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      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 25, 2019 by Tony Wikrent Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy Give No Heed to the Walking Dead [The Scholar’s Stage, via Naked Capitalism 8-18-19] The People’s Republic of China is wealthier than any rival America has faced. Its leaders are convinced […]
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The rain falls on the just and unjust alike


Paul Krugman can say some dumb things for a pretty smart guy:

Death Panels and Sales Taxes

I said something deliberately provocative on This Week, so I think I’d better clarify what I meant (which I did on the show, but it can’t hurt to say it again.)

So, what I said is that the eventual resolution of the deficit problem both will and should rely on “death panels and sales taxes”. What I meant is that

(a) health care costs will have to be controlled, which will surely require having Medicare and Medicaid decide what they’re willing to pay for — not really death panels, of course, but consideration of medical effectiveness and, at some point, how much we’re willing to spend for extreme care

(b) we’ll need more revenue — several percent of GDP — which might most plausibly come from a value-added tax

And if we do those two things, we’re most of the way toward a sustainable budget.

Yeah, we really have to think about having M&M pay for expensive procedures with a small likelihood of success, but that’s really a dumb way for a liberal to say it, especially considering the origin of that “death panels” term. But even so, “death panels” aren’t the only way to control costs.

We pay twice as much for health care as the other industrialized nations. At some point we’re gonna have to consider not just WHAT we’re willing to pay for but also HOW MUCH we’re willing pay for EVERYTHING, including routine care.

We can’t control M&M costs without addressing the entire health care market. And the best way to do that is a little thing called “single-payer.” While medical professionals deserve to be well compensated, “for-profit” health care makes as much sense as “for-profit” police and fire departments.
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How the Social Security Commission will kill the American Economy

According to the New York Times, small investors are pulling their money out of the stock market.  Yep, seems like it’s a bit too risky for the boomer generation.  What with all of their retirement savings opportunities drying up:

To be sure, a lot of money is still flowing into the stock market from small investors, pension funds and other big institutional investors. But ordinary investors are reallocating their 401(k) retirement plans, according to Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm that tracks pension plans.

Until two years ago, 70 percent of the money in 401(k) accounts it tracks was invested in stock funds; that proportion fell to 49 percent by the start of 2009 as people rebalanced their portfolios toward bond investments following the financial crisis in the fall of 2008. It is now back at 57 percent, but almost all of that can be attributed to the rising price of stocks in recent years. People are still staying with bonds.

Another force at work is the aging of the baby-boomer generation. As they approach retirement, Americans are shifting some of their investments away from stocks to provide regular guaranteed income for the years when they are no longer working.

And the flight from stocks may also be driven by households that are no longer able to tap into home equity for cash and may simply need the money to pay for ordinary expenses.

On Friday, Fidelity Investments reported that a record number of people took so-called hardship withdrawals from their retirement accounts in the second quarter. These are early withdrawals intended to pay for needs like medical expenses.

According to the Investment Company Institute, which surveys 4,000 households annually, the appetite for stock market risk among American investors of all ages has been declining steadily since it peaked around 2001, and the change is most pronounced in the under-35 age group.

Under 35’s?  Honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet if the current proposals to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits gets passed.  Contrary to the expectations of the corporate retirement fund managers out there, if social security gets more difficult to collect, my whole investment strategy is going to undergo a radical readjustment and not in Wall Street’s favor.

Suddenly, I will have to start a new savings plan to cover the costs of getting older when I can no longer bop around in the lab and up and down the stairs to the autoclave.  That is, if I even get the privilege of retiring from a job, which at this point looks less and less likely.  No, if social security becomes a distant dream, that segment of my retiremement scheme will have to be made up somehow.  And I WON’T be sticking my money in some risky stock market fund where there is no guarantee that my dollar of savings won’t be a dollar of withdrawal down the road.

Cutting Social Security means no more vacations, no more furniture, no more gadgets.  It means downsizing, selling the modest townhouse ASAP and finding some cheap little condo without high maintenance fees.  It means putting the money in the safest, least sexy place possible and just sitting on it.  For decades.  Seriously, life will become a LOT simpler.  After all, I have a kid I need to put through college and something’s got to give. I’ve never been a gambler and only participate in the 401K program under duress.  Give me a nice guaranteed pension and I’d be happy.  I’d rather be secure than rich.  Maybe that’s just me but I could be happy in Denmark where people can focus on living their lives and less on acquiring stuff.

Sometimes, I think that the people who are so hell bent on dismantling social security haven’t thought through this problem sufficiently.  They think we are so driven to outdo the Joneses that we’ll keep shoveling our hard earned paychecks into high yield investments.  Maybe some irrationally exuberant people will but the NYTimes article suggests that many of us have been too burnt to be careless with fire.  The outcome they are expecting seems to deny that the American worker has structured his whole life around social security and when it becomes unattainable, that security has to be compensated in other ways.  I don’t think current recipients should get too comfortable either.  Once the social pact is gone, the overstrapped still employed are going to start resenting the amount of money that goes into a program they can never benefit from.  Consider too that some companies are cutting out pensions entirely in the near future even though they provide them for current employees.  Future wages are already going down.  There is just not enough money to pay for everyday living and kids and saving for retirement and saving for some older person’s retirement.  Right now, it’s not so much of an issue but take away that piece of the retirement pie and there *will* be consequences.  The US economy is dependent in part on social security, which is why it was developed in the first place.  Seniors without incomes spend no money.  So, to save up for those senior years, money will have to be sequestered and some of us don’t have a lot of time to do it.

What’s really shocking about the “Catfood Commission” is that it’s being done by Democrats.  Even if the recommendations were acceptable, which they aren’t, this is not the time to be proposing them.  It smacks of the worst kind of politics when a respected program that everyone loves is held hostage for electoral gain.  Democrats are doing this.  It’s like taking the baby out of the basinet and holding it over a pit of Republican crocodiles, daring us to vote against Democrats.  It makes me LESS inclined to vote for the Democrats because if it happens this year, they’re going to keep doing it and one of these years, that baby’s going to fall or be so emaciated that it will be worthless, sort of like what happened to reproductive rights.  If Democrats want my help this year, they will dismantle the commission before November, recognizing that the economy can’t handle any talk of cutting benefits or extending the retirement age.

So, go ahead, bipartisan commission, make it harder for me to retire.  Hell, let’s be honest, make it *impossible* for me to retire.  And I will suck all of my funds out of the free market system.  I’ll stick to the bare necessities, continue to buy used cars, will forgo my next laptop, stop buying nice clothes and, like this year, turn down the family cruise this winter.  My bank account will become fat but the economy will stagnate as people all over the country remember what happened to people in the Roaring Twenties who sunk all of their retirement money in the stock market and risky investments.  My bank account and CD’s may make squat in interest but as long as they’re guaranteed by the government, I’ll live with it.

Until some new Idiot in Charge proposes a bipartisan committee to study the FDIC.

Showdown in Pennsylvania

I woke up to the news that Arlen Specter had lost the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat from Pennsylvania and though I haven to been following this very closely, I just have to weigh in on this with my own uninformed opinion.

I was in PA for mother’s day and my mom brought up the subject of Arlen. She was agin’im. And this may take Ed Rendell and the other super delegates by surprise but she didn’t like him for the strangest reason: remember Anita Hill? Yeah, well, that hearing for Clarence Thomas left an indelible mark on my mother. She remembers it like it was yesterday and she really, REALLY, didn’t like the way that Hill was treated by Specter, as if here testimony was worth on half as much as Clarence Thomas’.

Now, I suspect that Specter was driven out because people were just tired of him. He’s something like 80 years old, he switched parties, and he didn’t really have anything to offer Pennsylvanians that they hadn’t already seen. I don’t know if Joe Sestak is going to be a whole lot better but he’s not Specter. I would advise Sestak to not move too much to the center. Elderly democratic conservatives like my mother voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008 in droves. I know because I called a lot of them. In fact, a lot of those same women want her and are frankly pissed off that they got stuck with someone who did not live up to the expectations that were shoved down their throats.

If I were Joe Sestak, I’d be asking myself, what do women want? The answer is: her own way. Sestak is going to have to run the gauntlet of these angry Democratic, older, more conservative women. Think shrewish Kate, forced to submit to decades of young, male assholes gloating about forcing them into submission. It would be wrong to assume they have ever been tamed and they still have the power to make your life a living hell in some passive aggressive ways. Channel Hillary, Joe. Praise her every chance you can. Remember, it’s the economy, stupid. It’s their sons and daughters who can’t find jobs and are threatening to move in with them with their gaggle of grandchildren. It’s social security and savings and nasty bankers. You can’t go wrong by running against bankers. And remind them that when the Tea Party folks go off about cutting taxes and entitlements, they are talking about cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting benefits, social security and medicaid, for everyone else.

Sestak has his work cut out for himself. This is going to be a tough, tough battle and the Democratic party in PA has to be feeling ambivalent at best. The state is not young and the tea party crap could be very formidable. I can almost see the Republicans licking their lips over this one. Sestak is going to have to show that neither party likes him and yet be likable enough for the wives of Bath.

Let’s hope this primary result puts the fear of goddess into the Democrats. We’ve given them plenty of dope slaps but they still don’t seem to be getting it. Women have long memories and we will remember hearings for a long, long time.

And now for something radical and extreme: Get rid of the 401K

Last weekend, I got polled.  Er, by Harris, the polling company.  I’ve been getting a lot of that lately.  Maybe being a middle class suburbanite independent Democrat-in-exile in NJ means I have finally arrived but it’s unlikely I fit their notions of the typical polling subject.  Well, not after this poll anyway.

The first question was about my attitudes towards the military.  Would I suggest the military to a young person?  As it happens, I’m a military brat, my family has a long tradition of joining up and I have current family members who are career military.  So, while a military career is not for everyone and it’s certainly more dangerous than it was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t rule it out for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do as a career.

That first answer seemed to have put me, a lifelong liberal, on the Tea Party branch of the decision tree.  Many of the other questions after that point were kind of insulting to the intelligence.  For instance, is someone arrested for a crime entitled to speak to an attorney?  Jeez, all those years of Dragnet should have sunk in by now.  Of course they are.  What about if the crime is serious or particularly heinous?  Um, yeah, that’s when you are most in need of one to defend you.  What about if it’s a TERRORIST???  Do they get to speak to an attorney on the government’s dime if they are accused of TERRORISM?  Well, Timothy McVeigh went through the process, was represented, had a fair trial and got what was coming to him.  I think the system can work.  Let’s not start making exceptions for alleged terrorists.

Anyway, that wasn’t the section that tripped my trigger.  No, the one that got to me was about 401Ks.  I don’t know what our brilliant braintrusts in the Democratic party are up to but if they are the ones who are suggesting that it would be a nifty keen idea to expand the 401K system, we might as well all just get used to an America whose salad days are over.  The poll question was something like, “Would you approve or disapprove of expanding the 401k system to workers whose employers would not be required to make a matching contribution?”

That’s a weird question for so many reasons.  The first one is, if you allow *some* employers to opt out of making contributions, wouldn’t you just give the rest of them justification for also opting out?  And what about the Enron-esque employers who match with stock?  But I digress.  Because the real employment trend is to make everyone contractors, freeing the corporation from actually employing and being responsible for the lives of the people who work for them.  So, maybe that’s where this question is coming from.  Say you are now a contractor, forced to go through some rent collecting middle man who acts as an intermediary between the corporate entity and your paycheck.  Now YOU are responsible for your retirement accounts, not the corporate entity.  So, does the old corporation have to match your 401k contributions?  Something to think about as the traditional bonds between employer and employee are redefined.

But that’s not why the 401K needs to go.  Now, I am not a financial wizard.  Far from it.  If you want that kind of expertise, check out Dakinikat’s posts, or Baseline Scenario or Naked Capitalism.  No, I am just Jane Bagodonuts from the burbs.  Nevertheless, blogging allows me to expound on any subject I like or don’t like.  And I have particular dislike for my 401k, may it grow and prosper.  Here are my reasons from a liberal perspective:

1.) It’s a Ponzi scheme.  Yep.  Unlike Social Security, which we are all required to participate in and which has actuarial expertise built into it and is a fall back retirement insurance policy, the 401k is for suckers.  It relies on lots of people dumping their investment dollars into pumping up the price of stocks.  When the baby boom generation starts to retire in earnest, it’s going to want to cash in, leaving us with funds with diminishing value.  UNLESS we get some other poor schmos who don’t have employer contributions to send their money to our 401Ks in return.

2.) Wall Street thinks the money in your 401K is there for them to use as gambling chips in some global game of roulette.   We saw this happen in 2008 when the subprime mortgage market collapsed but it’s not limited to the bond market.  Oh, sure, the stock market is more highly regulated but when the bottom fell out of the mezzanine subprime tranche CDO’s it took everything else with it.  Besides, who has time to monitor their 401K’s at every minute of the day?  Most of us follow the Ron Popeill method of financial investment: set it and forget it. Turning a bunch of naive amateurs into financial planners of their old age lifestyles has turned into a windfall for the predators on Wall Street.  What we don’t know can hurt us and we don’t know what they’re up to.

3.) Wall Street and the financial sector in general is like the Wild West right now.  Until there is more oversight and regulation, you just can’t trust them.  The constant infusion of cash to these testosterone poisoned, self centered, highly overrated gamblers who manage our money only encourages more risk taking and future financial collapses.

4.) 401Ks lead to employees betting against themselves.  The shareholder is the emperor.  The money we put into these funds increase when employers see staff as unattractive drags on the bottom line.  I’ve always preferred the word Personnel to Human Resources because it acknowledges that there are persons actually doing the work and that we are not just variable costs to be minimized for the benefit of the bonus class.  Nevertheless, when corporations cut staff, the stock goes up and everyone starts dreaming of their new retirement condo in Mexico.  That is, iff they have the privilege of actually retiring.

5.) 401ks lead to less innovation.  Well, if you have to cut staff to assuage the quarterly panic attacks of the shareholders, you don’t have people innovating for you.  It’s true.  People who no longer work for you are not required to do your thinking for you.  The people who are left are too busy preparing for their own “displacement” to do any real work.

6.) 401ks invite the bonus class to invest in emerging markets, not the American market.  They’re always chasing profits.  For themselves.  For you?  Ehhhhh, not so much.  Shareholders, that is the BIG shareholders, not you and me, have to be satisfied so the money must go somewhere.  Why not India?  Oh, sure, it means that the capital will be invested in a place that means more Americans will lose their jobs and potential American entrepreneurs will go begging for startup money. But that’s the nature of capitalism.  Suck it up.

5.) In order to get a break on taxes, which in my case are pretty ugly, you can’t take the money out until you retire.  You can borrow from your 401K but then, you have to make sure you stay employed so you can pay yourself back.  It’s not very liquid and most of us can’t afford to fund multiple retirement/savings/college funds.  In emergencies, it’s useless.

Now, I am glad that I have a 401K, for the short term forseeable future, and that my employer is rather generous in funding it.  But it’s all on paper as far as I’m concerned.  By the time I am ready to retire, it might be worthless.  Getting rid of them wouldn’t exclude investing in the stock market.  It would just not institutionalize it and make it an all-but-mandatory retirement strategy.  Maybe the financial sector would be a little bit more attentive to our needs if they didn’t have a steady stream of easy money flowing into their gargantuan gullets.  Maybe customer service would improve.  There might be incentives offered to attract your business.  Maybe the risky gambling addiction behavior would cease.

I dunno.  I can only speculate with my money averse mind. But the more I hear about the financial meltdown, the more I keep coming back to the 401K “instrument” as the root of all evil.

Get

Rid

Of

It

Obama’s “Fiscal Responsibility Summit” and the Week Ahead

FDR signing the Social Security Act

FDR signing the Social Security Act

It’s going to be a big week for the Obamagharchy. In order to short-circuit the coming Obamageddon, our Dear Leader is making “fiscal responsibility” the focus of his week. On Monday, President Obama will meet with lots of “experts” and think tank denizens to discuss the future of what is left of the social safety net: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The meeting will take place on Monday from 1-4:30PM in the State Dining Room of the White House. According to Politico, the event will open with

addresses by President Obama and Vice President Biden. It’s set to include members of both houses of Congress from both parties.

The opening session will be followed by “breakout” sessions of five topics: health, tax policy, Social Security, contracting and procurement, and the budget, each led by senior officials.

The budget director, Peter Orszag, will be leading the health breakout — a policy area on which he’s long focused, and one expected to be front and center in the budget.

Christina Romer and Larry Summers will lead the Social Security session…

One hundred and thirty guests, reportedly including forty-four blue dog Democrats and a number of Republicans, have been invited to participate. Some of the invitees from Congress whose names have been published are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-South Dakota, and Dave Camp, R-MI (ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee). CIA Director Leon Panetta will also attend because of his experience working on the federal budget in the Clinton Administration.

Also invited to attend are “leaders” of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an organization begun by billionaire Peterson to push for “reform” (read elimination) of Social Security and other “entitlement” programs. William Greider wrote about Peterson’s project in a column entitled “Looting Social Security” in The Nation last week. Continue reading

Thursday: We are so screwed

Remember this from the convention last year?  The scripted dog and pony show that Obama’s and Nancy’s people put together to deprive voters of their right to self determination?  Nancy gets a role at the end when she gives biggest FU to Hillary and liberal voters who might have objected.

Do I blame Nancy Pelosi for the stimulus package problems?  Um, yeah.  I kinda do.  Last primary season, Obama was her guy.  She was even committed to scuttle Hillary as his VP pick because she was concerned that *her* baggage would make *him* unelectable.  Now, the party is coming apart at the seams.  She’s got Blue Dogs lead by Steny Hoyer on her right complaining that they didn’t get enough bi-partisan input into the stimulus bill.  WTF?  I’m sorry, but did you ever heard of such a thing when REPUBLICANS were in charge?  Republicans would never have thrown a temper tantrum because their Democratic colleagues didn’t get a chance to monkeywrench a bill.

But Nancy’s biggest sin was in not standing up to the Wall Street Boyz last year during the election season.  The money pouring into Obama’s coffers must have looked like Niagra Falls.  An awesome, gobstopping sight.  With all that cash and the fellating media, it must have seemed like she could rule the world!  Finally, a weak executive, completely beholden to her.  All she had to do was suspend every single principle she had in order to get him elected.  So what if it split the party right down the middle and the real winner “lost”?  The upcoming economic crisis would unite us all.

Then, her protege takes office and turns out to be just another fricking Blue Dog.  Nope, didn’t see that comin’.  Maybe she thought all that post-partisan shtick was just campaign rhetoric.  But not only is he not listening to what she’s telling him, he may be actively undermining her.  Well, what did Nancy expect after one of the most misogynistic campaigns in history?  He’s going to suddenly be Mr. Feminism?  Whoops!  Only the braindead editors at Ms. think that.

Barry has been contacting the Blue Dogs and telling them to resist Nancy.  Oh, sure, they’re backing off of that claim now.  (Obama is busily putting out fires of his own.)  But the story has legs.  PBO has to help his friends, the bankers, and he needs the Blue Dogs to add critical mass to the Republicans to get it done.  On top of his scheming with the Dogs, he appointed Sen. Judd Gregg to head up Commerce after Richardson bowed out.  Now, why the heck would you appoint a Republican, dedicated to privatizing Social Security, to a position of power where he might actually get to accomplish dismantling the ark of the covenant of the Democratic party?  Wasn’t it enough that the bankers spent our 401K’s and ruined the economy?  Must they get their greedy little hands on our social safety net insurance policy too?

But, wait!  There’s more.

Paul Krugman says we’re headed for a deflation trap.As my tiny, pea brain sciency mind understands economics, I think this means:

1.) A bubble bursts.  Lots of people lose money.
2.) There is a lot of inventory in the general economy but no one is buying anything.
3.) Companies lower prices to sell off inventory.
4.) Lower prices lead to less money coming in to the company.
5.) Companies with less money can’t retain staff, forcing them to lay off.
6.) Laid-off workers have less money to spend.
7.) No one is buying anything or making anything.  Very little economic growth going on.

Social Security was created in part to combat the deflationary cycle.  It gave money to seniors who lost their money and pensions in the crash and subsequent Depression.  Elderly people were living on charity and at the poorhouse.  They had no money to spend to stimulate much of anything.  Social Security got money into the hands of seniors and back into the economy.  I think it had that Keynesian multiplier effect that Dakinikat talks about.  And David Broder is creaming his jeans that Gregg is going to be in charge of “reforming” it.  Joy!

Where’s the plan?  Why is this most eloquent, most intelligent, bestest judgement in the whole world president so slow to get his act together?  This is a crisis of monumental proportions and the fixit bill he is proposing has no unifying theme.  It’s a total compromise with Republicans and the banking industry, getting away with murder once again, while we get stuck with the bill.  And now the media is in jumping back into bed with the Republicans to make it seem like a tax break here and there for the least among us is a sign of moral weakness.

Here’s where Nancy Pelosi could use a united party behind her.  Of course, it would be better if the party actually stuck to its principles and crafted a bill with heart, soul and a goal.  But here we are looking at a turkey.  It’s a patched up wreck mashed together by a guy who thought that Democratic stuff was negotiable.  We’re not going to help him pass this thing if it doesn’t represent the Reality Based Community.

As Krugman said the other day, there is no middle ground.  Either there are steps that must be followed that will get us out of this mess or we might as well cave to Republicans.  How sad is it that with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate we can’t act like the good guys?

Who is to blame if not the Speaker?

She let the wolves in sheep’s clothing into the fold.  She *forced* more than half of her own party to capitulate to the lesser half in the name of “Unity”.  She allowed the party’s foundations to be eroded by Obama’s “post partisan” propaganda.  This is the result.

Elections have consequences.

By request: Unemployment Chronicles

2091340338_3618420daf

(Photo source, Darth Dragon on Flickr)

When I wrote that I was laid off for the second time in 3 months here, Laurie recommended the following:

Laurie, on January 24th, 2009 at 4:30 am Said:

SM plz keep us posted. If you can, do an unemployed diary. You know, where you have to go, what forms you have to fill in, how long you have to wait to get food stamps. What food stamps look like, what kind of food you get for them-can you get organic? How long the line is etc etc

I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to write about this.  Being unemployed and having to ask for help to feed your family because you can’t find a job is demoralizing and embarrassing.  I’ve worked my ass off all my life, from working as a cafeteria clerk serving food at a hospital, cleaning offices, to paying my dues in the marketing advertising world, then becoming the first female and Latina COO of a small marketing firm, to then quitting because I was overworked (12-14 hour days, 6, sometimes 7 days a week) and not get overtime (and figured I could make the same amount of money and try to at least participate more in my daughter’s life) to then enjoying the luxury of freelancing – and then as of two years ago… SPLAT…  living off the nest egg, working whatever project came ever other month, to then working minimum wage PT jobs while the next big project comes, to being laid off completely with no new project in sight.  And no nest egg.  It royally sucks.

I know I could’ve done it better.  I coulda would shoulda… but I believed in that American dream of entrepenurialship and ultimately got f__cked while getting there.  I’m not a homeowner.  I’m a single mom and  I don’t live excessively out of my means.  I learned to live modestly according to my income to cover the bills & make sure no matter what the fridge has food, rent was paid on time, utilities were paid for the month.  All I wanted was a chance to spend more time with PUMA cub while working – and found that opportunity by freelancing.  I did it successfully for almost 6 yrs.

The only reason why I’m doing it is because this experience is now a nationwide crisis.

Some Conflucians are going through the same thing I am.  Others are lucky enough to miss a layoff wave at their jobs- at least this week.  Some are lucky enough to have that nest egg still there.  What we can’t ignore is that we are living in very precarious times – and I can bet that employer abuse will continue and will rise.  This is why I wasn’t celebrating the Ledbetter Act, because without the PayCheck Fairness Act, women are still vulnerable.

But I digress…as usual.  Let’s get to topic.

To answer Laurie’s first query, the state of Florida cut funding for the Dept of Children and Families (which is where Floridians apply for Medicaid, Food Stamps, Cash assistance for Rent & expenses, etc.)  Everything is done online here.  If you go to an office to apply, what you’ll find are computers and phones where you can call someone on the other side of a wall.  You do not speak to anyone face to face.  Only in rare cases, such as child and elderly abuse investigations, you’ll see a social worker’s face.

If you are a person with zero computer skills, you’re SOL.   They have to find someone to help them fill out the application online.  There is a phone number that you call, but this is the ONLY phone number that is available for the entire state of Florida which is the 4th most populous state in the nation.  It’s a 1-866 number, and it’s always busy.

If you get through the application, you’ll either get a phone call or a notification in the mail requesting proof of loss of income, any financial help you may have received from friends, proof of child support payments, etc.  Sometimes they won’t ask for anything at all, it just depends on what category the computer classifies you as.  Yes, a computer determines whether you are eligible or not.

I just got my letter today asking me to provide loss of income and proof of child support to receive Medicaid.  The income limit in Florida to receive assistance is roughly $1,500 per month.  I laughed when I read this, because this past year, I’ve made much less than $1,500 per month & didn’t think I would be able to qualify.   So far in Florida, you may qualify for MedicAid and Food Stamps even if you have up to $5000 in the bank, own your own home and own your own car.   Your actual present income is the determining factor, then minus your living expenses.  I think this all changed because of the foreclosure crisis and out of control inflation costs, rising cost of oil & bubbled property values.  Before, it wasn’t like that.  The income index levels for qualification were much lower than this.  So some of you out there reading this, you may qualify right now in your state and not even know it.

Food stamps aren’t actually “stamps.”  They are now in Debit Card form which every month, your approved amount is electronically transferred.  You can only use this for “food”, and thanks to supermarket UPC scanning, you can’t sneak a pack of cigarettes, wine or Bounty paper towel roll and charge it against your Food Stamp EBT card.  And you can’t exchange it for cash either.   Back when I was in college in the late 80s-early 90s (aka Bush 1.0 years), I used to PT as a clerk at my cousin’s bodega.  Food Stamps were actually coupons you tore off of a book.  The policy was to accept them for any item that was the equal value – no exception.  So the EBT card does work to prevent misuse of Food Stamp Funds, which is great.

I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because I filled out W-9 forms – which means that taxes are the employee’s responsibility.  When I was making bucks, I had to submit my earnings every quarter to the IRS, pay my taxes -and then wait to get all my 1099s for the year to file for the year.  This year, I made enough money to exempt me from filing taxes.  Can you believe that shit?  For the first time in my adult life – I am actually exempt because I was under the tax index level.  I know owe the IRS about $1800 from 2 years ago and I haven’t been able to pay that (hello, survival mode here!) and they told me, just pay 25 dollars a month if you can.  So I have.  But the IRS knows what I’m making (or not making).  They know I can’t afford to pay them now – so they leave me alone until I can.

Here’s the Unemployment Insurance qualifications depending on the state you live/work from a link at the US Dept of Labor which explains more:

Eligibility

1. You must meet the State requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a “base period”. (In most States, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the time that your claim is filed.)

2. You must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of your own (determined under State law), and meet other eligibility requirements of State law.

I don’t qualify under these perimeters because I am considered a “contract” employee.  But let’s say that I was pre-eligible.  I would have to file an unemployment claim, then based on the reason why I no longer am working, Unemployment will determine whether or not I could receive unemployment benefits.

Here’s more from the US Dept of Labor:

Benefits

  • In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual’s earnings over a recent 52-week period – up to a State maximum amount.
  • Benefits can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks in most States.
  • Additional weeks of benefits may be available during times of high unemployment (see Extended Benefits). Some States provide additional benefits for specific purposes.
  • Benefits are subject to Federal income taxes and must be reported on your Federal income tax return. You may elect to have the tax withheld by the State Unemployment Insurance agency.

With regards to this, some of the work I did part time was helping seniors and disabled people on Medicare – and people on Unemployment Insurance –  apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid.    All the people I helped were mostly working class people who couldn’t afford to pay the 20% that Medicare doesn’t cover, or were people who were referred to the office because they didn’t have computer skills to apply online.

Some of them were earning 800-1000 a month from their Social Security pension and had to pay 200-300 dollars a month for medicines, doctor co-pays, lab exams, etc.

But there were many people that were the in-betweeners, the 45-60 something yr old laid off workers from blue collar jobs.  The only income they had was unemployment insurance.

I remember a Cuban gentleman who was 61, got laid off from his job in a food processing plant and has diabetes.  He spent 300 dollars a month buying insulin and other diabetic supplies, but unemployment only paid him 160 dollars a week.  His wife (57 yrs old) came down with MS shortly after he got laid off.  She stopped working and is in the process of getting disability from Social Security.  They spent all their savings (about 10,000) on medical expenses after COBRA ran out.

When I asked him to show me all his documentation to fill out the application for Medicaid/Food Stamps, he started to cry.  This is a macho Cubano man  crying.  In front of a much younger woman.  This is a sin in my culture.  But he couldn’t take it anymore.  He told me the story of how he immigrated to FL after Fidel took over, he came first, then years later was able to bring his wife & young daughter over to the US.  He lived in Miami, then moved to Tampa after Hurricane Andrew.  He found a job at a food processing plant outside of Tampa and then – the entire company closed down last year.  He said that he never imagined that he had to live this way.  His daughter works at a day care center and moved in with them to help pay bills.  But everyone’s strapped.  His daughter makes 10.00 an hr.  Thank God, he says, his mortgage was paid off 5 yrs. ago, but how can he pay property taxes, house insurance, food & utility expenses, help his wife who was diagnosed with MS with her health needs, plus get his diabetes under control.  He told me he can’t die now, but if he didn’t get help from somewhere, he very well could be.  He sold his car to pay for the bills, so they rely on public transportation (which royally sucks in FL, how about waiting 2 hrs for a bus?)  He put his house on sale with hopes that someone will buy it, but there are no buyers.

About  week before I got laid off, the same man comes back with a box of candies for me.  He and his wife were approved for Medicaid and Food Stamps and he wanted to thank me for helping him (food stamps covers chocolates!)

I think about him & his wife, and the people I can no longer help because I’m laid off.  I think about the people who do not have a friend with a computer that can help them.  I think about the overwhelming and increasing cases of unemployment that have to depend on a now fragile and overextended system.  This is not the 70s-80s.  We have over 300 million people in this country – and shit ain’t getting better.

This is a song for the Cuban gentleman I mentioned and his wife, for all of us trying to survive.  This is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz’ version of Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive.  The melody’s the same, but the translation in Spanish refers to a survival of spirit, of outliving bad times and facing the future with strength.

Para Don Avelino y Doña Carmen, and for everyone: