Whitman on Welfare
Meg Whitman has conducted the most imperial of campaigns for the GOP nomination for California Governor, refusing to speak to editorial boards, refusing to take questions from the audience at the few public events she has done, and plowing more and more of her money into her campaign ads that run ad nauseam on radio and TeeVee. Her opponent, Steve Poizner, who was written off as dead in the water a few months ago, has pulled up with her in the polls. (On the back of endorsing Arizona’s SB 1070 and immigrant-bashing, but that is for another rant).
Whitman’s radio ads bashing welfare recipients are constant and continuous, even on my groovy progressive local San Francisco radio station KFOG. So far I have been spared Whitman’s anti-immigrant ads playing in Sandy Eggo that torture Nojo.
Bashing the poor and voiceless has been a go-to strategy for politicians of both parties for generations, from Reagan to Clinton to Whitman, who to date has spent $64 million of her own money on her campaign. While Clinton’s “End of Welfare as We Know It” in 1996 shows the equal-opportunism of campaigning by bashing the poor, the Cadillac-driving welfare queens have been the go-to boogieman in Republican primaries around the country for decades. With the not-so-subtle coded racism and city-bashing imbedded in the attacks (nevermind that the majority of recipients of welfare assistance in this country are rural whites), it’s almost a cliché at this point.
Let’s deconstruct the ad, shall we?
In her ads attacking people on welfare, she states over and over again that we have the highest number of people on welfare in the state, and that only 22% of the state’s Cal-WORKS (our name for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients “work for their benefits.” Hold aside for now the obvious point that as the largest state in the country with one of the worse unemployment rates in the nation, it’s not surprising we have the highest number of people receiving assistance. Her 22% statistic is a completely misleading statement when you consider that 78% of Cal-WORKS recipients are children, according to the non-partisan California Budget Project. Adult recipients must be working or going to school in order to receive Cal-WORKS, and can be on the program for only five years over their lifetime. Californians qualify for welfare only if they earn less than 130% of the federal poverty level, which for a family of three is roughly $18,000 annually.
The average benefit is $231 a month per recipient. The average family receiving Cal-WORKS is a single mother with two children. They would receive the princely sum of $693 a month, and the mother would be required to be going to school, working at least 20-30 hours a week, or demonstrate that she is looking for a job. At least in several Bay Area counties, recipients have to bring in copies of completed job applications to their welfare worker every two weeks, or risk a cut off of all benefits.
So what do we have?
- A billionaire bashing welfare families in radio ads, each ad costing more than what a family receives in welfare in a month.
- A white billionaire using not-so-coded racist bait to primary voters, attacking people of color, who has raised a loutish son who has his own issues with minorities, and appears to be a welfare recipient of sorts.
- A billionaire who brags about how when she’s governor the people who are on unemployment, getting food stamps or welfare will be forced to get jobs, (get to work you little kids, you 78% of Cal-WORKS recipients!) even though she oversaw a corporation that off-shored programming jobs and imported H1-B visa holders.
- A billionaire who is a former Goldman Sachs board member, who made millions through now-outlawed “stock-spinning” through Goldman, and who promises to deliver billions of dollars in corporate welfare to businesses through additional tax breaks and concessions.
- Since announcing her candidacy for Governor on February 10, 2009, Whitman has spent $64 million of her own money on the primary fight. That works out to spending, as of today, $138,828.63 per day, or $5,784.53 per hour, $96.41 per minute, or $1.61 per second, on her campaign.
Meanwhile, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his revised state budget on Friday. His revised budget completely eliminates Cal-WORKS, as well as all child care subsidies to low-income families, including for Cal-WORKS recipients who are working. The budget also slashes funding for health care for 900,000 children whose parents don’t have insurance through their jobs but make too much to qualify for Medicaid. More on the budget cuts here.
Democratic party leaders in the Assembly have vowed that the Guvernator’s proposal is a “non-starter,” but history has shown that there will be massive cuts to social services to the unemployed and poor. The official talking point from the Governor on down to his minions in state agencies is that they have to completely eliminate programs because “the advocates” have sued them over past cuts and this is the only way to not have “unaccountable judges” ordering them to restore spending. To Arnie’s PR team’s credit, it’s refreshing to have the “advocates” demonized instead of their clients, the recipients of assistance.
It’s going to be a long god-damn summer in California. Pour me another martini, darlings.