In Political Obamacare Fight, the Poor Are Casualties

The New York Times’ article:  Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF

A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

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Mayor of Newark, New Jersey to Live on Food Stamps (for one week)

A Mayor’s call for attention, for protest, for solidarity:

Newark Mayor Cory Booker rescued a neighbor from a burning building, invited Hurricane Sandy victims to his home, and rushed to the aid of a pedestrian hit by a car. Now he’s going to live on a food stamp budget for a week in solidarity with Americans who feed their families on the government assistance program.

The mayor’s office has yet to announce the full details of his plan, but the budget should amount to about $4.44 a day for food, based on data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

As of fiscal year 2011, average monthly food stamp benefits in New Jersey totaled $133.26 per person.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton underwent the same experiment in September, on a budget of $4.16 a day and kept a daily journal on Facebook. Here’s part of his entry from Day 4.

So I’m surviving on an apple and handful of peanuts, and the coffee I took to the office until dinner. I’m tired, and it’s hard to focus. I can’t go buy a sandwich because that would be cheating – even the dollar menu at Taco Bell is cheating. You can’t use SNAP benefits at any restaurants, fast food or otherwise. I’m facing a long, hungry day and an even longer night getting dinner on the table, which requires making EVERYTHING from scratch on this budget. It’s only for a week, so I’ve got a decent attitude. If I were doing this with no end in sight, I probably wouldn’t be so pleasant.

Booker plans to live off the food stamp budget for a week, starting Tuesday, December 4, and he will document the experience on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook. He signed on to the project after a back-and-forth conversation with Twitter user @MWadeNC.

Some of his tweets:

We have a shared responsibility that kids go to school nutritionally ready 2 learn RT @MWadeNC nutrition is not responsibility of the gov’t

RT @MWadeNC why is there a family today that is “too poor to afford breakfast”? are they not already receiving food stamps?

Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?@MWadeNC

The mayor is now using the Twitter hashtag #SNAPChallenge to promote the project, after the official name for food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

More than one in seven Americans receive food stamps.

Joke: The Onion Reports “Gap between Rich and Poor” 8th Wonder of the World

From The Onion:  This is a joke, but it might as well be true:

PARIS—At a press conference Tuesday, the World Heritage Committee officially recognized the Gap Between Rich and Poor as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” describing the global wealth divide as the “most colossal and enduring of mankind’s creations.”

“Of all the epic structures the human race has devised, none is more staggering or imposing than the Gap Between Rich and Poor,” committee chairman Henri Jean-Baptiste said. “It is a tremendous, millennia-old expanse that fills us with both wonder and humility.”

“And thanks to careful maintenance through the ages, this massive relic survives intact, instilling in each new generation a sense of awe,” Jean- Baptiste added.

The vast chasm of wealth, which stretches across most of the inhabited world, attracts millions of stunned observers each year, many of whom have found its immensity too overwhelming even to contemplate. By far the largest man-made structure on Earth, it is readily visible from locations as far-flung as Eastern Europe, China, Africa, and Brazil, as well as all 50 U.S. states.

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U.S. Census: Income Inequality Highest on Record

According to a report provided by the U.S. Census:

The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.

“Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more,” said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. “More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy.”

Lower-skilled adults ages 18 to 34 had the largest jumps in poverty last year as employers kept or hired older workers for the dwindling jobs available, Smeeding said. The declining economic fortunes have caused many unemployed young Americans to double-up in housing with parents, friends and loved ones, with potential problems for the labor market if they don’t get needed training for future jobs, he said.

U.S. Government Considering Change in Official Poverty Measure

For the first time in over 50 years, the U.S. government — one of only two countries in the world with an official poverty count (the other is the UK) — could adopt a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) measure of poverty:

The poverty rate among older Americans could be nearly twice as high as the traditional 10 percent level, according to a revision of a half-century-old formula for calculating medical costs and geographic variations in the cost of living.   The National Academy of Science‘s formula, which is gaining credibility with public officials including some in the Obama administration, would put the poverty rate for Americans 65 and over at 18.6 percent, or 6.8 million people, compared with 9.7 percent, or 3.6 million people, under the existing measure. The original government formula, created in 1955, doesn’t take account of rising costs of medical care and other factors.”It’s a hidden problem,” said Robin Talbert, president of the AARP Foundation, which provides job training and support to low-income seniors and is backing legislation that would adopt the NAS formula. “There are still many millions of older people on the edge, who don’t have what they need to get by.”

If the academy’s formula is adopted, a more refined picture of American poverty could emerge that would capture everyday costs of necessities besides just food. The result could upend long-standing notions of those in greatest need and lead eventually to shifts in how billions of federal dollars for the poor are distributed for health, housing, nutrition and child-care benefits.

The overall official poverty rate would increase, from 12.5 percent to 15.3 percent, for a total of 45.7 million people, according to rough calculations by the Census Bureau. Data on all segments, not only the elderly, would be affected:

• The rate for children under 18 in poverty would decline slightly, to 17.9 percent.

• Single mothers and their children, who disproportionately receive food stamps, would see declines in the rates of poverty because noncash aid would be taken into account. Low-income people who are working could see increases in poverty rates, a reflection of transportation and child-care costs.

• Cities with higher costs of living, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, would see higher poverty rates, while more rural areas in the Midwest and South might see declines.

• The rate for extreme poverty, defined as income falling below 50 percent of the poverty line, would decrease due to housing and other noncash benefits.

• Immigrant poverty rates would go up, due to transportation costs and lower participation in government aid programs.

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