Senator Arthur Orr’s bill (SB-285) to “restore fiscal and economic responsibility” among the state’s poor folk appears to be stalled in the Alabama Senate. It’s essentially a bill written specifically to keep poor people poor: the focus is on how many (or how few) assets a family can own and still be eligible for SNAP & TANF.
If Alabama moves to implement policies that require people to liquidate their life savings, retirement accounts, and sell everything of value (often at a huge discount) in order to receive short-term public assistance, those families suffer long-term harm. They can never acquire enough savings to get out of the poverty trap.
For instance, average rent for a 2 BR apartment in Birmingham is $891. How would a family currently in public housing save enough to move out of public housing and into a private apartment if they’re not allowed to have more than $2250 in savings? Moving costs alone would eat up most of that, leaving them with no safety net:
- Security deposit equal to one month’s rent: $891
- First month’s rent in advance: $891 (some landlords also require the last month’s rent)
- Utility deposit (limited to 2x estimated monthly bill): $300
At that point, the family has just $168 left for emergencies.
It’s easy to kick poor people around because they’re unlikely to fight back. When you’re juggling multiple part-time jobs and struggling to keep your kids fed and clothes, attending legislative public hearings isn’t really a priority – assuming you could even get to one in the middle of a weekday.
So our Alabama legislators have an easy time passing punitive legislation that makes life for low-income working families even more desperate that it was before the supermajority “stormed the Statehouse.”
- No Medicaid expansion, so low-income workers can’t receive either federal tax credits to buy insurance or state Medicaid coverage.
- Stopping local attempts to raise the minimum wage in Birmingham and other cities.
Orr’s bill is just the most recent manifestation of Alabama’s war on the poor, and it ignores the real problem with our state budget.
Writing in the New York Times today, columnist Nicholas Kristof calls on government leaders to deal with “the real Welfare cheats:”
A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.
Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?
How does this happen? The tax code is boring, Kristof notes that “…you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?“
Well, we have that in Alabama, but the real scandal is how much we tax low-income people and how little we tax large landowners (mostly out-of-state timber companies) and how much corporate welfare we hand out in
bribes incentives to corporations.
Think of what this country could do if we had a tax code that spread the burden more fairly:
One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).
It’s a nationwide problem, but most states are as broke – or broken – as Alabama.
Sutton’s Law states that “when diagnosing, you should first consider the obvious.” Actually, he put it more colorfully, reportedly noting that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.”
If legislators really want to be good stewards of the state budget, they’d do well to listen to Willie Sutton. They need to stop punishing the poor and turn their attention to the real “welfare queens” in Alabama – corporations.