Twins separated at birth: Chuck DeVore and Ebenezer Scrooge

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, wants everyone to know that he is not channeling Ebenezer Scrooge – his remark  in The Sacramento Bee notwithstanding.

Asked for his view of the state’s fiscal grease fire, DeVore told The Bee’s Kevin Yamamura: “When you have an unemployment rate as high as it is in this state, it should be a signal to people to look for jobs in other states with more jobs and a lower cost of living. We have had policies subsidizing poverty in this state for years, and we can’t keep doing that.”

Boiled to the bones, the Irvine lawmaker seems to urge California’s poor to get out and non-California poor to stay out – a less-flavorful version of Scrooge’s take on the poor’s mortality (it decreases the surplus population).  

But even Ebenezer Scrooge was willing to “subsidize poverty,” grumping that his taxes helped support prisons and workhouses and recommending that “those who are badly off must go there.” He didn’t advocate setting them adrift in the English Channel.
Ironically, DeVore’s only example of “subsidizing poverty” is a program designed to shift people from welfare to the workforce: CalWorks. He doesn’t quibble with the program per see, but with California’s failure to tighten eligibility requirements.

“We’re not moving people off welfare fast enough,” he argued. He cited as evidence stats from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that show welfare caseloads up in California over the past five years while shrinking 30 percent in the rest of the nation.

Otherwise, he defines a subsidy as “any payment to an individual that makes it easier to live in this state” and contributes to a person becoming dependent on government.

“I’m not calling for an end to … assistance for the truly needy,” DeVore told me. “But every economist in the world – even Marxist economists – say that when you tax something, you get less of it. And when you subsidize something, you get more of it. California has the most generous welfare benefits and eligibility in the country.”

That generosity, he said, has made California a magnet for the nation’s poor. “People respond to economic incentives,” he said. “These are net consumers of benefits.”

So, if the state no longer subsidized poverty, how would that policy “decrease the surplus population?” Who would go? (We’ll have to disregard one seminal fact: the premise that the poor are nomads at the mercy of economic conditions. The merits of that notion are a bit rickety, but let’s proceed.)

•    Folks who provide in-home services for Alzheimer’s patients. They’re out of work if the governor has his way, making them eligible for other diminished or soon-to-be-eliminated services. Given their willingness to do noble work for little pay, they can find employment elsewhere.

•    CalWorks recipients. Many of them toil away at minimum-wage jobs – sometimes two jobs – to escape poverty, but most are just treading water. If they get out, their kids go with them and the state doubles its savings because the cost of K-12 education is reduced. And these savings are significant: $1.3 billion. Of course, the state forfeits $4.5 billion in federal matching funds, but ultimately, isn’t that a cheap price to rid the state of freeloaders?

•    Students. The governor proposed eliminating the Cal Grant loan program for college students, saving $87 million. Poor students who qualify for that assistance would give up notions of a college degree, resigning themselves to one of the other categories on this list. Either way, they can pack.

•    Folks who rely on Healthy Families for health insurance for their children. Those who qualify for that program are definitely poor. North Dakota has space for them – kind of a big workhouse that California doesn’t subsidize. Again, a double savings, since this exodus, too, reduces the cost of education. More federal matching funds go away – $500 million in this case – but worth the sacrifice.

•    Non-violent inmates. The governor wants to release more than 19,000 non-violent prisoners from state lock-ups, saving $120 million. These are obvious losers who will have zero chance to make it on the outside because the gov also is doing away with vocational and drug counseling programs. The state should drive each inmate straight to the nearest border – the Mexican border for non-citizens.

•    Folks who care for the elderly and disabled. The governor wants to reduce their pay to $8 an hour. Based on a 40-hour work week, that earns $16,640 a year. That’s about $5,000 above the US poverty line for a single person under 65 (US Census Bureau, 2008). Of course, if that care worker happens to be a single parent with two dependents, he or she would be $1,400 on the wrong side of the poverty line. They might be able to scrape by if Healthy Families subsidizes health insurance for their kids, but we’re doing away with that as well. By the way, Devore and his legislative colleagues earn almost three times that amount in tax-free per diem ($170 a day x 7 days a week x 40 weeks in the legislative year = $47,600), but to raise that issue would be quibbling.

One might offer the view that California subsidizes all kinds of people and institutions, from homeowners to small businesses to large corporations – even universities. Should the state end those subsidies? Perhaps Irvine homeowners should stop grubbing at the public trough. If you can’t make it without a mortgage-interest deduction, get out.

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