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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Public benefits. . . truly public

Over the weekend I heard a news program reporting that 26% of Americans use a local food pantry on a regular basis.  Of those who resort to charity centers for food stuffs a significant majority were also employed.  Given the number of people who use our pantry and the tons of food we distribute annually, these realities don't surprise me at all.

Ironically, and I would say tragically, far too many of our neighbors work but don't earn enough to properly care for themselves or the their families.  We often hear the flip side/"upside" of this very negative wage and labor reality in Dallas: labor costs in Texas are low; potential employees abundant, especially among the unskilled. 

Do the math.  A single person earning $10-12 an hour on a full-time job finds it very difficult to make ends meet each month.  If the job offers no benefits, the challenge is even tougher.  Add in a family and the mountain cannot be scaled without support from other sources. 

The Texas culture typically chaffs at the mention of "public benefits."  Texans typically don't appreciate "welfare." 

But, maybe we aren't looking at such benefits properly. 

If wages are too low for a significant portion of the workforce to make a life and we continue to depend on that sector of the workforce to make our community work, then public benefits actually benefit all of us in direct and indirect ways. 

Taken further, public benefit programs that place purchasing power in the hands of those at the very bottom of our city's economic pyramid ensure that those dollars surge into the local economy, and very quickly. 

The fact is poor people spend what money they do have

In 2010, according to the Texas Hunger Initiative, Dallas County left over $500,000,000.00 of purchasing power on the table due to the fact that all those eligible for the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP--food stamps) did not enroll to receive the benefits available and designed for working people.  Statewide the total unclaimed benefits ran into the multiple billions!

We need to understand a couple of things about that very significant pool of cash. 

First, these dollars flow back to Texas from Washington, D. C. when claimed by and used by the state.  When we fail to enroll an eligible person, we allow tax dollars that we've already sent to the federal government be redeployed in some other part of the country.  The very small cost to Texas to leverage these benefits back to Dallas is more than worth it to recapture funds we've already invested or set aside for the purpose of assisting low-income Texans. 

Second, and even more powerful, the half-billion unclaimed dollars are not just lost to our neighbors, but they are lost to the retail grocery businesses in our city.  Why these businesses don't insist on better performance by Texas is beyond me. 

And, this is just one public benefit resource available to the working poor in Dallas.  The Earned Income Credit tax program, health care programs, child care subsidies, housing support and other public efforts to benefit the lowest wage earners among us, actually end up benefiting us all. 

When families are financially stronger, the local economy reflects that strength in many ways that impact every aspect of our community's life and quality. 

Properly understood, public benefits turn out to be public indeed.


Charme Robarts said...

In the constellation of problems surrounding the working poor, there is the poverty of understanding what you have pointed out—that what is good for our neighbors is good for all of us. What if we could all find courage to introduce this other point of view about public benefits the next time we’re in a conversation about what’s wrong with our country? I continue to hope in the success of informed dialogue. Thanks Larry.

Anonymous said...

Larry, you never give the negative effects of food stamps of which there are many.

Anonymous said...

A sure way to long term poverty is government dependence. I'm shocked Larry doesn't realize this.

Larry James said...

Anon--both of you, assuming you aren't the same person--you don't understand the pressure working families with low skills are under today in our nation's urban areas. SNAP benefits provide a very small source of assistance that turn out to be a great and wise investment in the health, education, well-being and progress of families. This is especailly true when times are challenging economically. I've read comments here for years like both of yours. I expect you find no displeasure in benefits paid to corporations/businesses, especially when those investments pay off for shareholders. I regard the public benefits as investments at the bottom that help sustain people while also assisting businesses where these benefits are cashed out.

Charme, thanks for your comments. I know you understand as a person who is on the front line daily.

Anonymous said...

Larry James, assuming you are one person with two first names - charity and/or sucking on the government tit, allows one more disposable income!

Anonymous said...

Let's everyone go on food stamps! Everyone will be financially stronger and the economy will be booming! WooHoo--not

Anonymous said...


I am unemployed and in need of public benefits. I had a green job. Then I farted and the EPA fined my company. So I was fired. My question is, if I get public benefits will I be more patriotic after the fart than I was before?


Larry James said...

Amazing how without substance so many comments are that appear here. I don't mind disagreement. But something beyond what's here so far would be nice, at least occassionally. Maybe that's just too much to hope.

Anonymous said...

Personal attacks, sarcasm and fart jokes - the usual methodology of the far right. Some very deep thought there.

Anonymous said...

Hey James or Larry,do you and the "Rev" Gerald Britt have any economic or business ties (wink, wink) with John Wiley Price?

belinda said...

i have to wonder why these people even "waste" their time reading your blog . . . they must have nothing better to do than find fault with someone trying to do good. if only they would spend half as much effort doing good themselves . . . !

Anonymous said...


You can't have it both ways. You pursue foolish economic policies (sentimental environmentalism) which naturally costs jobs. Then you demand the govt. pay people for not working.

Of course, this requires higher taxes to pay for growing govt. programs to monitor compliance with EPA standards and businesses must pay more to comply. This leads to less investment by businesses in productive improvements, less hiring and employment rates decrease.

Hiding behind "The Poor" the Larrys of this world must show the number of low or no wage earners is increasing - a crisis condition, no less. So give more $$$ to Larry, so he can save "The Poor." After all, you are this close to being poor, yourself.

There is a pipleline full of jobs waiting to flow from North Dakota, if only our liberal president would prioritize jobs of environmental foolishness. And there is a return to freedom for a couple of million more, if only our socialist-in-chief would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Instead, he thinks there aren't enough "good government jobs" and that the private sector is "doing fine."

Praise God for Scott Walker. And look to governor moonbeam of California for a negative role model. There is no clearer distinction between the conservative and socialist agendas. Wisconsin rises while California is mired in Greek tragedy.

By the way, do any of you liberals ever notice the low quality and lack of interaction on this blog when conservatives sit back and watch? It's funny. No one of consequence is persuaded by Larry's threaded narrative. Those who agree with him have already consumed the hemlock.

Liberal leave a bad odor hanging in the air for the rest of us to endure.