The Philadelphia City Paper's Daniel Denvir does a great job debunking an absurd op-ed from a wingnut think tank (Crazy Pat Toomey is one of their "directors emeritas") that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, justifying Gov. Corbett's hard-hearted application of a means test for Pennsylvania food stamp recipients:
“Asset test for food stamps a sound idea for Pennsylvania,” proclaimed a column in yesterday's Sunday Inquirer from the conservative Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives. The position it takes ― that Gov. Tom Corbett's move to exclude people with more than $2,000 in assets (largely excluding homes and cars, but largely including savings) is a good thing ― is not surprising. But the arguments it makes in Corbett's favor are, at least if you take truthfulness (perhaps naïvely) as a standard for political discourse, astounding:
Right-wing claim: “The measure is necessary because welfare eligibility and spending — including for food stamps — have exploded, threatening to crowd out everything else in the state budget.”
Fact: Actually, the federal government picks up most of the tab. According to the Inquirer , “Pennsylvania receives about $2.5 billion in federal SNAP [that's food stamps: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] funds annually and pays about $160 million annually in state money to maintain the program.” That's just over one half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania's state budget. And as I reported last week, the state of Pennsylvania taxpayers spends nearly $2 billion on prisons ―$463.8 million more than generally reported.
Right-wing claim: “Despite indisputable evidence that welfare fraud and waste are alive and well, many politicians in Harrisburg and Washington have downplayed it, while actually expanding welfare benefits to the detriment of the truly poor.”
Fact: Pennsylvania has been recognized for having an extraordinarily low rate of food stamp fraud: one-tenth of 1 percent.
Right-wing claim: “It's impossible to determine the full extent of errors because the state doesn't actively search for mistakes.”
Fact: This assertion is incomprehensible. The state of Pennsylvania Inspector General has a welfare fraud division with a $705,000 budget. And yes, it includes a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Trafficking Unit.
Right-wing claim: “Without any such protection, billionaires such as Bill Gates could actually be eligible for food stamps if their income was low enough for a year. Sound far-fetched? Consider the case of Leroy Fick, who won a $2 million lottery jackpot but still legally collected food stamps. This fall, Michigan enacted a $5,000 asset test to keeping exploiters such as Fick from taking advantage of the system.”
Fact: It sounds far-fetched because it's incredibly misleading. The US Department of Agriculture toldPolitifact that they are aware of “only one case and one alleged case involving individuals with assets over $1 million"― one of those two cases being Leroy Fick. In Washington, congressional Republicans have claimed that barring millionaires from receiving food stamps or unemployment insurance would save big-time taxpayer dollars. It's a ruse.
Kudos to the local alternative paper for doing the analytical heavy lifting we'd like to see from our local dailies.