If elected governor of New York, Tea Party Republican Carl Paladino wouldn’t criminalize being poor, per se. That would be unconstitional. He’d just rather see them “voluntarily” move into state prisons where they could work on improving, among other things, their “personal hygiene”.
Paladino is competing for the Republican nomination with former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio. The primary is Sept. 14th and Paladino has campaigned hard to the right of Lazio. He’s routinely argued that New York’s social services encourage illegal immigrants and the poor to come to live in New York.
According to Paladino his poor-to-prison plan is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal program that paid young unemployed men during the Great Depression to plant trees, build roads and develop parks. Paladino’s program would be open to long-term welfare recipients and to people who had lost their jobs during the recession.
Paladino is proposing to consolidate prison facilities and using the vacant ones into dormitory style housing where they could work for the state in some military or public works capacity in exchange for a receipt of benefits.
If Paladino’s plan sounds familiar, it should. Prior to the enactment of Social Security, government run poorhouses were the norm, often located outside of cities on “poor farms” where the able-bodied residents were required to work.
So here it is folks, the Tea Party Republican platform, brought to you courtesy of Charles Dickens.
While I appreciate the irony in Paladino giving credit to the CCC for his idea, I’m more than a little disturbed by his overall misunderstanding of poverty in this country. For a large percentage of the population, poverty is not simply a function of a lack of skills or poor hygiene. Those who do receive some kind of public assistance already work in exchange for those benefits. They have to.
New York, like most states, receives a federal block grant to provide much of the social assistance it administers and federal law requires recipients do some form of work to receive benefits. But without pressure to lift minimum wages out of the poverty table, pulling oneself out of poverty is simply and functionally impossible, a fact totally lost on the wealthy Paladino.
This country is in desperate need for a jobs program. We have thousands of skilled workers currently existing in poverty because their industries abandoned them. We have a failing infrastructure and a critical need to transform an entire industry into a sustainable and renewable platform. But Paladino is calling for a 20% across the board cut in social services, so while it may sound like his “poor farm” is a new government program, it’s likely not.
We’ve seen this with the move toward privatization of corrections, especially in places like Arizona and the South. Conservative “reform” means really siphoning public benefits into the private industry where they can exist free from public scrutiny and oversight. Profits swell and services suffer. Paladino does not say who will staff these facilities. He does not say who will provide the “skills training”, nor does he say who will create the new jobs to place the freshly de-programmed poor, but with those kinds of cuts it’s safe to assume these will not be government jobs and they will not be helping life people out of poverty.
photo courtesy of Tony the Misfit via Flickr