Food Stamp Follies

Food Stamp Follies


The right’s contempt for government and the people it serves hits a new low

It’s an image that may be tough to conjure up in the middle of an especially cold winter, but there usually comes a moment on most summer days at your local community pool in which dangerous horseplay and just generally knot-headed behavior reaches an unacceptable level. Typically, it’s at that moment that a beleaguered lifeguard or a responsible parent is forced to blow his or her whistle and shout something like “Okay, that’s it! Everyone out of the pool!”

Oh, that there was a responsible person or entity to take such action right now with respect to the ideologues running North Carolina state government. The list of absurd, offensive and downright unlawful acts – especially in the Pat McCrory-Aldona Wos team’s pathetically incompetent leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services – just continues to grow. Moreover unlike most summer swimming pool affairs, many, many people really are getting badly hurt.

A long and growing list

At DHHS, there’s been the Diana Lightfoot affair, Salarygate, the meddlesome micromanagement from on high of trivialities like office attire and email signatures, the strangely short tenure of Medicaid boss Carol Steckel, the lucrative personal services contracts dispensed to political pals, the gift of a $37,000 severance to a departing employee after one month’s work and Secretary Wos’ inexplicable and bizarre contention that state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin somehow made the decision not to expand Medicaid.

Then, of course, and even more importantly, there are the disastrous policy and performance flubs – the decision to turn down billions in federal money to expand Medicaid to help hundreds of thousands of uninsured people, the botched reimbursement of medical providers, the mailing of tens of thousands of health insurance cards (what was supposed to be private, sensitive information) to the wrong households and, of late, the seemingly pathological failure to process SNAP (aka Food Stamps) applications in a timely fashion.

After the SNAP/Food Stamp debacle (and its disastrous impact on thousands of families and the state’s economy) came to light over the past weeks, it has really seemed as if there was no way for things to get any worse.

If only.

As NC Policy Watch Investigative Reporter Sarah Ovaska first reported last night, the ridiculous Food Stamp story has now taken an even more through-the-looking-glass turn. In response to the large backlog of wrongfully un-processed Food Stamp applications, the McCrory-Wos team has taken the downright bizarre step of putting out a call for volunteers from amongst the staff of administrative assistants to state legislators. I am not making this up.

The appeal came from the assistant for House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam – long one of the General Assembly’s most outspoken conservative ideologues and a chief ally of state Budget Director and far right political financier, Art Pope – in an email sent yesterday afternoon. As Ovaska reported:

This is a WIN-WIN opportunity!!,’ wrote Anne Murtha from Stam’s office in the email sent at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. ‘You will win by gaining first-hand experience with how the Food Nutrition System (FNS) operates and gain valuable experience processing claims.’

The BIGGEST winners will be the many people who are waiting to get assistance,’ Murtha wrote.

Murtha’s request included an update from Adam Sholar, DHHS legislative liaison, that put the outstanding backlog of untimely cases at 10,000, most in Wake and Cumberland counties, and 15,000 additional households waiting for recertifications of their food stamps statewide. That’s a significant drop from more than 23,000 applications pending earlier this month.

The USDA is requiring that 7,512 of those households receive food stamps by Feb. 10, Sholar wrote in his Jan. 30 email to lawmakers.

For this to happen, each application and recertification will need to be worked by a human being at the county department of social services,’ Sholar wrote.”

An abiding contempt for government and those it serves

Think about that for a moment. Faced with large and fundamental breakdown in the provision of a critically essential, even life-preserving, public service, the McCrory-Wos team’s answer was not to find the resources to address the problem properly, thoroughly and once and for all, but to look for “volunteers” from amongst a group of political hires with no training or experience. Heck, it’s a wonder that they didn’t just ship the pile of applications over to the offices of the John Locke Foundation, Pope-Civitas Institute and Americans for Prosperity (or maybe even Central Prison).

Good lord, what are these people thinking? Whatever it is, it clearly isn’t that public service is vitally important work that is about serving tax-paying citizens with the highest degree of respect and professionalism. To the contrary, by all indications, the mindset is that public service is like some kind of informal charity that is dashed off in one’s spare time to people who are lucky to get whatever those in power deign to dispense.

Now we know why our leaders have slashed North Carolina’s investments in education, the environment and so many other essential services and structures to the absolute bone: they literally view them with contempt and as, at best, necessary evils.

One almost can’t help but to envision McCrory, Wos and State Budget Director Art Pope perched at their ledgers like a trio of modern day Scrooges, angrily dismissing with contempt the hungry street urchins pleading for crusts of bread outside of their offices: “Somebody call Skip and tell him to see if he can’t scare up some of our friendly L.A.’s over at the legislature to take care of this mess. They’re not doing anything this time of year anyway. Bah, humbug!”

Reality check

In fairness, this may be a little harsh. Far right contempt for service and the citizens served doesn’t apply to all government functions. When it comes to building highways, bridges and prisons, wooing corporations, promoting agribusiness and a few other sufficiently macho or top1%-friendly pursuits, government is A-Okay with the state’s current leadership.

When it comes to the “soft” stuff however – i.e. the kind of work frequently associated with women, people of color and people in need – you can rest assured that the team put in place by Gov. Pat McCrory will almost always look for the easiest way to do the least possible good at the lowest possible cost.

And, by all indications, things are going to continue this way until someone or something – the courts, the feds or the voters – steps in with their whistle and clears everyone out of the pool.

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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