Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Criminalization of Poverty.

September 16, 2019 by  
Filed under Business, Money, News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( As the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, more emphasis and attention has been paid to “immigrants” and “the border” than to what’s happening to America’s poor.  Neither side has addressed the worsening conditions among the low-income cohort of the U.S. population.

The Census Bureau has just released its poverty statistics for 2018 and they paint a not-too-pretty picture for low-income Americans.  The number of people who rely on social safety net programs rose by 2.8 million, to 47.7 million and health-care costs – premiums, copays and prescription drugs – pushed more than 8 million people below the poverty line; defined as $25,100 for a family of four.  And for the first time in over a decade, fewer people had health insurance coverage.

Despite this, the president’s budget proposal for 2020 slashes funding for programs like Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps) and housing assistance over the next ten years.  The administration has allowed states to impose work requirements for Medicaid and other safety net programs and a 2018 Executive Order directed all Cabinet Agencies to find ways to make existing rules for who qualifies for assistance harsher.  Mind you, millions of Americans, who are already working full-time, rely on many of these programs because of poverty-level wages at large employers like Walmart and Amazon.

To top it off, Newark, New Jersey, a major American city, has joined Flint, Michigan’s residents lacking clean drinking water.  Although promising a major infrastructure initiative in the 20016 presidential campaign, there has been no movement by the administration or congress to fix crumbling roads, bridges and water systems serving mostly low-income communities.  For all the talk by Republicans and Democrats about the middle and working classes, who is speaking for America’s poor, proposing solutions for these and other seemingly intractable problems?

Instead, the discussion seems to be moving the other way.  It was widely reported last week that a team of officials from various federal departments in Washington, DC descended on Los Angeles to take a look at the growing homeless problem there.  The “solution” that was floated, was to “round up” people living in the homeless encampments and ship them off to an unnamed “federal facility.”  There was no mention of how long these people would be held and how they could gain their release.  There was also no mention of who would adjudicate the cases of the people held in detention and what, if any, services would be provided to help them find, obtain and maintain housing.  Incidentally, there was also no mention of who would get the service contracts to house these people.  Would it be the same companies getting millions of dollars running the camps that were not providing soap and toothbrushes to immigrant children?

This suggestion of “detention without trial” amounts to how we are treating suspected terrorists at “Gitmo” in Cuba.  Except the only “crime” these people will have committed is the crime of being unable to afford a place to live.  We should all vehemently oppose any attempts to criminalize poverty, while at the same time gutting the social safety net that provides the basic necessities, like food and shelter, to Americans in need.

While I certainly think immigrants should be treated fairly and humanely, I believe that holds true even more so for our fellow countrymen.  It’s time we start pressing candidates for office, in both parties and at all levels, regarding what they are going to do about the problems low-income Americans face every day: living wages, affordable housing, clean drinking water and decent public education.  The noise about “the wall” and the “invasion at the southern border” should not distract our attention from the fact that too many American citizens are not receiving the help they desperately need and deserve.

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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