Welfare and Medicaid Cuts Raise Infant Mortality Rate

Conservatives kill babies.

Not with their own hands, of course. They don’t strangle them in their cribs. They let their anti-life policies do it for them.

For decades but especially for the last 12 years, the very same conservatives who scream that the removal of an unformed scut of cells in a womb is murder have been systematically depriving real life pregnant women who will be carrying to term of luxuries like food and adequate medical care because they’re “too expensive”.

At the Federal level, Medicaid and welfare have been consistently cut every year conservatives have ruled the roost in order to trim taxes to the nub for the rich, hand over $$$billions$$$ in corporate welfare to their masters campaign contributors, and prosecute a war nobody wanted on behalf of neoconservative imperialists too dumb to know enough to come in out of the rain. In primarily liberal Democratic states, some of that safety net has been replaced but in the predominantly-conservative Southern states, it hasn’t and the results are coming in. They’re not pretty, but then nothing much in conservative-run America is these days.

The policies of so-called “pro-life” conservatives are raising infant mortality rates in the South to the such a point that Third World countries have lower rates than parts of the US. Are we proud yet?

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Eating Healthy When You’re Poor: You Can’t (UPDATED)

I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about the stereotype of the “fat poor”. You know the right-wing slur: if we’re so broke, how come so many of us are overweight? It’s just another way of claiming that being poor is our own damn fault and has NOTHING to do with, like, an income distribution system heavily shewed toward the top. In an article in the Lifestyle section (“Lifestyle”, for chrissake) of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Phuong Cat Le writes that decent food is often out of reach of the poor price-wise, especially if they’re on food stamps. Continue reading

Charging Big Bucks for Treating the Poor Like Human Beings

Three weeks ago, we relayed a story about stores that specialized in selling to WIC customers so they could gouge the goverment program:

[T]he prices at W.I.C. specialty stores are typically 10 percent to 20 percent higher than those at supermarkets and other retail grocers.

Now. less than a month later, our usually slow-moving government is moving with lightning speed to solve the problem–it’s going to start cutting mothers from the program.

By Virginia Ellis, LA Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Some of California’s poorest children could soon be shut out of a government food program due to an explosion of stores that cater to low-income mothers but charge top dollar for milk, eggs and other staples.

Prices at the stores — most in the Los Angeles area — are as much as 16% higher than at supermarkets and other retailers. Many have sprung up in clusters near offices where young mothers go for food vouchers and nutrition classes.

Experts say the jump in the number of these businesses is now adding $33 million a year to the cost of the Women, Infants and Children program in California, which serves nearly 1.3 million people.

“Over the long haul, the major driving force that is raising our costs are these [stores]…. To the extent that they become more predominant and charge more overall, we have to find ways to cut corners,” said Linnea Sallack, chief of the WIC branch of the California Department of Health Services.

Nationally, about 100,000 eligible children, pregnant women and new mothers could be denied benefits, one official estimated. It has not been determined how many of those would be in California.

The number of recipients the program can serve is limited by the amount of the federal grant that funds it, so high costs threaten its ability to serve all those who are eligible. Despite the rising costs brought about by these stores, in previous years the state has been able to serve all eligible participants by dipping into a federal emergency fund, but that money has now run out.

Although the WIC program is a quarter-century old and most state retailers accept its vouchers, the growth of stores exclusively serving its recipients has taken officials by surprise. The phenomenon is nationwide, but the biggest increase has been in California, where the number of stores has grown from 86 in 1996 to 322 in 2001 and to 659 this year. In the late 1990s, they accounted for only 11% of the WIC dollars spent on food; this year, the figure has vaulted to 43%. Nationally, the current number is about 11%.

According to federal data, nationwide there were 523 of the stores in 2000. In 2001, the number increased to 621, and by 2002 it had reached 778.

The federally funded program is administered by the state, and regulations to curb its costs have been grinding through Sacramento since 2000. The new rules are pending in the state Department of Health Services and are opposed by the specialty grocers, who have spent $427,113 on lobbyists and consultants in the last three years and have given campaign money to key politicians.

The Federal government ‘acknowledges’ that the stores aren’t doing anything illegal–but isn’t price-gouging illegal? Isn’t price-fixing illegal? These stores aren’t competing, they’re all selling at the highest price allowed by the program even though the high-end costs weren’t intended to pad their pockets.

Unlike food stamps, WIC vouchers are not for specific dollar amounts but for 60 particular food items. Other stores — where competition generally keeps prices lower — redeem them at the prices they charge paying customers.

But WIC-only stores have no such customers. They sell only to WIC recipients and generally stock just the milk, cheese, cereal, eggs, juice, peanut butter and other staples authorized by the program. And they tend to charge the government the WIC maximum, which is set high to make sure grocers in isolated or rural areas can cover their increased costs.

WIC-only stores are generally in urban areas and have no such costs. Doesn’t that make their pricing policies actionable? Ask how these stores justify their over-charging and things get real interesting. First, they say–

[Manuel Castaneda, president of the Nutritional Grocers Assn. of California and co-owner of 32 WIC stores,] noted that WIC-only stores don’t get the price breaks and other allowances from manufacturers that big chains get for buying in volume. But “the Nutritional Grocers Assn. supports efforts to contain food costs,” he said.

Greenstein, who has analyzed the data from the state report on redemption costs, said it showed WIC-only stores consistently charged prices not only higher than chain supermarkets but also higher than grocers with one or two cash registers.

Oops. Excuse #1 down the tubes. On to excuse #2, and the problem with this one is the truth in it. Castenada claims that the stores are necessary because they provide a shopping place where the shoppers aren’t ridiculed.

Recipients flock to their stores, they said, because they offer convenience, easy access to authorized items, and clerks who speak their language and treat them respectfully.

“I think if you ask the participants, they’ll tell you they shop in WIC-only stores because … they don’t like the way they’re treated by clerks in other stores,” said Manuel Castaneda, president of the Nutritional Grocers Assn. of California and co-owner of 32 WIC stores. “They don’t like the way they’re treated by other customers.”

“The dirty looks, the sneers, the grunts — WIC transactions are complicated and time-consuming,” he said. “They come up to the register with six vouchers … and everybody in line starts grunting.”

In WIC specialty stores, Castaneda said, customers don’t have to search the aisles for approved items; a clerk brings what they need to the counter and helps with the transactions.

“We give them dignity. We give them a comfortable environment that’s free of stigma,” Castaneda said.

In other words–let’s just cut to the chase–the 15% surcharge is justified because they treat low income mothers as if they were real people while other stores treat them like, well, like poor people: unwanted, dirty, time-consuming leeches sucking at the public tit because they’re too lazy to get real jobs.

I hate to say it but Casteneda has a point: there have been times when I needed food stamps in order to avoid starvation–literal starvation, not figurative–and I know damn well how people’s attitude changes toward you when you pull that scrip out of your pocket instead of money. I can readily understand why the mothers prefer WIC-only stores that cater to them to chain groceries that treat them as if they’re something that crawled out from under a rock.

What’s disturbing about this argument isn’t the truth in it but the fact that Casteneda thinks he deserves–in all of his 32 stores–a sizable payment for being human to other humans. Apparently we have reached the stage in America where we think we have a right to be paid an exorbitant price for being courteous to the poor.

The Company Store Is Back: Ripping Off A Govt Poverty Program

By ROBERT PEAR

Published: June 6, 2004, NY Times

WASHINGTON, June 5 — Federal and state officials are expressing alarm about the proliferation of food stores that cater to low-income people but charge more than other grocery stores, thus driving up the cost of a major federal nutrition program.

The program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or W.I.C., helps feed 7.7 million people each month by providing vouchers for infant formula, juice, eggs, milk, cheese, cereal and dried beans. Now a growing number of stores are selling only to W.I.C. families, accepting only the government vouchers, not cash, for payment.

About 47 percent of all babies born in the United States each year participate in the program.

“The rise in W.I.C.-only stores is a fairly recent phenomenon,” said Eric M. Bost, under secretary of the Agriculture Department, which runs the program. Analysis of food costs in California and Texas shows that “W.I.C.-only stores in these states have higher prices, on average, than other authorized retailers,” Mr. Bost said.

The stores have found a niche in the market that Congress did not anticipate. Proprietors said the stores had become popular because they offer convenient locations and superior service.

Healthy Kids, a “one-stop W.I.C. shop” in Virginia Beach, is tucked into a small shopping center, next to a state health clinic that issues W.I.C. vouchers. Every item in the store meets the specification of the program, said the manager, Tracy Wynne. By contrast, Ms. Wynne said, at supermarkets, “it’s often a hassle finding the right products and dealing with cashiers.”

“I wish they had these stores 10 years ago when I was on W.I.C.,” she said.

[LOOPHOLE ALERT!]

The W.I.C. families are not particularly sensitive to shelf prices because their vouchers buy a specific food package, regardless of the amount charged to state agencies, which administer the program with federal money.

State officials say the prices at W.I.C. specialty stores are typically 10 percent to 20 percent higher than those at supermarkets and other retail grocers.

(emphasis mine)

Now that’s the true American entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st century!

Hidden Face of Hunger in San Francisco

Paul Ash
SF Chronicle–Thursday, June 3, 2004

It may be hard to fathom, but the face of hunger in San Francisco isn’t just a homeless man on Sixth Street. It is Anh, a single mother who lives in the Sunset and works at an insurance company. Because she makes too much to qualify for food stamps, she often skips meals so her son can eat. She is just one of 150,000 people in San Francisco who live with the threat of hunger every day.

It is also Ivan, a 77-year-old Ukrainian immigrant and former journalist who visits a Western Addition pantry to receive his weekly bag of free groceries. “I come here for bread. We didn’t know that in America bread would be so expensive,” he says.

Yet another face of hunger in San Francisco is Linda, who lives in low- income housing in Potrero Hill and is training to be a chef. She pays her rent first, then buys food, clothes and medicine. Food stamps help, but they aren’t enough. She often runs out of food before the end of the month.

Most people are saddened, but not surprised, to hear that 1 in 3 people in Bayview-Hunters Point and half of the people living in the Tenderloin are in need of food assistance. What they are astonished to discover is the prevalence of hunger in virtually every neighborhood of San Francisco, particularly among children and seniors. In the Sunset, for example, 1 in 8 people, including 1,665 children, and in the Richmond, 1 in 7 people, including 2,523 seniors, face the threat of hunger.

It’s not just San Francisco. Urban areas all over the country (NE is particularly bad) have been hit by rising housing costs, the abandonment of commitments to provide affordable housing, and stagnant wages. The gap grows larger and every time it does, new decisions have to be made: Food or rent? Food or medicine? Because the truth is the rents are what they are and the medicine costs what it costs and the only flexibility a lot of us have is in how much we spend on food because it’s the only unfixed cost of living.

I’ve had people tell me that there’s no hunger in America because all the so-called ‘poor people’ are fat. And a lot of us are. It’s called a ‘high starch diet’: potatoes, noodles, and the simpler forms of pasta (spaghetti, tortellini, macaroni) are the cheapest and most filling things on the shelves. It’s what you have to buy, usually in bulk, if you want to get through the month with as little starvation as possible. Eating a lot of starches adds more weight than eating sugar, and it’s harder to burn off, so we gain weight. But it’s hardly healthy.

Vegetables provided by agro-conglomerate corporations have become both less healthy and more expensive–around here, a medium-sized tomato can cost a dollar, a bunch of broccoli good for one meal about the same, a small container of fresh mushrooms is almost $3, a head of lettuce is $1.25 or more–I could go on. The point is you can buy a few veggies or a mass of starch for the same money. If you don’t want to starve, good nutrition goes out the window.

I don’t know anybody in my circle who isn’t hungry at least a couple of days a month and many who are hungry regularly. I don’t know anybody who’s starving all the time but nobody eats right or as often as they should, including me. Depending on how much work there is and whether or not I can get to it when it’s around, I’ve been without food the last day before a paycheck 5 weeks out of six for over a year. The last few months I’ve started to train myself to eat once a day most of the week. That’s how I get by so there aren’t whole days when there’s nothing but the last three slices of leftover bread and a lot of water.

This is the price we pay so corporations can increase their share prices on Wall Street and convince their stockholders that they’re ‘lean and mean’.

You don’t have to convince us.

(Click the title to read the rest of the article, as usual. Thanks to Martha Bridegam’s Demisemiblog for the link)