The trendCharity begins at home, but apparently, here in Wisconsin you first have to fight to keep your home. Welcome to Wisconsin's official, new rendition of "Les Miserables." In a nutshell this is Scott Walker's latest scheme to get poor people off what little is left of Wisconsin's welfare system, or, if you're rhetorically hung up on that word, public assistance. That scheme: Simply declare unemployed poor people "job ready" and cut their government benefits by shoving them wholesale into a special new category created expressly for that purpose.
"Job ready" is one of those greasy political phrases that seem to mean much but really mean nothing. It's like those Blu-Ray disc players that claim to be "WiFi ready" when that really means you need to spend almost again as much money on a dedicated adapter thingie. Hell, by GOP standards, fetuses are "job ready," too, but don't expect to see any of those proto-people flippin' Big Macs in less than, oh, a decade and a half.
Meanwhile, Walkernomics also cuts benefits for any poor people still deemed in serious financial need. Because, you know, cuts will encourage those wastrels to start selling pencils or apples on street corners that much sooner.
It's really pretty ironic: Modern Republicans believe markets should be self-regulating, yet they don't seem to understand that the reason Wisconsin's stingy public assistance program is growing rapidly is because "the markets" have started sending scads more people into poverty, and those people are crying for help. Whereas Republicans normally would celebrate such a clear and mostly unregulated supply-and-demand effect, they are in this case apalled by it. You see, poor people are entirely to blame for getting themselves into this fix. In GOP-think, these unfortunates don't need jobless benefits or Medicaid or any kind of social safety net; they simply need to be more diligent in overcoming impossible odds that others created while rigging the system for their own benefit.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Among changes included by Walker in his 2011-'13 state budget: Reinstatement of stricter time limits for participation; restrictions on time W-2 clients could spend in classrooms; making it easier to impose penalties on clients for program infractions; and cutting the top monthly cash payment by $20, to $653 a month.
I say we enact a new law in Wisconsin: No governor or state legislator can cut public assistance until they themselves first try living for three months on whatever assistance amounts they deem sufficient. Wouldn't it be interesting to see how Scott Walker or State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald manage to take care of their families on a fat-city dole of $7,836 a year, while being made to jump through bureaucratic hoops and endure recurring personal indignities every month in order to even receive a check? Wouldn't that make great reality television? Oh, WisconsinEye government TV, where are your cameras?
All this is unsurprising, coming from a governor who has stated flatly that unemployment insurance merely dissuades people from looking for work. From Walker's budget document: "The governor believes that the path from welfare to unsubsidized employment is grounded in work experience and for too long the W-2 program has lost focus on this most basic tenet of welfare reform."
No, Scotty, W-2 didn't "lose focus." Rather, it was underfunded by thoughtless, heartless legislators who themselves lost focus on what public assistance is supposed to be about. Those lawmakers fantasized -- and continue to fantasize -- that teaching people how to dress properly for an interview and making them take a class or two at MATC, while struggling with underemployment or unemployment, and while caring for their at-risk children, will inevitably add up to all of them soon knocking down family-supporting wages.
We went through all this nonsense in the early 20th Century and the fantasy wasn't realized then, either. Don't, however, try telling that to true believers in our current lawmaker elite, who simply believe otherwise, despite all the studies and historical evidence to the contrary.
Never mind that even some upper middle income Americans have now been without work for many months and have dropped right out of the unemployment statistics because there are so few jobs out there for the millions who want work that they've given up seeking employment.
Never mind that many formerly hard-working Wisconsin residents laid off through no fault of their own have now exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and are scrambling to save their mortgages, working for peanuts in some cases.
Never mind that "welfare" in this country was invented to ensure that the children of poor families would not be left to go hungry or without medical care through no fault of their own.
Never mind that more than a decade ago, Gov. Tommy Thompson essentially eliminated Aid to Families With Dependent Children in this state by ramming through his W-2 (Wisconsin Works) program, intended to push poor adults into work through far more limited cash assistance along with more job training. And never mind that the training has never been sufficient to allow most participants in the program to find family supporting jobs, or that the cash grants have been sufficient to support their children -- who, after all, will someday grow up and want to find work.
As a young newspaper reporter in Milwaukee in the early 1970s, I was once assigned to dress down and go the local welfare office to apply for food stamps, to observe what the process was like. It took me about a week of waiting dull-wittedly in long lines, being told a couple of times to return another day with more documentation before I was deemed in shape for approval. I got so grooved into this hugely demeaning and tedious process that I started showing up with a book and a folding camp stool.
The moment the caseworkers told me I could now get food stamps, I came out of character and went back to the news room to write a story headlined, "Applying for food stamps is hard work." The article was immediately attacked by some readers who perceived that it somehow celebrated lazy scum looking for a handout and ripping off taxpayers. But it could happen to almost any of us, now.
And in the '70s Wisconsin and the US still had a welfare system that, despite its many flaws, barriers and dissuasive tactics, and its tendency to only transform rather than reduce human misery, was considered by conservatives of the era to be way too cushy. Chain gangs, poor houses, orphanages or maybe just simple "benign neglect." That's what some of the welfare critics thought would serve the society better.
Nope, never mind the facts. Just mind that the number of Wisconsin residents entering the W-2 program is soaring, because, well, these are hard times and people are in trouble and need more of a helping hand. When you start seeing middle class families living in homeless shelters, you know that society is in a crisis. But that crisis, according to our bold governor and his bold Republican delegation in the legislature, is the very reason they have to create an even bigger crisis. Which they are going to fix by pretending it's not their problem, or our problem. Just like Wall Street has already dusted off its hands as it whistles its way to the nearest investment bank and yacht store.
Because, hey, poor people don't need society's help. I mean: They're poor! So, obviously, there's something wrong with them. If there wasn't, they'd be rich, like Donald Trump. Right? It's not society's fault. It's the fault of poor people that they're poor. It's also their fault they didn't hit on last week's big lottery jackpot. Oh, and they're lazy, too, and always trying to scam honest citizens out of a buck. And gee, have ya noticed that a lot of them are of, er, other persuasions -- you know, like our president? Clearly, they are not like us. They are not truly American! They're wastrels and subhuman and a drag on our otherwise most excellent nation.
Nope, never mind the facts. Wisconsin is broke! We need to cut spending, except, of course, on very deserving rich people and corporations, never minding how they got that way. It's only fair. If we're whacking public teacher salaries and cutting billions in aid to local governments, shouldn't poor people take their share of the hit? Huh?! What?! You think rich people maybe ought to be asked to sort of, like, pick up a little of the slack, instead of being handed more rope? What are you, a commie socialist radical Demcrat libruhl tax and spender or sumpin'?
Misery loves company. And Fitzwalkerstan is doing its best to make misery a growth market in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the only kind of jobs Walker is creating so far are the kind that job you right in your wallet.