War on Poor: Mom and Krugman Both Wrong?

I never thought I'd imply that Paul Krugman could be wrong. But when my mother in New Jersey and colleagues' mothers in California and Ohio all voiced relief that Ohio was doing so much to help the poor after reading his column or another story, I knew some explanation was needed.

I'm sure Krugman won't read this, but my mother almost certainly will, so I should clarify that I know both are nearly always right. Krugman's larger point, that many Republicans are waging war on the poor, was spot on.

I'll also agree up front that Ohio just made one phenomenal change for working poor families. We accepted federal money to expand Medicaid to those earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line. This was indeed compassionate. It was also shrewd and self-interested, which was why many hospitals, business and insurance industry leaders lobbied for it. It brings $2.56 billion federal dollars into Ohio over the first year and a half, extends health care to 366,000 Ohioans, and will create some 28,000 jobs here. Human service advocates, community organizers, unions, faith leaders and countless others wanted this policy change.

That common sense move does not, however, put Ohio at the forefront of helping to prevent or relieve poverty. In fact, a number of recent policy changes will make the lives of Ohio's poor and working families harder.

First, we've slashed the public sector, cutting $607 million from schools and $1 billion from local government since the two-year 2010-11 budget. This means we've raised class sizes, increased social work caseloads, cut bus routes, slashed financial aid, and dropped babies from child care slots -- this hurts all Ohioans, but you can bet families of modest means feel more pain.

Of course the diminished public sector means laid-off public workers, some poor to start with, all poorer now that they're jobless. Classroom aides, bus drivers, trash collectors, childcare providers, street-repair crews -- our divestment from public structures means fewer public services, but it also slows our recovery.

Ohio hemorrhaged jobs for years -- employment levels still haven't recovered from either of the last two recessions. But the Kasich administration just took food stamps away from 130,000 people unless they participate in 20 hours a week of required work or training -- even though county administrators admit they don't have space for these hungry adults in such programs. Since Gov. John Kasich took office, Ohio has booted more than 100,000 others off of cash assistance, with a focus, according to the Columbus Dispatch, on "cutting rolls, not aiding job hunts." Researcher Tara Dolansky recently concluded that cash assistance is reaching "only a fraction of poor families" and Athens County Job and Family Services director Jack Frech has poignantly asked how to report child neglect when the perpetrator is the state.

In addition to attacking poor Ohioans, right-wing forces are attacking workers, turning decent jobs into poverty jobs. As is known, Gov. Kasich and others tried to destroy public sector collective bargaining in 2011. The governor learned from that loss and is distancing himself from current attempts to gut unions in a different way. But other Republicans are trying to force unions to represent people who don't pay anything toward union costs, making Ohio a So-Called "Right to Work" state, even though other states with that regime have lower wages, fewer benefits and more poverty.

So yes, there is a war on the poor, evidenced by recent findings from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a war on working people too, as a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows. That war is being waged in America, in Ohio, and in many other states as well.

In the end, Paul Krugman is right about most things. But despite our decent and smart acceptance of federal Medicaid money, national readers should know that many Ohio policies are hurting poor and working families here. Oh, and Mom, you're right too, about almost everything. Except that polyester bumblebee-print shirt you had me wear on third grade picture day -- I still say that was a mistake.