The deserving poor

I was reading a story this morning in The Intercept about problems being faced by renters entitled "Renters in Arkansas and Nebraska Face Eviction After Governors Refuse Federal Rental Assistance", and wow did it ever push all of my buttons all at once. The gist of the story is that the US federal government has provided emergency rental assistance money (first $25 billion in December 2020, then an additional $21.55 billion in May 2021), but instead of handling this at the federal level, the money goes to state-level agencies to distribute. Or not, if the governors of those states choose not to accept the money for bullshit ideological reasons, as is the case here. The two states in question are Nebraska and Arkansas, and here are the two governors explaining their decisions; first, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts in a press release called "Emergency" in Name Only:

At a certain point, we must acknowledge that the storm has passed and get back to the Nebraska Way. We must guard against becoming a welfare state where people are incentivized not to work and encouraged to rely on government handouts well after an emergency is over. That is why Nebraska is not seeking the second round of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). We cannot justify asking for federal relief when we don’t have an emergency.

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson was singing from the same Reagan-era hymn sheet:

Our economy has returned. There are jobs aplenty out there, and we have existing programs in place for rental assistance that were pre-pandemic. We are back working to the same extent pre-pandemic, and we have the same opportunity moving up the economic ladder, so we need to move back to the same rental assistance we had before.

They are both basically saying the same thing: everyone has equal opportunities, so if you're poor it's because you're lazy, and lazy people don't deserve a roof over their heads.

The Intercept story offers a few examples of these lazy people who deserve what's happening to them:

Samantha Schilling and her fiancé fell behind by about $1,900 on rent for their home in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Schilling herself can’t work due to a serious back injury. Then, in March, her fiancé’s hours at a Dollar General store got cut back from a full-time schedule to two days a week.

This lazy person with the back injury and her equally lazy fiancé whose hours were reduced at his job were evicted, having to leave behind many of their belongings because they had no place to take them. Just desserts!

Adrian Toston, a resident of Jacksonville, a suburb of Little Rock, just spent months out of work when orders for the home goods she was delivering dried up. Losing her income meant losing her car, and she had to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. [...] She tried desperately to find another job and even got an offer at Amazon, only to find out that when the company ran a background check, a long-ago arrest for misdemeanor unauthorized use of a vehicle was incorrectly categorized on her record as property theft. [...] It wasn’t until another employer ran a background check and told her about the issue that she was able to file the paperwork and get it fixed.

This lazy person who was lazily desperately searching for a job only to be denied it due to an error on her record applied for rental assistance, "but despite calling every week for months to find out what was happening, she was declined again for supposedly failing to respond to an email she says she never got."

But even if the above lazy people found work, they might well still be shit out of luck, since minimum wage workers can't afford rent anywhere in America:

There is no state, county or city in the country where a full-time, minimum-wage worker working 40 hours a week can afford a two-bedroom rental, a > report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed. A full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom rental in only 7% of all US counties — 218 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide.

Real estate prices are being driven upwards primarily because investors are seeing rentals as a good way to make money. Even well-intended government rent relief programmes basically just shift public money to private investors without addressing the root of the problem. If this money was put into providing housing at affordable rates, people who need help would be receiving it without ensuring that investors are maintaining high profits, but just as with energy, such an idea is anathema to the current order, where profit must always take precedence over preventing preventable human suffering.

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Published: 2022-07-28

Tagged: politics