Thursday, June 30, 2005

The "Party of Lincoln" Becomes the Party of Pearce

I missed a week because I originally wrote this column in response to a letter to the editor that somebody submitted to the Tribune with a copy to me. I was out of town and thought for sure it was the type of letter that the Tribune would print--but it turns out that my certainly was misplaced but due to the fact that the letter was from one of the paper's regular letter-writers who already had had his second-quarter letter published back in April. So I had to revise the column, but too late for June 19th, and fortunately, had a response from Russell Pearce to add to the mix for this past Sunday.

I actually did research this time, and called the DES press office about the General Assistance documentation issue. They were very responsive and researched the issue--and changed the policy in response when they realized that despite Prop. 200, they didn't have to be quite so extreme. DES can provide a check and apply to another state for a certified copy of a birth certificate, and have the document sent directly to the eligibility reviewer for a disabled person entitled to the $173 GA monthly benefit. It's not as big an issue with beneficiaries born in Arizona, because DES can work directly with Vital Records, but DES has no control over how quickly another state will process its request for the proper document. Prior to Prop. 200, when paperwork was delayed, DES could provisionally approve a person for benefits for 30 days, then ratify the decision if the paperwork arrived, or reclaim the benefits paid (yes, all of $173) if the proper documentation couldn't be produced. However, after Prop. 200, DES believed that they no longer could provisionally approve anyone, even if it's clearly a paperwork issue, so if the certified copy of the birth certificate didn't arrive within the 60-day window, they believed that under Prop. 200 they had to reject the application.

The change, in response to asking about this obscure issue that affects only people at the very bottom of life's ladder, not the types who usually can get their legislators to care about them, is that (as noted in the column) DES will not reject those applications anymore, but instead will defer any action on them until the paperwork arrives from the other state--and then pay retroactive benefits until SSI kicks in. That will still be a hardship--the only way you can qualify for GA is to be disabled and to have no other resources, so it's not like the applicants can draw down a bank account or get a second mortgage until their GA is approved retroactively--but at least some of the worst collateral damage of Prop. 200 can be fixed, sort of.

How do these people go to church on Sunday, then legislate this stuff on Monday?

In further news, I just got a call this morning from a Democratic activist in Sedona who was outraged that I was going to run against Gov. Napolitano on such a sexist platform. I made her re-read my June 5 column, beginning with the "tongue in cheek" paragraph, and asked that she try not to be quite so humor-impaired next time.

East Valley Tribune, June 26, 2005

Noticing the incredible ineffectiveness of Proposition 200 provokes some incredibly weak defenses by Rep. Russell Pearce and friends, who believe their favorite government program doesn’t need to produce actual results.

One proponent admitted that Proposition 200 may be “not perfect” (meaning “accomplishing nothing”) but that’s only because we had no idea of how many illegal aliens applied for state benefits or voting.

Thus, by not knowing anything and studiously avoiding learning anything new, Proposition 200 supporters claim victory through ignorance. Actual data might interfere with patting themselves on the back.

One enchanting theory why Proposition 200 hasn’t actually caught anyone was that all the publicity convinced illegal aliens not to vote or apply for benefits. Thus, Prop. 200 works -- just by existing! If this were true, however, then Rep. Pearce shouldn’t be continually complaining that those darn liberals are stopping his government program from working as intended.

But the most pernicious claim in support of Proposition 200 is that it prevented something really worse from happening, like putting security bars on house windows. No crime, therefore, it must have worked!

This is particularly lame justification for a new government program. There haven’t been any major earthquakes in Arizona since passage of Proposition 200 , either.

But the bars-on-windows analogy is especially lame because Proposition 200 isn’t putting the bars on supporters’ windows. Instead, Proposition 200 changes the locks on neighbor’s homes, with any “protection” coming solely at the new neighbors’ expense.

This burdensome government program not only hasn’t caught any illegal voters, it’s done so by burdening folks who can’t fight back yet because they’ve been prevented from voting. So far, according to the county recorders (who, unlike Rep. Pearce, actually reviewed these registrations), over 5,000 honest-to-goodness, perfectly valid U.S. citizens have been rejected. Proposition 200 delays, if not denies, these citizens their rights. They bear Proposition 200’s unique and poorly-explained documentary burdens, which have stopped exactly zero actual vote fraud. It’s no skin off Pearce’s nose, but he presumably doesn’t care because only other people -- even though U.S. citizens -- get inconvenienced.

But the most shameful unintended consequence of Proposition 200 was borne by the weak, meek, and lame -- disabled citizens eligible for General Assistance, or GA. GA is a stopgap state program which gives disabled citizens all of $173 monthly to keep them alive while waiting to qualify for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. GA is not only a last-gasp, temporary safety net program for the disabled, but the state usually recovers any GA benefits paid once the beneficiary qualifies for SSI.

Under Proposition 200, the disabled now must present an original birth certificate to get temporary benefits. The birth certificate requirement can be a deal-stopper for someone disabled and destitute who was born in another state. The Department of Economic Security does try to assist them with obtaining the required documents, but it takes time to process a check, and DES can’t control how long other states may take to provide certified copies. Far too often, GA applicants couldn’t get the documents in time, and Proposition 200 required rejecting their applications.

In other words, to stop two -- count ‘em, two -- illegal aliens from getting utility assistance, Proposition 200 delays or denies thousands of U.S. citizens their right to vote, and stopped disabled U.S. citizens from getting temporary GA help while awaiting SSI benefits. Those folks are, by definition, nonvoters and the poor and disabled. They lack the clout to protest Russell Peace scoring political points at their expense.

Thankfully, DES just announced changes their procedures to prevent unnecessary denials. When required documents don’t arrive during the 60-day application window, instead of denying the application, DES instead will defer any decision, and can pay retroactive benefits once the proper paperwork comes through.

But it wasn’t Rep. Pearce trying to make sure innocent citizens didn’t suffer from his ineffective law. The facts show that Proposition 200 does little good while hurting the most vulnerable and least politically active U.S. citizens.

Proposition 200 makes wonderful soundbites, but it’s what happens when the “Party of Lincoln” becomes the Party of Pearce: Government of the bullies, for the bullies, and by the bullies.

1 comment:

shrimplate said...

Excellent work. Thank you.

That is what journalism is supposed to be.