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George W. Bush Y2000?


Marta Russell

In his

"new" fight against poverty, Republican presidential candidate George

W. Bush says he will issue a call to America’s "armies of compassion"

to end poverty, hunger, welfare and crime by donating to charity. The political

goal of compassionate conservatism is to separate George W. from the now

unpopular politics of Newt Gingrich. But W.’s compassionate conservatism is just

a cold Contract on America warmed over.

Gingrich,

for instance, preached "we must replace the welfare state" with a

"strategy of dramatically increasing private charities." It was

Gingrich who idolized author Gertrude Himmelfarb (The De-Moralization of

Society) who advocated that the deserving poor should receive goods like socks

in place of welfare aid. And it was the Contract (Personal Responsibility and

Work Opportunity Act of 1996), which ended poor people’s entitlement to public

assistance and severed approximately 300,000 children with disabilities from

Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.

George W.

has already been using the armies of compassion in his home state of Texas – a

state known for having the largest percentage of uninsured and the largest

incarceration rate in the country. Gov. Bush has the dubious distinction of

having signed the most death warrants for public execution of prisoners than any

other governor. Since Texas is a state with no income tax, social services are

paid for with charity golf tournaments, telethons, and fund drives. When

charities don’t raise enough to cover the need, one gets to join the more than

20,000 people who are already on the waiting lists for services there.

What is

less known is that Texas has more children living in nursing homes than in any

other state. In an era where independent living has been a goal of the

disability rights movement, this matter of institutional bias in Texas has

people with disabilities (PWDs) rightly alarmed at the prospect of W. making it

to the White House. The disability rights movement considers

institutionalization a type of wrongful incarceration, and instead advocates

that community-based, in home, self-directed personal support services, which

are now optional through Medicaid, be made mandatory in every state. The most

severely disabled individuals are found on these front lines. Their motto

"we’d rather die than go into a nursing home."

Ironically,

this movement is about being safe from the care-giving industry. Consumer

Reports, for instance, conducted an investigation of nursing homes which

concluded that nursing "homes" range from inadequate to scandalous. It

reported that about 40 percent of all facilities certified by the Health Care

Financing Administration (part of U.S. Health and Human Services) have

repeatedly violated federal standards, including critical aspects of patient

care standards. The Los Angeles Times reported on a California study which

showed that nearly 22,000 nursing home inmates died from preventable conditions

such as malnutrition, dehydration and urinary tract infections between 1986 and

1993. The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform reported in 1995 that

29,652 residents were physically restrained, another 32,103 were administered

psychotropic medications, and chemical restraint use jumped 12 percent over

1994. These documented violations directly resulted in 19 deaths and indirectly

in another 45 deaths.

Even so

public policy remains aligned with institutions. 1970s government adjustments to

the Social Security Act mandates states to provide nursing home care as an

entitlement but allows in home support services to remain optional under

Medicaid. This bias in favor of institutionalization results in a patchy system

where some states provide in home service programs while others do not, some

grossly underfund theirs and some limit the number of people served. With no

national entitlement, disabled people’s freedom is at risk because in home

support programs are subject to the yearly budget ax. The calculating nursing

home industrial complex has steered public policies towards institutionalization

and away from citizen-controlled home-based care because institutionalization is

profitable for them. Gov. Bush is a benefactor of nursing home support and

(surprise!) he has supported institutionalization of PWDs in for-profit nursing

homes and state institutions over providing quality in-home care. Ideologically,

it is in sync that George W. sides with profiteering nursing homes over in home

care that would be directed by disabled persons or that he endorses charity over

public entitlement to services. In both matters W. has sided with the interests

of capital. Bush tops all opponents in money raised($50 million) from commercial

banks, securities & investment, insurance, real estate, and health

professionals for good reason.

Disablement

is big business and it is a part of the political economy. Under what I call the

Money Model of Disability, the disabled human being is a commodity around which

social policies are created or rejected based on their market value. The

corporate solution to disablement – institutionalization in a nursing home -

evolved from the cold realization that PWDs could be commodified; we could be

made to serve profit because federal financing (Medicaid funds 60 percent,

Medicare 15 percent, private insurance 25 percent) guarantees an endless source

of entrepreneurial revenue.

In the

macro economy "unproductive" people with disabilities have been made

of use to the capitalist order. When one individual generates $30,000 – $82,000

in annual revenues for nursing home corporations the electronic brokers on Wall

Street count that person as an asset, PWDs contribute to companies’ net worth.

Corporate dominion over disability policy measures a person’s "worth"

by their dollar value to the economy and PWDs are worth more to the Gross

Domestic Product when occupying a bed in one of these institutions instead of a

home.

W. told

the press that if elected, he will dedicate $8 billion during his first year in

the White House for tax credits and grants as part of what he calls "a bold

new approach" to governing … enlisting charities and religious

organizations to deliver social services. Specifically he would expand the

federal charitable deduction to taxpayers who do not itemize, permit a credit

against state taxes for contributions to charities addressing poverty, raise the

cap on corporate charitable deductions from 10% to 15% of a company’s taxable

income. But what he is proposing is to further serve the financial interests of

the same old bastions of elite power and privilege.

Nonprofits

and charities create an illusion that they are mending the holes in our social

fabric. By donating tax deductible dollars, the rich appear to be generously

concerned about the plight of the poor. However behind the benevolent front

there is an enormous hoarding of wealth. Left Business Observer editor Doug

Henwood says "in economic terms, the larger nonprofits could be thought of

as giant stock portfolios, often with marketing operations grafted on." For

instance, in 1995, the nonprofits held assets $1.2 trillion, of which $414

billion (or 35%) is in bonds, and $295 billion (25%) is in stocks. Henwood

concludes "the nonprofits have a significant impact on Wall Street."

Jerry

Lewis understands the Wall street connection. When Evan Kemp, then head of the

E.E.O.C, criticized the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Lewis told George W.’s

father, then President Bush to "act to protect and preserve the invaluable

American private-sector institution. . .with a categorical disavowal of Mr.

Kemp’s assault on MDA"; the sacrosanct MDA private charity business

complete with its financial portfolios and real estate holdings.

Nonprofits

are managed independently, primarily by the wealthy elite, and they do not pay

income taxes. In 1997 the total revenues of Operating Public Charities in the

United States was $649 billion, about 12% of the GDP, none of which was taxed.

Roughly one third of every dollar donated is subsidized by the federal

government. That means public revenue which could be going to the public’s

welfare is lost to nonprofits. For example, Gregory Colvin, an attorney

specializing in tax law calculated that "the $1.5 million raised and spent

through the Kennesaw State College Foundation… could translate into a Treasury

loss of about $500,000 in tax savings by Gingrich’s donors." By giving

other tax breaks and government dollars to charity, W. will be steering money

from democratic entitlements into the hands of charity portfolio managers.

In

addition nonprofits often serve as suppliers of services to the middle and

upper-class in echo of the old conservative mantra of tax credits for charitable

donations – such a credit benefiting wealthy donors rather than nonprofits

themselves. The Kennsaw State College Foundation, for example, had nothing to do

with serving underprivileged populations, rather it was a forum for Gingrich to

spread his politcs. Country clubs are often formed as nonprofits, but they cater

mainly to the upper class’s luxurious lifestyles.

In this

light George W’s proposal is questionable, because giving is a negligible

revenue source in social service (20%), education (15%) and health care (5%) as

compared to, say arts (50%). Moreover, most individual giving in the US

concentrates in religion (approximately 60% of all charitable giving in the US).

Yet W. plans to establish an "Office of Faith-Based Action" in the

Executive Office of the President and to expand "Charitable Choice" to

all federal social service programs, allowing religious organizations to be

eligible for funding on the same basis as any other provider, without impairing

their religious character. Further, he intends to provide federal matching funds

for the establishment of state offices of faith-based action.

W’s idea

of subsituting grants for entitlements is not "new". Reagan had

ambitions of turning the welfare system into grants to local groups dedicated to

self-help for the poor. Gingrich tried to undo federal entitlements by turning

Medicaid into state block grants with no strings attached as to how the money

could be spent. One can guess, the amount spent in this "new" system

would not be likely to equal the previous amount under a Federal entitlement.

The main

disadvantage to service recipients of the nonprofit approach, sometimes referred

to as "mellow weakness" (Seibel, W., 1989, The function of mellow

weakness: nonprofit organizations as problem nonsolvers in Germany, in James,

(ed), The Nonprofit Sector in International Perspective, Oxford) is that

nonprofits are often used as a smokescreen for government agencies to discharge

its public responsibilities while creating an appearance that something is being

done. That is, instead of a well-funded and comprehensiove program to solve a

social problem, governments often dole out money to nonprofits to merely tackle

it.

Of

significance to the future of in home support services, W. says he will promote

alternative licensing regimes that recognize religious training as an

alternative form of qualification for delivery of non-medical social services.

Attendant services, which assist PWDs with cooking, dressing, transferring from

bed into a wheelchair, are non medical services. The upshot of George W. getting

elected in Y2000? Prepare yourselves to GO TO CHURCH TO GET AN ATTENDANT! No

matter that no one is entitled to receive any service from a charity, much less

service that is timely or competent. Under W.’s leadership, it is likely that

more PWDs will end up in nursing homes.

Serving up

charity as the answer to social ills is not singularly a GOP tact. Liberals,

seemingly ignorant on economic justice, have historically embraced the charity

paradigm. Neoliberal President Clinton advocated a greater role for charitable

organizations during welfare reform. He urged each of the 135,000 churches,

synagogues and mosques that have more than 200 members to hire one person coming

off welfare. Three years later studies show that welfare reform has done nothing

to reduce poverty for women and children; to the contrary, indicators are that

it has increased it. Presidential candidate Al Gore joined with traditionally

Republican territory in May when he said America must "dare to

embrace" religious programs and called for a "new partnership"

between church and state.

The

reality is that neither the "armies of compassion" nor neoliberal

"volunteerism" will be a real solution. At best, charities postpone

societal questions about economic equality. At worst, charities serve as

self-serving tax shields and allow right-wing ideologues to assault the

"socialist" safety net while disingenuously claiming that private

charities will pick up the pieces. In the process the U.S. Treasury is robbed of

dollars that could be put to entitlement programs. Charity is nothing less than

an attempt to justify capitalism’s inherent injustices which makes it a

euphemism for economic oppression. Until economic justice can be fully realized,

the public wealth must be distributed more responsibly and a democratic

government must be held to the task.

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