Friday, February 17, 2006

Brave New Family Values

What do you think if you're a Republican and you read a story like this? Do you get a tingle of exhilaration as the era of the federal government-as-starved beast is ushered in? Do the details of this account fortify your desire to make permanent President Bush's multi-trillion dollar tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans (40% of the money to the richest 1%)? Do you care about the real world consequences? From the New York Times:

In 2004, at the age of 14 and at his own desperate request, John G. became a ward of North Carolina.

His mother abandoned him for crack when he was 3, and his adoptive father died of cancer a year later. A succession of guardians beat him, made him sell drugs and refused to buy him toys.

When he finally arrived at a county-financed group residence, he was wearing outgrown clothes. On the plus side, he was receiving Social Security survivor benefits and he held title to a modest house, willed to him by the adoptive father 10 years earlier and an asset that might give him traction, or at least a place to live, when he "ages out" of foster care at 18.

Now, the fate of the house - and the insistence of Guilford County officials on taking all of John's Social Security benefits to help pay for his foster care - are at the center of a legal battle with potential repercussions around the country.

The dispute is the latest in a continuing struggle between children's advocates and money-starved welfare agencies. They are wrestling over the proper use of more than $100 million in Social Security benefits that the states are taking on behalf of foster children with disabilities or a dead or disabled natural parent.

Determined to extract as much federal aid for social programs as the law will permit, some state welfare agencies even hire private companies, working for contingency fees, to help them reap more federal money by identifying foster children who are eligible for Social Security benefits. The money is then routinely used to help offset the cost of foster care.[...]

Guilford County officials refused to release any of John's money, even when they learned that his last guardian had stopped making the $221 monthly mortgage payments on his house and that he faced its imminent loss. A local court has ordered the county to make payments for now, but the county has appealed and said it might appeal to the United States Supreme Court if necessary. [...]

John's court-appointed volunteer protector found out about the threat to his house and enlisted a Legal Aid lawyer to help him fight for it.

"For the state to pocket a child's money and allow his home to go into foreclosure just doesn't make sense," said his Legal Aid lawyer, Lewis Pitts. "No one can say it's in the best interests of the child."

The benefits that states routinely take include both Supplemental Security Income, or S.S.I., and other Social Security money for children whose parents have died or are disabled. The payments are often close to $600 a month, and usually end when children reach 18 or 21.

"The practice is not the result of deliberative policy discussions regarding how to best serve children in foster care," said Daniel L. Hatcher, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who is the author of an article on the subject that is to be published in The Cardozo Law Review. "It is simply an ad hoc reaction by underfunded state agencies." [emphasis added]
Seriously, is this the right wing's concept of family values? Is it that they blame the children for showing the poor judgment to be orphaned or born to parents destroyed by crack or some other nemesis? Maybe I'm just hopelessly quixotic, but for some reason I tend to think that preserving these meager income streams (and homes!) for orphans and foster children is slightly (just slightly) more important than giving Paris Hilton, Ben Affleck and Donald Trump millions of dollars more in tax cuts.

Rest assured, this isn't class warfare. I'm not suggesting that we tax the wealthiest Americans unduly, and I'm not preaching massive wealth redistribution. But can anyone really make the case that Paris and Ben were paying too much in taxes before the Bush administration stepped in to ease their crushing burden? What if we just returned to the pre-2000 tax landscape for the wealthiest Americans in order to enable orphans to keep their meager pittance. Is that so radical?

This phenomenon is the direct result of dwindling streams of tax revenue at the federal level, which in turn hinders the federal government's ability to fund state projects (which in turn causes states and municipalities to commandeer the survivor benefits of orphans or just cut their programs in order to stay within budget - someone has to stay within budget). Where are all these deeply religious conservatives on this? Is this what your respective good books say?

Maybe I just have different priorities. Because you can't have it both ways.

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