There are days when reading the New York Times leaves me wondering if I might have actually picked up a copy of the satirical weekly, the Onion, instead. Then there are days when I truly wish that were the case because a news story so absurd just leaves me gobsmacked.
This December 9, 2010, headline was a doozy: “To Test Housing Program, Some Are Denied Aid.” The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is conducting an 18-month experiment in 10 cities to determine if helping poor people stay in their homes by providing them with urgently needed rent payments keeps them out of homeless shelters. In cities like New York, half of the test subjects who were about to be evicted this past summer were denied funding to see what happens.
I realize that I am not an expert on housing and that I do not have a degree in urban development and so I am not properly credentialed in such matters. So pardon me if my analysis appears amateurish, but is there a sentient human being walking the earth today who cannot surmise that leaving poor people without any means of paying the rent will inevitably lead to homelessness!?
In fact, according to the report from the mayor’s office released just three months ago, more than 90 percent of the families who received aid from the program being studied were able to keep their homes and avoid ruin.
I’m with Councilwoman Annabel Palma on this noxious social experiment when she argues, “I don’t think homeless people in our time, or in any time, should be treated like lab rats.”
So if common sense and even statistics bear out the results of this “study” well in advance, what is the logic behind this unconscionable act of cruelty on the part of the feds acting in cahoots with city government agencies?
The money quote belongs to one Seth Diamond, a man with the soul of a hedge-fund broker who in the harsh calculus of capitalist bureaucracies serves as the commissioner of Homeless Services Department: “This is about putting emotions aside,” he said. “When you’re making decisions about millions of dollars and thousands of people’s lives, you have to do this on data, and that is what this is about.”
Excuse me, Seth, but fuck you. Unless this soulless bean counter intends to leave his warm home and six-figure salary behind to join the subjects he so cooly dismisses, arguments like this do not make for compelling policy initiatives.
Let’s be clear about what’s happening right now in cities across the nation. Trillions in cuts to social welfare programs are being justified on the basis of an economic crisis that we are told is so steep and severe that no alternative to harsh slash and burn tactics is even conceivable.
The only problem with this explanation is that it is totally false. Not the part about the crisis, that’s real enough, but the bit about there being no alternative to squeezing workers and the most vulnerable among us in order to emerge from this depression.
The Federal Reserve has just issued a report that more than $3 trillion was handed over to the banks over the last two years with no strings attached. Corporate profits and Wall Street bankers are now rolling in unprecedented profits, according the the pages of every business magazine and newspaper. Hmm. Might that be because the federal government has handed over millions of working people’s tax dollars to the wealthiest Americans, money that is now going toward downpayments on $400,000 summer shares in the Hamptons?!
Nobody in Washington is seriously considering the obvious alternative to the greater immiseration of the majority of the population: gut the Pentagon and tax the rich.
Fortunately for all of us, there’s an excellent piece out today that details what cuts could be made that would leave Social Security and Medicare intact while targeting the very institutions and people who could most afford leaner living. If you read only one more article today, let it be “The Cuts They Won’t Consider.“