge that Obamacare is a tax for those who remain uninsured. This is a fair statement; however the receipts collected will help offset emergency room liability for the uninsured that all taxpayers subsidize today.
To understand the new healthcare law, it is imperative to ask the right questions in order to open up honest debate. Obamacare (ACA) is a far cry from socialism; its main purpose is to reduce Medicare and uninsured emergency room expenditures through access to care. It uses tax penalties to push citizens away from government and into the hands of private insurance companies. Obamacare (ACA) also delivers improved quality of life due to access to health care, unattainable for most Americans due to cost -- a significant benefit to society. Finally the most compelling argument for the ACA is our inability to call the United States the greatest country when our healthcare expenditures are the highest in the world and millions of our citizens lack basic insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act still needs revision, but it is a much needed improvement over the previous status quo.
Thanks to Elizabeth Eastmond for her edits.
Political Food Stamps
A great example of our nation’s partisan politics is the careless discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. Lately there have been several measures passed by the House of Representatives which feed on misinformation or play upon voter’s perceptions. As citizens we are left to dissect rampant talking points and blatant fabrications with little help from our media outlets. In general, misinformation has become a lucrative industry with talk show hosts, pundits, and politicians selling unsubstantiated data and twisted logic. This leads to conversations driven by 45 second sound bites, 140 character tweets, and out-of-context statements which are shallow and divisive.
SNAP has expanded rapidly under the Obama administration making it a popular talking point with right-wing pundits. The guilty-by-association rhetoric leaves out critical information needed to understand the trends, and focuses entirely on the “what” and not the “why”. Republicans are correct to point out food stamp participants have grown 65 percent since 2008 increasing spending to an all time high of $74B (2 percent of budget), but when asked the cause they fall into the trap of popular propaganda. They do not know that 50 percent of food stamp recipients are under the age of 18, or 15 percent are elderly. They do not understand that 20 percent of food stamp households support the disabled. They incorrectly believe that President Obama has passed legislation that enables the expansion of the program or incentivizes participation.
In addition, Republican's association of food stamps with left-leaning blue states lacks credible data. The highest SNAP participating state is Mississippi with 22.5 percent of their residents receiving assistance. 7 of the 10 highest SNAP participating states are red and primarily in the South. The state with the most people on food stamps is Texas, which is surprising given California has 12 million more residents. Even the reddest of states, Utah, has seen participation double in the last five years (from 5 percent to 10 percent). Regardless of state targeted data, food stamps are distributed somewhat evenly. Currently 16.8 percent of red state residents are receiving food stamps compared with 14.3 percent of blue state residents.
The solitary driving force behind the expansion of SNAP was the rapid unemployment spike from 2008 - 2010 which led to more households applying for assistance. In the final year of President Bush’s administration unemployment jumped from 4.9 percent to 8.7 percent and continued to 9.8 percent under President Obama. The doubling of the unemployment rate corresponds with the doubling of food stamp participants under President Obama’s tenure. As families were left without employment they turned to the government for support.
It is not fair or reasonable to hold the Obama Administration accountable for SNAP participation increases. It is fair to hold the Obama Administration accountable for households leaving the program now that unemployment is improving (7.8 percent). Moving people off of government assistance is a sign of progress and should be the desire of every Democrat who understands the bridging role of social programs. However, decreasing participation needs to be persuaded, not forced, as any mandated cut in SNAP will disproportionately impact the elderly, disabled, and children.
Food stamp talking points, like all issues, need to be challenged and understood. Focusing too quickly on the “what” will lead us into a partisan spin zone and dull our problem solving ability. We need to ask the right questions, understand the impact of our choices, and weigh the impact to our fellow citizens. Accepting popular talking points to support an ideology is not only disingenuous, but undermines the need for solution-oriented conversations to tackle our country’s major challenges.
Louisiana vs. The Family
Note: this post kicks off a new series titled "Think of the Family," in which we explore ways to strengthen (or at least stop hurting) the family.
Yesterday's Super Bowl blackout drew attention to the nation's less-than-stellar energy infrastructure. We'd like to draw some attention to a different problem in the same state: Louisiana recently announced that they would be cutting aid money to its poor, sick, and elderly. While some might blame the poor for their circumstance, we disagree: as we've argued before, the free market does not always reward hard work. Some might say argue these families will just get those services from the free market. We wish this were the case, but the politicians who made this decision even admit this will not happen in every circumstance:
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said he targeted programs that were duplicative, costly and optional under the state’s participation in the state-federal Medicaid program.
Greenstein said in many instances, people can get the care they’re losing through other government-funded programs. But he acknowledged that won’t happen in every case, meaning some people will simply lose the services or receive reduced services. [...]
Jan Moller heads the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- to moderate-income families. Moller said he’s most distressed by the cut to the Nurse-Family Partnership Program.
The health department is eliminating the portion of the program that offers at-home visits to low-income women who are pregnant with their first child. Registered nurses visit the women early in their pregnancy and until their children’s second birthday, offering advice on preventive health care, diet and nutrition, smoking cessation and other child developmental issues. [...]
“What the Nurse-Family Partnership does goes above and beyond what a good obstetrician does,” Moller said. “It’s really about teaching life-skills to at-risk moms to make them better parents and make them better able to care for their children, and it’s been proven to work.”
As Sy Mukherjee at ThinkProgress points out, this means that families will be left high and dry in the state.
The cuts — as well as Jindal’s proposals to raise taxes on the poor while slashing public education and other health care funding — are meant to plug a midyear budget deficit. But they are more likely to raise health care costs and poverty levels in a state that already ranks among America’s least-insured and poorest locales by pushing people poor people into finding services that they will no longer be able to afford.