Monday, March 2, 2009

Food Stamp Folly and Farewell to Morgy in Manhattan

Mayor Bloomberg's decision to reject additional food stamp support from the Federal Government demonstrates a growing lack of sensitivity in his office to the challenges faced by non-billionaires in these tough times. 

Separately, the retirement of the Manhattan District Attorney causes us to reflect on his 35 years of service in that role as well as a lifetime of public service. Finally, we say thank you to the Bill Tatum for his leadership in the Black media world and for his leadership in Upper Manhattan.

We start with food stamps.

No Thank You, Mr. President

During the Clinton Presidency, the United States Government took steps to "end welfare as we know it." Amongst those steps was the limiting of food stamp benefits to only three months for any three year period for an able-bodied adult without children. As the country sinks deeper into a frightening and, in some ways, unprecedented recession, advocates for the poor have suggested the elimination if the three month limitation.

Those advocates got their wish in the Stimulus Bill signed into law earlier this month.  In that legislation, the United States Government has granted municipalities the right to extend food stamp benefits to able-bodied adults without children for an unlimited period. Even before most the recent severe economic turmoil, many municipalities have asked individually and on a case by case basis to be permitted to extend these benefits beyond the three month time limit. Now, those municipalities are welcome to extend benefits.

New York City refused to join in the stampede to seek additional food stamp resources for its citizens and now has announced that it will reject the U.S. Government's offer to extend benefits in New York City. While the New York Post praised NYC's decision to turn down federal resources targeted toward the poor in our city, we should all be very disappointed. Food stamps are available to people who earn less than $14,000 per year, and they provide less than $200 of food support per month. Those who live in New York City with such modest incomes are unlikely to be corrupted by $200 of federal support, and the $200 will be spent in New York City, thereby boosting our economy and creating jobs that will reduce poverty and reduce our city's fiscal crisis.

Whether or not one agrees with the philosophy of forcing poor people to work for no pay in order to receive public assistance, everyone can agree in periods when the economy is experiencing a negative shock and when jobs are disappearing faster than any of us can count, a city that refuses to use money from the federal government (food stamps cost the city nothing and are paid for entirely by the United States Department of Agriculture) is failing its citizens. When job losses begin to turn into job creation and when the current economic shock is replaced by stabilization or growth, the ideological and philosophical debate about the need to force poor people to work for government benefits can be reinitiated. For now, our city, with growing poverty, unemployment, dislocation, and a massive budget deficit that must be filled using anti-expansionary policies such as tax increases and reductions in the number of municipal jobs, must eagerly and aggressively take advantage of opportunities such as the food stamp expansion to bring relief to those who are suffering in NYC and to help bring new spending into our local economy to hasten the end of our local depression.

We call on the Mayor to reverse course and see the poor as constituents and fellow New Yorkers rather than an enemy to be punished or an annoyance to be pushed aside. There are far more of us who are poor now than there were only a few months ago. We are reminded of a version of an old cliche: Be nice to people on your way up. You will meet them on your way down. With so many of us on our way down, let us not stand in the way of the efforts of the federal government to help the poor here in NYC. 

Robert Morgenthau Retires

Having first been elected in 1974 and having served with distinction and honor ever since, Robert Morgenthau announced late last week that he would not seek re-election in 2009. His tenure teaches us so much. For those who advocate term limits and who argue that power corrupts, we offer you the Manhattan District Attorney as the counterargument. For those who underestimate the impact of skin color in our criminal justice system, we present you with the youths convicted by Morgenthau's deputies in the Central Park Jogger case. Those Black youths served their full sentences for crimes that they did not commit, and when Morgenthau asked a judge to vacate their sentences and remove them from the sex offender rolls, the prosecutors who worked to wrongly convict these Black youths opposed Morgenthau's efforts to correct a terrible injustice. 

There are too many lessons to address here, but we offer a hearty congratulations to Robert Morgenthau for a career of which any of us would be proud.  At age 89, we wish him a long and fulfilling retirement.

Voters will chose the Democratic nominee seeking to replace Morgenthau in September.  We will offer our views on his potential successors in the months ahead.  The Manhattan District Attorney is extremely powerful and influential, and we must choose wisely. We will seek a nominee who will bring the fairness and integrity that Robert Morgenthau brought and who will aggressively advocate the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws while respecting the people of Upper Manhattan. We are eager to support candidates who demonstrate those qualities.

Fallen Giant - Bill Tatum

Bill Tatum died last week.  He was the longtime publisher of the Amsterdam News before turning that job over to his daughter in 1997, and he remained the owner of the paper at the time of his death. Bill Tatum was a leader in Upper Manhattan and throughout the United States and remains an inspiration to so many people from so many geographies and backgrounds. He was appropriately remembered in the press, by the Mayor, and by so many others. We send our prayers of comfort to his family and thank him and them for being voices for Black people, employers of Black people, and successful Black businesspeople so that the next generation can grow up knowing not to let others limit their aspirations.

1 comment:

  1. Insensitivity on Mayor Bloomberg's side isn't even the right term, I think you're being nice. I don't think obtaining food (whether via food stamps or any other means) should never be this difficult. Single people with no dependents are humans who eat, too, after all.