Whose Cookie Jar?

 by: Alice Getty

What could you do with $400,000?  In August the Broome County Legislature authorized the transfer of $400,000 of TANF funds to the office of the District Attorney for Special Prosecution Expense.  They were taking that money from resources for poor people and using it to pay for other state services. That $400,000 was intended for people living in poverty – that’s over 17% of Broome County people, higher than the national rate of 14.5%. Poverty means not having enough money to provide the basic needs, food and shelter, for their family.

August also marked the 20th anniversary of the welfare reform legislation introduced by Bill Clinton, who promised to “reform welfare as we know it.” He meant to get rid of welfare, and he succeeded in that. His legislation changed the basis of welfare from Aid for Dependent Children to what is now TANF, Temporary Aid for Needy Families. Note the temporary; there is a five year life time limit. In some states the limit is much less. So if you don’t get out of poverty in a year or two, you get no more help – ever.

Clinton also turned this program over to the states to manage. That’s why the Broome County theft of TANF funds is actually legal. There is little federal oversight of the block grants that are given to the states to administer TANF. So TANF funds become what Broome      legislators call “extra money.”

These monies were designated in the budget for the Department of Social Services recipients. Why are they being robbed?  And why were “extra funds” sitting idle?

There are many uses for human services that seem to have escaped the current commissioner of social services and mental health.  Such as, more emergency housing, re-hiring five clinical social workers for counseling, providing elusive bus passes for recipients to get to counseling, a new mini-bus to service the public senior housing units, a new service for the homeless, hungry woman who has been seen on the street with a sign. The list is endless.

Instead, this money transfer passed the legislature in September and will be used to hire “temporary replacement” attorneys to fill in for the new regime in the District Attorney’s Office because they all have conflicts of interest involving 100 pending cases. We can only speculate on attorney cliques and whether in the past a whole DA office has been fired after an election.  If so, do they regularly rob social services?

Using TANF for other state services is part of a nation-wide pattern, which has resulted in less money getting to poor people than before Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform. Poverty has not gone away since the 90s. About three million people nationwide are in extreme poverty. Since then, across the country, the number of families living on $2 a day has risen by 159%. However, fewer of those in need are getting cash or other benefits. Clinton’s welfare reform has resulted in more people being pushed off the welfare rolls. This results in the poor having to take dire measures like selling their own plasma in order to feed their   families.

You will notice that during this election season, no one is talking about poverty. Not in the presidential campaign – Hillary Clinton still thinks Bill’s reforms were the right thing to do. In the Broome County election, they are talking about taxes, jobs, heroin, but nothing on poverty.

This is the Clinton legacy. Instead of directing needed cash to the poor, Broome County is using it to put more people in jail.

Thank you Mr. Clinton.      Thank you Broome County.



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