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Confirming a Conservative Response to Poverty

Writing about public policy day in and day out, one can forget that not everybody follows every argument with close attention.  Broad philosophical points of view and underlying intentions can therefore be lost.

Just so, I almost didn’t bother reading a brief essay in which Michael Tanner promotes and summarizes his forthcoming book offering a broad explanation of a conservative policy response to poverty.  It’s worth reading, though, because he summarizes some conservative policies specifically in terms of their human objectives:

  • Keeping people out of jail can promote work and stable families.
  • Breaking up “the government education monopoly and limit[ing] the power of teachers’ unions” is rightly seen as an “anti-poverty program.”
  • Preventing government from driving up the cost of living, especially housing, will give poorer families a chance to get their feet on the ground.
  • Policies that discourage savings also discourage healthy financial habits.
  • A heavy hand in regulating the economy tends to target economic growth toward the rich and powerful.

As he concludes:

An anti-poverty agenda built on empowering poor people and allowing them to take greater control of their own lives offers the chance for a new bipartisan consensus that rejects the current paternalism of both Left and Right. More important, it is an agenda that will do far more than our current failed welfare state to actually lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

My only objection is that I’m not sure that the “paternalism of the Right” is a view that conservatives actually hold rather than a caricature that the Left spreads about us.  Of course, the fault is arguably ours, if we don’t often enough express our real intentions.

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Looking for Common Ground in Booker’s New Handout Plan

Of course, the idea of making the federal government something like everybody’s rich uncle, endowing every baby with a $1,000 savings account with annual deposits at taxpayer expense, strikes all the wrong chords for a conservative like me.  The details of legislation that U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D, New Jersey) has submitted don’t really help:

The accounts would be federally insured, and the funds could only be used for homeownership and “human and financial capital investments that [change] life trajectories,” according to the summary. …

The program would cost roughly $60 billion if implemented in 2019, a Booker aide told The Hill, and would be funded by increasing the capital gains tax rate by 4.2 points, increasing the estate tax to its 2009 level and raising taxes on multimillion-dollar inheritances.

So, the federal government would create and help fund individual investment accounts and then pay for it by increasing the cost of investing as well as taxing those who are able to change their “life trajectories” enough to ensure that their own children don’t need rich Uncle Sam.  That doesn’t sound like the most efficient policy design.

All of that said, Booker’s concept does have some similar features to my long-standing proposal for health care:  Set everybody up with a health savings account, which government could use as its Medicaid/Medicare mechanism, which employers could use to provide their health care benefits, which charities could use to offer assistance to the poor, and which would bring market mechanisms into health care.

That would be a better use of money than buying houses.  Moreover, some significant part of the funding could be found in government health care savings (as all of the funding for any new program should be found in the existing budget).

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Food Stamp Arrests Before the Holidays

Somehow the weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday seems an appropriate time to turn our attention to Jessica Botelho’s Turn to 10 report on arrests for food-stamp fraud:

Twenty-four people have been accused of fraudulently obtaining a combined total of nearly $50,000 in public assistance and food stamps, Rhode Island State Police announced Tuesday.

… anyone convicted of fraudulently obtaining public assistance may be sentenced to up to five years behind bars and/or fined $1,000 if the value of public assistance was more than $500.

Anyone convicted of fraudulent use of food stamps, will be ineligible to participate in the food stamp program for no less than six months and no more than 24 months.

In the scheme of things, this is pretty small-scale stuff, with an average theft of $2,040, and looking at the mug shots doesn’t give the impression of a well-off crime ring.  Probably, these folks saw an opportunity for some extra money and acted on the not-uncommon principle that a little bit of “I got mine” wouldn’t actually harm anybody.

This holiday weekend, we express our gratitude for the good things in our lives and (some of us) take part in ritualistic exercises in excess, whether at the Thanksgiving Day table or in an effort to give our children (or ourselves) a materially exciting Christmas at a discounted price.  These holidays are supposed to direct our attention to those whom we love and those whom we should help, but they often highlight our weaknesses and tendency to measure well-being by things.

These contrasting aspects of the holidays apply to those of us who need help, too.  There is no shame in doing what one can to help one’s family, and food stamp fraud might be easily forgiven for that purpose, but is that really what’s going on?  Stealing in order to fund some habit, like smoking, or to keep up on the season’s materialism carries a bit more culpability, and a drive toward taking control of one’s financial well-being should always be central.

We do our disadvantaged neighbors no favors by instilling an opportunity for fraud or temptation toward dependence, so our welfare programs should be modest and well controlled.  At the same time, we lose perspective if we blow their infractions out of proportion.

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The Dogs That Aren’t Barking

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes cracks the case with the observation that a dog didn’t bark during the commission of a crime.  From this, he infers that the animal knew the criminal.  Perhaps that explains a phenomenon that Rick DeBlois notes in a letter to the editor:

… Rhode Islanders complain about high taxes, incompetent leadership, back-door deals, cronyism, nepotism, and all the mobsters up on Smith Hill. We complain about poor roads, poor schools and a myriad of other issues that are wrong with our state.

But when the time comes to make a change, they reelect the same old gang of incompetent fools who got us here in the first place.

To be sure, part of the problem is that the people complaining turn on each other, a conundrum now personified in the person of Republican gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan.  She spent years building up an admirable brand as a politician who responds to Rhode Islanders’ complaints and presses for change, but when primary voters didn’t pick her to be their candidate, she targeted the only alternative candidate with a chance to win.

The bigger, more-systematic problem, however, is all the dogs that aren’t barking… the voters who aren’t complaining.  These are folks who don’t want anything to change because they’re getting something out of the system as it is, whether it’s a do-nothing government job, a government union perch with inflated compensation, or some kind of handout (from welfare to corporate cronyism).  These voters know their masters.

Another layer of voters may sometimes growl a little, but they are easily distracted.  The insiders throw them some progressive causes, some bits of identity politics, or some Trump hatred, and they happily gnaw on those meatless bones while the crime against our state persists.

It’s a fascinating state of affairs to investigate, although one needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.  Rather, where that character’s genius is truly needed is in coming up with a way to unravel the trap, because the complaints (and the bites) will multiply exponentially when necessary reforms begin to clear the fatal excesses away.

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When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope

An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

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The Great News About Lost Welfare Benefits

Tom Mooney presents this with negative language, but it takes a bit of squinting to see the down side:

The state’s improving employment picture may cost more than 1,000 people their food assistance benefits later this year, says the state Department of Human Services.

Since 1996, federal rules have limited “able-bodied adults without dependents” to three months of food assistance within a three-year period. But those rules also exempted people living in communities whose unemployment rates were higher than the average national unemployment rate. …

Able-bodied adults without dependents who are working or enrolled in a work-training program may continue receiving benefits beyond three months, Pina said.

Let’s restate the facts.  “Able-bodied adults” — people who should be able to work — who do not have children and who do not have a job and refuse to enter work-training programs now can only receive food welfare for three months because the economy is doing well enough that jobs should be available.  Perhaps Mr. Mooney should explain to readers why such people should have an entitlement to unlimited benefits.

Of course, this is par for the course of all reporting on welfare.  The unstated presumption is that there is never any reason not to give people anything… presumably until they enter the upper middle class.

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Panhandling Through an App

My first impulse is to recoil from the image of homeless people carrying bar codes so people can easily scan them to purchase their daily hit of good feeling:

A new social innovation project, called Greater Change, hands homeless people a QR code, similar to the kind issued for online tickets.

Passersby who wish to give money – but who may not have any change in their pocket – can scan the code using their smart phone, and make an online payment to the person.

The donation goes into an account which is managed by a case worker who ensures that the money is spent on agreed targets, such as saving for a rental deposit or a new passport.

The program also raises the specter of human-tracking, if the app grabs information about the location of each donation.

But these negative reactions probably miss the unique circumstances of the homeless, who are typically in their predicament because they have some problem that has moved beyond their control, be it addiction or mental illness.  Having donations go to some account that is allocated for purposes that will help them reduces the concern that they’ll use the money to feed their problems.  This is essentially a more flexible version of my practice of carrying around supermarket gift cards.

Of course, money is fungible, so whether it’s a gift card or a credit to a welfare account, nothing prevents the recipient from using that money to free up cash for the purchase of drugs, or whatever.  Still, incremental improvements remain improvements.

These cards would also help donors determine which panhandlers are truly needy.  Not long ago, I spotted a young guy who didn’t look especially destitute energetically soliciting funds on the street, and for some reason, I got the strong impression that he was just trying to raise enough money to buy something at the liquor store on the corner.  Such people wouldn’t have the donation cards.

To improve the program further, we should consider the extent to which government really needs to be involved.  I think, for example, of affiliate programs from banks and other organizations that have negotiated discounts for members.  Banks, for example, could have special accounts that come with these cards and restrict the use of the money.  Opening the process up in that way would help alleviate the human-tracking concern, too.

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The Value of Restrictive Welfare

I agree with much of what Paul Winfree writes in the Washington Times related to Ontario’s abandoned experiment with a universal basic income, but he misses something essential:

There are some benefits to a basic income, especially when used to replace the current welfare system. For instance, a UBI leaves recipients free to decide how to spend their benefits. Many existing welfare programs use incentives, “nudges,” and other requirements to micromanage how the poor use their benefits. The assumption is that poor people lack certain virtues or fall victim to vices to which the rest of us are immune, and the expert managers of the welfare system know better.

I’m with the economist Lionel Robbins, who called this assumption, as applied to political calculations, “morally revolting.”

What Winfree misses is the value of restrictions on welfare to the recipients.   Sure, from an economic standpoint, leaving recipients free to use the cash however they want is more efficient for the economy, including the household economy of the recipient.  However, that efficiency reduces the disincentive to rely on the government, increasing the short-term value of welfare payments versus earned income.

If I tell you I’ll give you $100 for spending the day shoveling sewage in August, you might do it if you really need the money.  But if I also give you the option of doing nothing and collecting $50, you’ll evaluate the choice based on whether an extra $50 is worth the toil.

From the community’s point of view, the weighting is the opposite.  If we have $50 just lying around doing nothing for the economy, giving it to you may have some minor benefits by putting it in circulation.  But if you’re working, the community gets not only productive labor, but also the value of you becoming independent and better adapted to the economy.

Placing restrictions on the money we give you increases its value to the community while decreasing its value to you in a way that is relatively beneficial for the community.  This would be true even if the restrictions were entirely arbitrary, but if we manage to stumble into a worthy moral principle, it’s even more so.

Unfortunately, in our public debate, economists often lose sight of less-tangible values, while advocates ignore economics.

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Fun-Sized Observations on UHIP and Out-of-State Donations

Rhode Island tourism appears to be having some success with its “fun-sized” series of ads, and the branding idea also provides opportunity for political commentary — as with Mike Riley’s quip about “fun-sized taxes.”

Surprisingly, though, I haven’t yet seen the adjective applied to the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  As has been widely reported, the state government is planning to spend another $156 million on the project, bringing the total up to $648 million:

In a request to the U.S. government for federal money to pay the bulk of finishing the computer system, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services this week said its new Unified Health Infrastructure Project budget “reflects the necessary personnel and contracted staff to support enterprise-wide efforts to move the system towards compliance and to address mission-critical operational concerns.”

In other words, despite two years of emergency troubleshooting since the biggest piece of the project went live, the technology still isn’t working as designed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is planning for another year of development work, plus ongoing maintenance and operations.

So what is “fun-sized,” here — the budget or the lines of people that we’ve seen waiting for government services?  One could envision videos for both possibilities:  In one, the camera starts zoomed in on a pile of money and then zooms out to the entire cost for this non-functional software; in the other, it zooms in on a couple of people talking and then zooms out to the entire line of people wasting their day trying to correct problems with payments from the government.

Neither of those videos will be produced, though.  In contrast, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has a big, big campaign budget and is producing lots of targeted videosOut-of-state donations have long donated the governor’s funding stream, with non-Rhode Island donors contributing 66% of the money she raised during the second quarter of this year.

We’ll see if out-of-state interest in our governor is enough to buy her another term despite her presiding over this massive debacle (among others).

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“Real Compassion” Dispenses with Entitlement

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is right:

Carson told the story of a young woman who voiced her frustration at HUD for not finding her large family a government-subsidized apartment fast enough.

“In one group, a young lady stood up and she was very angry that it had taken the housing authority so long to find her a five-bedroom apartment because she had all these children and was even more angry because the dining room set had a scratch on the table. But as I was thinking about that, I said, this young woman probably has never known any other life. Her mother probably lived here and her grandmother probably lived here and she doesn’t even understand what is out there and what the American dream is all about,” Carson said at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference.

“And that is one of the reasons that you will see from the new HUD, such an emphasis on self-sufficiency, because I think that is real compassion – getting people out of poverty and helping them to find the pathway. It is a double win because for each person you get out of that dependent situation, it is one less person you have to pay for and it’s one more taxpaying contributing member of society,” he added. “So this is the way we have to begin to think about these things.”

We’re altogether too comfortable with a sense of entitlement these days, and that’s across the board.  Yes, the woman in Carson’s anecdote was too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should quickly supply her with whatever accommodations she might fill with children, but the social elite are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to whatever jobs they want and to have their worldview enacted into universal law.  Some established businesses are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to continue along without competition, and some entrepreneurs are too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should help them rev up their endeavors.

Spiritually, we’re built for a world in which nothing is assured.  God told Adam that it would only be by the “sweat of your face” that he would eat,” and He told Cain that “you can be [sin’s] master,” “if you do well [and] can hold up your head.”  That gives us responsibility and possibility.

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Summing Up the Budget (And RI’s Problem) in One Sentence

The Providence Journal article on the Rhode Island House’s budget vote last night captures in one quotation the problem our state is struggling to overcome:

“I expect the budget to rise every year,” said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello after the final vote, a few minutes before 10 p.m., in response to Republican complaints about overspending. “To not expect it to rise every year is not realistic.”

First, let’s go along with the premise that the state budget should rise every year.  Does it have to go up 3.9% every year, regardless of the health of the economy or changes in taxpayers’ ability to pay?  That’s the important next question.  From Mattiello’s explanation, it doesn’t seem that there is any limiting principle.  From his comments to WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

“I always look at the specifics,” he said. “The level of spending in this case was appropriate to the needs of our society.” He noted that the cost of social services continues to rise faster than other areas.

But there is no reason a budget this big has to climb every year.  If it’s possible that annual growth of 3.9% is too much, then it’s possible for it to be too high, right now.  Sadly, state leaders exhibit is no underlying philosophy.  There is only a balance of various interest groups’ power.  Raises for state employees.  Increases in welfare-related spending.  More crony deals (as foreshadowed by the increased generosity of tax credits for movie productions).

Taxpayers will only become a consideration when they do one of two things:

  1. Change their voting habits in a way that threatens entrenched politicians.
  2. Leave the state in sufficient numbers that the politicians have no choice but to reduce spending or squeeze those who remain painfully enough that they notice (and resort to #1).
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UPDATED: Latest Stunning Display of Incompetence by Raimondo Involving our Most Vulnerable May Cost Taxpayers Tens of Millions

Both the Providence Journal‘s Kathy Gregg and WPRI’s Ted Nesi are reporting today that the State of Rhode Island, more specifically, the Executive branch’s Office of Health and Human Services (the Rhode Island Executive Branch being currently occupied, we should note, by Gina Raimondo), missed a critical court deadline to appeal a court ruling and thereby may have put state taxpayers on the hook for “$8 million annually for each year starting in 2016-17″. From Ted Nesi’s story about this disturbing and jaw-dropping situation:

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A Canary in Seattle

The city of Seattle is blazing trails in the assault on business and disincentive for job creation, and Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton is correct to warn of a reckoning:

One thing is clear. The tax will not be paid by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, or any other real or imagined toffs running the targeted companies. It will be “paid” by hiring fewer people here, making fewer investments, thus perhaps reducing overall taxes to the city. This is not sticking it to The Man.

One of the fascinating aspects of the jobs tax is how it reveals a tectonic shift in Seattle politics.

The slow-moving but generally pragmatic center-left that governed for years has collapsed.

Some of Talton’s lessons are either (it seems to me) either off base or specific to Seattle.  I’m suspicious, notably, of the blame that he puts on the GOP for becoming a “hard-right party” that exploded its leverage by booting its centrists.  One needn’t change the tilt of one’s head too much to see that as something more like a center-right party that didn’t move far enough to the left to keep progressive activists from attacking its donors and volunteers.

Consider Talton’s complaint that voters don’t have options; that can be a sign that people won’t run, given the charged atmosphere.  In short, this probably isn’t quite the distinct trend that he presents it as:

Meanwhile, a hard-left movement arose with the activist foot soldiers, infrastructure and energy to win municipal elections. It might represent a minority of voters, but given the withering away of the old order, it can win. Voters don’t have alternatives.

This lesson is probably increasingly universal across the country.  An activist infrastructure has been built up with funding from embedded interests (like labor unions), a supremely wealthy progressive elite, and siphoned taxpayer money from the Obama Administration.  At the local level, it targets any politician or grassroots organization that attempts to offer an alternative, and so the alternative doesn’t get a voice.

So… the city gets insane tax-and-spend policies that create obvious incentives against economic activity and for reliance on public subsidies.  A reckoning will come, indeed.

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UHIP Problem Is Less the Technology than the Intention

So Rhode Island’s state government paid about a half-billion dollars for software to manage its various welfare programs, and now it’s having to “upgrade” to put bar codes on paper applications so it can properly track them:

“I have an idea,″ [Rep. Jason Knight, D-Barrington] said. “Put a box in each building and that’s where the scanned applications go…This is not difficult…Put a box in the corner.″

“Understood,″ Hawkins said, but “DHS [takes in] thousands of applications every month.” She said a technology upgrade “in the coming months″ will put a bar code on every document that is received by the department to ensure that every one “gets scanned to the right case and eliminate the errors.”

“We believe the technology system should solve this problem for us,” she said.

With a little work, perhaps Rhode Island can graduate to the latest technology of the 1970s.

Not to repeat what’s been written in this space before, but the problem, here, isn’t the technology so much as what the state is trying to use it for.  Tracking all of the information necessary to determine, on an ongoing basis, the eligibility of everybody in the system for every welfare benefit requires a great deal of information.

It is within the competence of state government to set up agencies to process individual welfare programs.  It is not within its competence to vacuum us all into its data base and get us on the dependency highway.  And we should be relieved that that’s the case.

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Evidence of an “I Got Mine” Mindset

Let’s be clear that this guy should not be considered representative of either law enforcement or welfare recipients:

A Rhode Island deputy sheriff, who was praised as a hero in 2015 for saving the lives of two women, has been arrested for fraudulently collecting more than $12,000 worth of food stamps, according to the Rhode Island State Police.

Edward Cooper Jr., 49, of 78 Commodore St., Providence, obtained the food stamps while collecting a tax-free salary because of a job-related injury, the state police said.

It’s reasonable to suggest, though, that some people tend toward a mindset of taking what they can, or even of entitlement.  It’s also reasonable to wonder whether government occupations and programs are an especial lure for such people.

The “I got mine” mindset isn’t a healthy one for the individual nor a just one for the community, so we should keep an eye out that we’re not creating incentives for it.  Rhode Island clearly has such incentives.

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A Need for Sufficient Reforms to Welfare Programs

Kristina Rasmussen makes an important point in the Washington Examiner:

Despite near-historical low unemployment rates and employers desperate to fill open jobs across the country, welfare enrollment is soaring. And overwhelmingly, the newest enrollees aren’t those the system was intended to serve — the elderly and those with disabilities, among others. Instead, they’re mainly able-bodied adults.

That’s an indication that the programs are no longer truly designed for the goal for which they were originally promoted.  If they ever truly were, they aren’t programs to help disadvantaged people so much as jobs to give to government, making dependent clients of increasingly broad cross-sections of the population.

That’s why I’d suggest that Rasmussen is a bit too optimistic about the chance for reforms to work.  On both the client side and the provider side, too much incentive exists to undermine or route around reforms.  Recall when President Obama took office and undermined work requirements.

Unless we fundamentally change incentives and the culture, reforming welfare will be a constant labor of piling up sandbags against relentless tide.  Things like work requirements are worth doing, because they will help in the effort, but they aren’t sufficient.

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Some Interesting Correlations with High Taxes

Investor’s Business Daily found striking correlations between tax burden, presidential vote, population loss/gain, and government fiscal condition.  In general, high-tax states tended to vote for the Democrat in the last election, tend to be losing domestic population to other states, and tend not to be in great fiscal condition.  As IBD suggests:

One way to look at all this is to conclude that poorly managed states are trying to force taxpayers to cover for their mistakes. But, taxpayers won’t stand for it. Which strongly suggests that high-tax states need to set a new course, toward lower taxes and less spending, if they want to stop their population losses.

Of course, that’s a big “if.”  As long as they can keep the scheme going, population is only incidental… never mind that our governments are supposedly instituted to represent the people who actually live in an area.  That isn’t any longer true in a fundamental sense.

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No Secret Why Rhode Island Has a High Eviction Rate

This article by Christine Dunn in the Providence Journal takes a strange (if predictable) turn:

Providence’s 2016 eviction rate, 3.82 percent, was nearly triple that of Boston in that same year (1.3 percent), according to new data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. This group is led by sociologist Matthew Desmond, whose 2016 book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2017. …

Why is Providence’s rate so much higher than Boston’s and New York’s when Desmond says a lack of affordable housing is a problem across the country?

According to Clement, less access to free legal assistance for Rhode Island tenants, and less state support for housing in general, are reasons Providence fares worse than Boston in the rankings.

Umm… perhaps the fact that Massachusetts — particularly the Boston area — has a much healthier economy has something to do with it?  Oddly, the article presents unemployment as an effect, not a cause, of eviction.  That presentation is especially odd because the article doesn’t allege wrongful evictions.  People just don’t have the money.  Why don’t they have the money?  Because there’s limited opportunity, here.

That being the case, giving people free legal help would merely shift the burden to landlords, who will either have to increase rents or get out of the business, thus reducing supply and, ultimately, driving up rents again.  Adding evictions to the long list of programs that Rhode Island attempts to address with public welfare programs would increase taxes and harm the economy, thus leading to reduced ability to afford rent.

Rhode Island has no other solution than facing down its insider, I-know-a-guy system and taking the chains off our economy.  None.  And that reality brings us back to the deepest, most-fundamental problem for renters as for every don’t-know-a-guy resident:  It just makes so much more sense to leave than to try to fix the joint.

Unless Rhode Island’s governing elite and information providers shift to promoting economic freedom as the solution to the various symptoms of our state’s decline, that decline will continue.

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Missing the Real Story of UHIP

As a UHIP skeptic from the very first time it was mentioned as a possibility, I continue to think that everybody is following the wrong storyline.  However, increased scrutiny is starting to bring people around to the right questions… the correct angle.  Consider:

As to why so many things went wrong, [Deloitte manager Deborah] Sills said: “Simply put, the system is very complex … the only eligibility system in the country that integrates more than 10 state and federal health and human services programs and a state based health insurance exchange … As the state’s comprehensive analysis last year made clear, Deloitte and the state needed ‘more time, more people and more training.'”

GoLocalProv has posted the entire 40-page, paper-and-pen application that goes along with the half-billion-dollar computer system, and what’s becoming clearer is that the state simply expected too much from software, hoping to avoid the hard work of reconceptualizing how benefits programs are done.  In this light, the fundamental error of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo was her failure to understand the nature of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  It was never really intended to be a cost-savings and efficiency tool, but rather a dependency portal, drawing people into government programs and maximizing the amount of “services” that the state could hire people to provide.

Look at the application.  The complexity comes in because each program requires different information.  That’s not a terrible problem if the applicant knows which one he or she wants, but the entire point of UHIP is to give people things they aren’t applying for, so the application asks for all of the possible information.  Streamlining that would require regulatory and legislative changes, some of it at the federal level.

In order to effectuate those changes, advocates would have to make clearer the underlying objective, and that would run contrary to the plan.  The dependency portal is meant to insinuate itself into reality under the banner of efficiency, which the public would actually support.  Less popular would be a banner proclaiming, “We want to ensure that everybody gets every penny of taxpayer money possible, even without looking for it.”  Even less popular would be, “We want to track everybody’s personal and financial information so that we can adjust their benefits automatically.”

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UHIP Catastrophe: Governor Once Again Blaming Deloitte as “Real” Problem (Also, Chafee)

Yesterday on NBC 10’s Connect to the Capitol, Dan Jaenig asked Governor Gina Raimondo, among other topics, how the state dropped the UHIP ball. The governor started her response by taking a swipe at former Governor Lincoln Chafee, saying he signed a terrible contract with Deloitte. She then continued,

Under my watch, we hit the go button before it was ready. But I will say the real problem here is the company sold us a product that didn’t work.

This is not to defend Deloitte, which apparently has a mixed record with regard to such systems. But let’s be clear. It was you, Governor Raimondo, who gave the catastrophic order, for your own selfish political reasons, to launch an unready system. Accordingly, DO NOT BLAME FORD MOTORS FOR DELIVERING A DEFECTIVE CAR WHEN YOU ORDERED THEM TO REMOVE IT FROM THE ASSEMBLY LINE ONLY HALF WAY DOWN. And similarly for the aspersions you cast at Governor Chafee: the contract, good, bad or indifferent, is completely irrelevant if the manager who takes over the contract inexplicably orders production to be shut down well before the product is finished.

Everyone else – taxpayers and UHIP clients – but you, Madame Governor, is paying the high price for your catastrophic action. Please at least stop casting blame for it in desperate and absurd directions.

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Objection to UHIP on the Surface and Conceptually

The court-appointed “special master” tasked with getting Rhode Island’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) working, Deming Sherman, tells Kate Nagle of GoLocalProv that the system is flawed:

“It (UHIP) was not a bad idea, but bad execution,” said Sherman about UHIP. The good idea of UHIP was to tie five distinct programs together, but the flaws have been that the vendor, Deloitte and the workforce did not work and were not trained, respectively. Just as the UHIP program was being implemented the state laid off key workers. Since then DHS has had a difficult time training and retain workers for the program.

Sherman said the UHIP system has two problems technology and the workforce that operates it.

The surface reaction one has to this is to be incensed that the state government has already spent roughly a half-billion dollars on the system.  Nobody forced state government to undertake a project that it was not competent to oversee.  In fact, the state barely conducted public discussion before jumping in.  Bureaucrats under former Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee simply went forward as if it was the obvious thing to do.

Similarly, nobody forced Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo to manage her personnel under the assumption that flipping the switch on UHIP would instantly bring a new day.  She took a big, big gamble, attempting to make budgetary room for other things, like her crony capitalist approach to economic development, and the state’s vulnerable populations have suffered for it.

More deeply, though, we should challenge Sherman’s statement that the concept was sound.  The goal of UHIP, which was pushed down from activists at the national level (with the encouragement of Democrat Congressman David Cicilline), is to draw people into dependency on government.  The system has the 40-page application about which Sherman complains in part because the designers want it to collect scads of information about people, which would be constantly updated on the pretense of regularly checking eligibility.

If it weren’t for the human suffering and loss of opportunity that it’s causing, we should actually be happy that UHIP isn’t working, which is a sad statement on the condition of our democracy.  Being saved from insidious ideas by managerial incompetence is not a silver lining that ought to inspire confidence or hope.

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International Gangsters in the Land of the Government Plantation

In 2015, I presented Lawrence, Massachusetts, as a cautionary tale of the government-plantation economic model.  Just as industrialists once attempted to draw in foreign labor to the “company town” because it was less expensive, the local government is turning the city into a “government town,” whose main source of income is transfer payments from outside to pay for government services.

Consequently, this recent Boston Globe article caught my eye:

The federal government’s relentless assault on the feared MS-13 street gang in Greater Boston continued this week, with two members of the violent outfit admitting to their roles in the 2015 slaying of a 16-year-old boy in Lawrence, authorities said.

True, immigrant gangs are nothing new to the United States, and homegrown gangs certainly exist.  Still, tracing the arrival of an international criminal enterprise is a necessary task, and one needn’t indulge too much in speculation to propose that using immigration to bolster the population in need of government services leaves a region vulnerable to this sort of invasion.

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Can We Realize The Destruction Of Families Has Unintended Consequences?

In the Providence Journal this week, Wendy P. Warcholik and J. Scott Moody write, “This growing number of children in Rhode Island without a solid familial foundation should give us all pause. This is not a problem that is going to just go away, and we must find ways to help these children before tragedy strikes, perhaps in your own neighborhood.”

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Medicaid Expansion Not Working Out as States Had “Predicted”

Encouraging Virginians not to expand Medicaid to able-bodied, childless adults, Brooklyn Roberts looks at some results from states that have moved forward with the change:

As an example, let’s look at Oregon, a state that began expanding Medicaid in 2008. Officials there lacked funding for the total number of applicants, so they conducted a random lottery and selected enrollees from a waiting list, thus making Oregon an ideal state for study. What they found was that gaining Medicaid coverage increased health care usage and costs across a wide range of settings, and emergency room visits increased by 40 percent in the newly covered group. Proponents of the expansion argued the initial spike in ER visits was due to pent-up needs and would decrease as time went on.

That has not been the case. Oregon’s growth in Medicaid spending between 2012 and 2016 was 83.1 percent. A follow-up study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded the value of expansion for recipients was quite low — 20 to 40 cents per dollar of government spending.

So, the expansion increases health-care usage in ways that weren’t predicted by the officials who’ve implemented the expansion, and those officials have proven even more egregiously incorrect when it comes to predicting how many people would sign up.  (We could argue about whether that was a flaw in their methodology or something more like deception; after all, they’ve ushered a lot of people into Medicaid by rerouting them through health benefits exchanges that were supposed to sell plans for actual money.)

In Rhode Island, our government officials signed up for the expansion almost before it was officially offered.  We should force them to reconsider how they do things.

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