Alan Vervaeke - The Gravy Train is for my dogs

  • Published in Columns

A recent letter suggests that Democrats need to look inward and find their heart and soul. Agreed! Republicans have always been about smaller government and less regulation, and Democrats have been about compassion through taxation, i.e. take more taxes from folks making more to help improve the lives of folks with less, and if more government is necessary to do so, then so be it. But it’s high time “those with less” get some examination.

We hear “welfare” and negative connotations abound. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) had been around since 1935. After promising to “end welfare as we know it” Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law. That produced Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), which placed time limits on welfare assistance and included stricter conditions for food stamps eligibility, reductions in immigrant welfare assistance, and recipient work requirements. It also moved most mechanisms for maintaining and monitoring welfare to state control. The next 15 years saw welfare rolls staying lower than they had in four decades. The federal budget for this line item dropped and the Republicans claimed a success.

During the Great Recession, numbers went back up. In 2012 the Obama Administration allowed states to waive work requirements if they could prove that numbers of available jobs had increased. Liberal states took advantage of this based on the number of new minimum wages jobs being created during that period. This was an issue since minimum wage jobs don’t provide a “living wage” and many in those jobs still required assistance. There is something gut wrenching about working 40-50 hours each week and still needing help to survive.

Federal statistics claim 40 percent of welfare recipients are off assistance within four years. But some have been on it for decades — even in Laconia. Call it “generational welfare,” Imagine paying for physically healthy adults to stay home when ONE has a drug habit and the other cares for them and a child. We’ve all heard of or witnessed folks pulling out their food stamps or SNAP card while carrying a bundle of cash and driving a Lexus. These are not myths.

Crazy Governor Paul LePage of Maine ran on a welfare reform pledge in 2010 in a state that had grown reliant on assistance programs. He imposed a 5-year limit on benefits, re-instituted a work requirement for food stamp recipients, and tried to bar food stamps from anyone with more than $5,000 in specific assets. And while I am probably more compassionate than many, I have to say I agree with him: I don’t like giving away something for nothing. And that’s the point — we must continue to reform welfare and reduce the addiction to it. Like opioids, many people just don’t have the will to get off of them.

Republicans often say that Democrats keep giving away benefits to ensure those voters are theirs. This leads to the simplistic notion that welfare recipients vote Democrat — especially in urban areas — and thus why the big cities always go Blue. The reality? Studies say most welfare recipients don’t vote. A study by The Tax Foundation also shows that states consuming the most federal welfare dollars all went red in the last election. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Georgia, Arizona, and Alabama are nine of the top ten states with the largest percentage of their state’s welfare revenue coming from Federal tax dollars. Why?

There are large populations of people in each of those states who’ve previously been on assistance, and yet they vote Republican because of the waste, fraud, and abuse they observed while in the system. You want to win back Flyover/Middle America? Eliminate that negative aspect of the welfare system. Stem the fraud. Boot the leeches. Eliminate a public perception of something for nothing. The number of people at or under the federal poverty limit in these states is huge and at least half of them didn’t vote either. You want to win back Flyover/Middle America? Create real jobs that return a sense of pride. Enough with programs and freebies and giveaways — save them for those people who actually need them. Get the feckless and indolent away from my paycheck.

If President Trump wants to rebuild our infrastructure, then take a page from FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps and put welfare recipients capable of it back to work. Can’t work because you have no child care? Take 10 percent of those folks and put them into a Child Care Corps so the other 90 percent can work. Single and on assistance because you can’t find a job? We have mothballed military bases around this country with empty barracks for free housing while you work a paying job for your country. Have a minor disability? Create data entry jobs to track the labor and jobs that need to get done. First-time offenders — we have roads and bridges and railroad tracks that need repair. There’s nothing like good honest labor and on-the-job training to get a country moving again. COME ON. There are 43 million Americans on food stamps.

Between both parties we can get most Americans off assistance, working, earning a fair living wage, and providing for their families. The USS Gerald Ford — our newest aircraft carrier — has cost so far approximately $16 billion dollars. Our newest stealth ships are $2 billion each. You’re afraid of reducing our readiness posture? Let’s audit federal pensions next. That was $125 billion last year. The GOP wants to eliminate the Johnson Amendment? Let’s start taxing all religious entities at just a mild 5 percent rate and we could have a budget surplus. Where there’s the will, there’s a way.

Whoever comes up with the best ideas for moving America forward gets my vote. I don’t succumb to fear, I’m too intelligent for the BS that gets promised, and I can read. Inspire me. America is and always has been great. Let’s make America prosperous again.

(Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.)