Stimulus and the social safety net


Jason DeParle, who has long covered the welfare beat at the NYT, had some interesting findings yesterday: that even with (or perhaps because of) a severe national economic crisis, "18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years."

What's more: 

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

As we know, the rap from Governor Carcieri's critics is that he has accomplished little during two terms. Yet Carcieri has presided over some sharp cuts in the state workforce -- a trend that could continue with initiatives in his supplemental budget, such as taking away annual three percent pension hikes -- and now we see how Rhode Island has significantly diminished its welfare rolls.  

Today, Kathy Gregg details the governor's media offensive against using federal stimulus money to cure Rhode Island's budget woes.

In an unusual twist, the state’s severe budget crisis has given Republican Carcieri the best chance he has had since taking office to make headway on his cost-cutting agenda, which includes major rollbacks in pension benefits for state and local public employees. At every budget hearing, Rhode Island lawmakers are hearing from union leaders and advocates for the poor that financial help is on the way.

In response, Carcieri went on air with an ad that begins: “This is Governor Carcieri. With a federal bailout on its way, some may think Rhode Island’s budget crisis will soon be over. But don’t be fooled by those who would ignore the real issues, and simply patch the budget with this newfound money. Such sudden windfalls may solve our immediate budget problem, but in the long run they will only make things worse.”

The General Assembly has shown an appetite for short-term fixes -- "budget bubblegum" in the parlance of my friend Arlene Violet, so Carcieri's message might well resonate beyond his conservative base.

Yet considering the heightened level of real economic pain out there, social advocates, Democratic activists, and others will certainly look to legislative leaders -- particularly Speaker Murphy and Senate President Paiva Weed -- to deliver relief for needy Rhode Islanders.

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