Lawmakers scale back Scott Walker’s plan on long-term care
Madison — Republican lawmakers committed Thursday to scale back Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to disassemble and then rebuild Wisconsin’s long-term care system, again balking at a piece of the likely presidential candidate’s budget bill.
In a series of votes Thursday affecting some of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens, lawmakers on the budget committee approved a bigger increase than was sought by Walker to help address the crisis in the state-run child welfare system serving Milwaukee County.
In addition, the panel essentially voted along party lines, with all Republicans for and all Democrats against, to lower from five years to four years the lifetime limit for receiving training and employment assistance through Wisconsin Works, the state’s successor program to welfare.
Legislators said they backed some of the basic principles in Walker’s proposal to overhaul the way tens of thousands of elderly and disabled people are cared for outside of nursing homes, such as closely coordinating in-home care and medical care. But they declined to sign off on such sweeping changes — such as switching from the current nonprofit providers to national for-profit insurers — without seeing the details and giving those affected more opportunity to weigh in.
“We’re not for blowing up everything,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance Committee.
Instead, GOP lawmakers said they would require the Walker administration to flesh out a more modest restructuring of the care programs and then bring it to the budget committee for an up-or-down vote in the coming months.
As GOP lawmakers have for the past four years, they are still sticking with Walker on most issues in the state Capitol. But as the governor travels in preparation for his presumed presidential bid — he was in Israel this week — Republicans at home are increasingly staking out different positions on key issues.
“We may have a crap budget, but we’re going to make it better,” state Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) said on the Assembly floor Wednesday.
Brooks was responding with the candor of a freshman lawmaker to comments Wednesday by Democrats such as state Rep. Andy Jorgensen of Milton, who likened Walker’s proposal to a “Dumpster fire.”
The state’s Family Care program provides long-term care outside nursing homes to roughly 41,000 elderly and disabled people in Wisconsin and uses funding from both state and federal taxpayers. GOP lawmakers said they would still expand Family Care to the state’s eight remaining counties without it, including Dane County, as Walker had proposed.
The governor’s proposal would have restructured Family Care to move away from its eight individual nonprofit managed care organizations, similar to HMOs, that operate in different regions of the state.
Walker had wanted to operate Family Care through still unidentified statewide insurers — likely national companies — providing not just long-term care for recipients but also medical care.
Advocates for the elderly and disabled said the budget proposal could have forced vulnerable people to change their doctor, the care worker who visits their family home or even the group home where they live with other disabled recipients of the program.
Darling and other Republicans said Thursday that they supported integrating medical care and in-home care such as preparing meals and help taking prescriptions. But they said they didn’t support eliminating a related long-term care program called IRIS, which allows roughly 11,000 low-income elderly and disabled recipients to develop and carry out their own plans to live independently.
Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) said lawmakers also didn’t support ending Family Care’s regional approach or making it difficult for existing providers to compete for their current clients and contracts.
Instead, lawmakers will direct the administration to develop a new plan by working more closely with federal officials, advocates for patients and the existing providers. Before the plan is submitted to federal officials for approval, the Joint Finance Committee will have to sign off on it, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor’s administration would “continue working with members of the state Legislature and the Department of Health Services to maintain these vital services and explore reforms to improve health outcomes for our most vulnerable.”
Taking on child abuse
The budget committee Thursday also decided to enlarge Walker’s proposal to increase spending to address the growing backlog of possible child abuse cases at the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which investigates claims of abuse or neglect and can decide whether to remove children from their homes.
The committee approved Walker’s proposal to add $1.9 million over the next two years to hire 11 more workers in Milwaukee and then provided an additional $1 million over two years to help keep existing caseworkers from leaving the office. Both Republicans and Democrats support those changes.
GOP lawmakers voted down a Democratic motion to spend $690,000 more over two years to hire aides to help caseworkers.
The share of reported abuse cases that get investigated within the 60-day deadline in state law has fallen in recent years, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.
In the first half of 2012, just over half of the allegations were reviewed within 60 days, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found. From August 2014 to January 2015, only one in five was handled on time by the agency.
During that time, children are potentially being exposed to more abuse, the analysis noted.
“The department is leaving children in horribly dangerous situations,” Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) said.
The number of delinquent unclosed cases jumped from 149 in February 2013 to 2,918 in June 2014, according to the fiscal bureau. Average caseloads doubled over that period.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported on those problems and the constant staff turnover at the child welfare bureau. Over each of the past four years, about one-third of the bureau’s 100 staff members have left.
In response to a 1993 lawsuit and a 2002 settlement, the state took control of Milwaukee County’s child welfare services.
Memos obtained by the Journal Sentinel showed that Arlene Happach, then the bureau’s director, worried that the backlog threatened child safety and repeatedly expressed her concerns to her supervisors, writing in April 2014 that she believed the state was “putting children at risk.” Happach resigned in July.
On Thursday, the budget committee voted, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats opposed, to reorganize the office and make Happach’s former position a political appointment rather than a civil service position.
The committee also unanimously approved Walker’s proposal to provide $2 million in 2016-’17 to purchase or provide residential and community-based social services for victims of sex trafficking.
In the pilot program, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare contracts with Lad Lake, a Dousman treatment center, to provide services for victims of sex trafficking.
Also Thursday, Republicans and Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) voted to direct the state Department of Children and Families to seek bids from private contractors to keep newly released prisoners in Milwaukee from returning to crime and incarceration.
Any contract would have to be approved by the budget committee. The contractor could seek both charitable donations and private investor money and would be paid by the state only if the goals of the program are met.
The panel also supported Walker’s budget proposal to increase spending for victims of domestic abuse and their children by $5 million to $14.6 million.
Scott Walker’s light-on-details drug testing plan
Scott Walker’s light-on-details drug testing plan a hit on the stump By Jason Stein of the Journal SentinelMarch 17, 2015
Madison — Scott Walker‘s bare-bones plan to drug test welfare recipientshasn’t been fleshed out as a policy for Wisconsin, but at rallies the governor’s idea sizzles like red meat.
As Walker stumps around the country for his still undeclared presidential bid, the GOP governor’s plan to require drug screening and treatment for certain recipients of government help has been one of his surest applause lines at Republican events.
At home, there are questions about whether the plan would save or cost taxpayers money and whether testing in some programs will be allowed by the courts or President Barack Obama’s administration.
This month, for instance, Florida Gov. Rick Scott dropped his legal defense of a plan to drug test welfare recipients in his state after two federal courts ruled it was unconstitutional.
But as a Republican working toward his party’s 2016 nomination, Walker has little downside to pushing an idea that typically polls well even among general election voters, including those in Wisconsin. Politically, Walker wins whether the plan succeeds or is blocked by the courts and a Democratic president who’s deeply unpopular with GOP primary voters.
Robert Rector, a longtime advocate for welfare overhaul at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Walker deserves credit for his proposal even if it doesn’t lead to immediate action.
“We had a lot of debate about reforming welfare and promoting work 20 years ago,” Rector said. “A lot of that has really fallen by the wayside. I think it’s important to go back and renew that.”
Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget & Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., said Walker’s proposal is more about making a political point about government programs than making immediate changes to them.
“Drug testing has never been about policy to address drug abuse. It’s always been political sound bites and stigmatizing (welfare recipients),” she said.
After mostly sitting quietly during many speeches on March 7, the crowd at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines applauded several times when Walker described requiring drug testing, treatment and job training as a condition for able-bodied adults in welfare programs.
“We know there are jobs out there,” Walker said. “People in Madison, in my state Capitol, (say) somehow we’re making it harder to get government assistance. I’ve got to tell you, we’re not. We’re making it easier to get a job.”
Walker presents his proposal as part of a broader overhaul of safety net programs for the needy. As governor and as a potential presidential candidate, he’s argued that the federal government needs to remove restrictions on states about how they use federal tax dollars and give the states more flexibility to reshape programs like food stamps or welfare.
There’s little doubt that testing requirements are politically popular — 12 other states have passed some form of drug testing for public benefits.
In Wisconsin, an October survey of likely voters by the Marquette University Law School found that 56% of them favored Walker’s proposal and 40% opposed it. The governor successfully campaigned on his plans during his re-election last year.
“Governor Walker’s drug testing proposal was a hit on the stump in Wisconsin when he was running for re-election this past fall. At events around the state, including many in factories, some of the loudest applause was in response to this proposal to help people become workforce-ready,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.
But there are still few details known about the plan to drug test applicants for the food stamps program known as FoodShare, the Medicaid program known as BadgerCare Plus health care, unemployment insurance and the welfare program.
Under Walker’s 2015-’17 budget bill, able-bodied adults who fail the drug tests could receive benefits if they enrolled in treatment and stuck with it. If they didn’t, they would be barred from receiving benefits paid for by federal and state taxpayers. But almost no projected cost and savings estimates have been released by the Walker administration.
In the lone exception, Walker wants to use $500,000 in taxpayer money starting in 2016 to pay for drug treatment in the jobless insurance program but no money for the actual testing.
Over the next two years, state taxpayers will pay more than $18 million to provide 20 hours of job training a week to nearly 130,000 more FoodShare recipients in Wisconsin under a requirement already approved by Walker and lawmakers.
States are allowed under federal law to place a training requirement on food stamp recipients.
But drug testing public benefit recipients is a dicier proposition under federal law.
For instance, under the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, federal law allows states to drug test applicants. But a federal trial court judge in Orlando and then the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the testing amounted to an unconstitutional search and seizure by Scott’s administration in Florida because the broad drug tests weren’t targeted toward applicants at risk of abusing drugs.
Opponents like Schott point out that the cost of the testing in states like Florida outweighed the cost of the benefits that would have otherwise gone to the small fraction of recipients who tested positive.
Rector said those arguments ignore the number of drug users who may have not applied for benefits at all because of the tests. Schott said she was more concerned about sober people in need who may have not received benefits because they simply weren’t able to find time or transportation to take the test.
On food stamps and Medicaid, federal rules prohibit states from doing broad drug testing, which is one reason in those programs Walker’s budget bill merely calls for seeking a largely undefined waiver of those rules from federal officials.
Schott said she believes the Obama administration is unlikely to approve those requests for broad drug testing and that blanket testing would also face constitutional challenges in the courts.
“My theory is (politicians) don’t really care about doing it. They just like to talk about it,” Schott said.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) disagreed. He said that he believes Walker’s proposal has a better chance of winning approval from the Obama administration and the general public because it includes treatment for drug abusers, not just a loss of benefits.
More Scott Walker coverage
For more coverage of Gov. Scott Walker and the 2016 presidential race, from news stories to videos and interactive features, go to jsonline.com/scottwalker.
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Faith Group Says lawmakers should slow down on right-to-work
Wisconsin’s largest coalition of Christian churches called on lawmakers Wednesday to halt the fast-tracking of the right-to-work legislation that is expected to be approved by the Senate in an extraordinary session Wednesday.
The Wisconsin Council of Churches has not taken a position on the bill. However, it issued a statement calling on lawmakers to consider “how this legislation could impact efforts to reduce poverty, close racial disparities and build economic opportunities for working families.”
“As a potentially polarizing and certainly controversial change in our laws,” the council’s statement says, “this bill demands the most careful attention from both legislators and citizens. Whatever its merits, it needs to be weighed and considered from all angles, like any other major piece of public policy.”
The statement appears to allude to the abrupt close of testimony in the Senate Labor Committee meeting on the bill Tuesday.
Republicans had planned to end public testimony at 7 p.m., but committee Chairman Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) ended it a half-hour early out of concerns that protesters would peacefully disrupt the vote if Republicans limited public testimony.
Two other faith-based lobbying groups weighed into the fray during Tuesday’s committee hearing: the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
The Rev. Cindy Crane of the Lutheran Office registered in opposition to the bill, but had not had a chance to speak before the close of the hearing. Crane said her organization does not typically lobby on union issues. But it did in this case, she said, because of the effect the bill could have on hunger and poverty — issues it does advocate on — and the speed with which the bill was moving.
“There hasn’t been enough time to really understand the impact this legislation would have on poverty in our state,” she said.
Like the Conference of Churches, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm for the state’s Catholic bishops, did not take a stand on the bill. Instead, executive director John Huebscher read a statement Tuesday reiterating Catholic teaching on the rights of workers to unionize and those of employers to earn a profit.
It called on lawmakers to ask themselves whether the measure benefits the common good, provides a “just balance” between the interests of workers and employers, and protects the “natural right of workers to assemble and form associations.”
“When the interests of both employee and employer are balanced, such that neither tries to damage the other and each cooperates for the advancement of justice and the common good, everyone prospers,” it said.
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Our Safe Harbor Kickoff Rally Conference in Menomonie – Channel 18!
Safe Harbor Campaign Kickoff Clip on Television
(WQOW)-Wisconsin’s ELCA Human Trafficking Task Force is sponsoring a kick-off conference that brings attention to trafficked youth.
Pastor Diane House and Robbie Joern are members of the Wisconsin ELCA Human Trafficking Task Force, co-led by Cindy Crane, Director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy in Wisconsin and Amy Hartman, Director of Cherish All Children, a national ELCA Lutheran ministry. The Task Force is sponsoring a Kick-Off Conference at Christ Lutheran Church in Menomonie called “Safe Harbor Campaign” for trafficked youth in Wisconsin on Saturday, February 7th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone can come to ask questions and participate.
The cost of this program will cover the lunch. Money raised will benefit the Menomonie Police Department’s ‘soft room’. The ‘soft room’ would be a place to take younger individuals who might be a part of a police investigation, maybe even trafficked, who might find the typical police interrogation room intimidating.
Robert Kraig and Kevin Kane: Voters give BadgerCare a mandate November 23, 2014
Advisory referendums asking Wisconsin to accept enhanced federal dollars for BadgerCare won by a landslide on Election Day.
The referendums won decisively even in areas that also supported Gov. Scott Walker and conservative legislative candidates, who have opposed taking the dollars provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Statewide, 73 percent of voters supported the measure in the 20 counties and cities where it was on local ballots. The referendums did well in south-central Wisconsin, garnering 62 percent in Jefferson County, 65 percent in Rock County, and 82 percent in Dane County.
Since the election, many citizens across Wisconsin have asked us how voters could have simultaneously voted overwhelmingly for taking the federal money for BadgerCare and for Gov. Walker and conservative legislators who oppose the policy.
The simple answer is that when voters support a candidate for office, they are not endorsing his or her entire agenda. While a voter may agree with a candidate on many issues, research shows Americans often vote based on an affinity with a candidate’s personality, character traits and general approach to governing.
Politicians are misinterpreting elections when they assume that winning constitutes a public mandate for all of their positions. The public expects elected leaders to actually represent the views of their constituents. In the case of BadgerCare, the referendums make it clear Wisconsin voters would like the governor and Legislature to work constructively to expand access to affordable health care.
Whether they voted for Scott Walker or Mary Burke for governor, a vast majority of Wisconsin voters understand access to affordable health care is not a luxury but a necessity in the 21st century. They understand tens of thousands of young parents needlessly thrown off BadgerCare and now uninsured are one major illness away from a potentially life-threatening situation and financial devastation.
Voters of all perspectives understand that when a person is uninsured, illnesses that could have been caught early through screening and preventive care are much more likely to become serious, risking the long-term health of the patient and costing us all more in the long run.
Fortunately, there is a good way for Wisconsin to take the BadgerCare money that did not exist before. After Wisconsin turned down the money last February, a number of states received waivers from the federal government that address most of Gov. Walker’s concerns. Iowa, for example, received federal money to adopt a plan very similar to Walker’s, with extra money to make private insurance affordable for people just above the federal poverty line.
Given the federal government’s willingness to be flexible, there is no good reason for Wisconsin to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could provide affordable health coverage to so many Wisconsinites.
The fact is that the majority of voters supported Gov. Walker and BadgerCare. We profoundly hope our state leaders will take the voice of the voters seriously and look for a pragmatic solution. The people of Wisconsin deserve no less.
Kraig is executive director and Kane is lead organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, an advocacy group that champions quality affordable health care for everyone in Wisconsin: citizenactionwi.org.
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Underage sex sting aimed at warding off predators; nine arrested
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2014 11:36 pm | Updated: 12:20 am, Tue Oct 21, 2014.
Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer warns adults trolling the Internet looking for underage sex partners to beware.
“We are monitoring (online) sites, and you’ll never know who you’re talking to,” Cramer said Monday during a news conference announcing the arrests of nine men resulting from an undercover sting, dubbed Operation Child Safe.
The sting was conducted Thursday and Friday by three local law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation in conjunction with the Chippewa Valley Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory.
Nine men ages 20 to 60 were arrested after investigators from the forensics laboratory posted ads pretending to be underage children seeking sex or adults looking to traffic or sell a child for sex.
Investigators received multiple responses, which included emails, telephone communications and text messages, according to information released by the Eau Claire Police Department. Suspects requested meeting for sex at a predesignated location in the Chippewa Valley, and undercover officers met them and took them into custody.
“These are the ones who showed up,” said sheriff’s Capt. Dan Bresina.
The men arrested on preliminary charges of use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, attempted child enticement and attempted second-degree sexual assault of a child:
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Global marches draw attention to climate change
NEW YORK (AP) — Tens of thousands of activists walked through Manhattan on Sunday, warning that climate change is destroying the Earth — in stride with demonstrators around the world who urged policymakers to take quick action.
Starting along Central Park West, most came on foot, others with bicycles and walkers, and some even in wheelchairs. Many wore costumes and marched to drumbeats. One woman played the accordion.
But their message was not entertaining:
“We’re going to lose our planet in the next generation if things continue this way,” said Bert Garskof, 81, as a family member pushed his wheelchair through Times Square.
He had first heard about global warming in 1967, “when no one was paying much attention,” said Garskof, a native New Yorker and professor of psychology at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University.
Organizers said more than 100,000 marched in New York, including actors Mark Ruffalo and Evangeline Lilly. They were joined in midtown Manhattan by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Tuesday, more than 120 world leaders will convene for the United Nations Climate Summit aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015.
“My sense is the energy you see on the streets, the numbers that have amassed here and in other cities around the world, show that something bigger is going on, and this U.N. summit will be one of the ones where we look back and say it was a difference maker,” de Blasio said.
“Climate change is a defining issue of our time and there is no time to lose,” he said. “There is no Plan B because we do not have planet B. We have to work and galvanize our action.”
The New York march was one of a series of events held around the world to raise awareness about climate change.
In London, organizers said 40,000 marchers participated, while a small gathering in Cairo featured a huge art piece representing wind and solar energy. In Rio de Janeiro, marchers at Ipanema Beach had green hearts painted on their faces.
Celebrities in London including actress Emma Thompson and musician Peter Gabriel joined thousands of people crossing the capital’s center, chanting: “What do we want? Clean energy. When do we want it? Now.”
“This is important for every single person on the planet, which is why it has to be the greatest grass roots movement of all time,” Thompson said. “This is the battle of our lives. We’re fighting for our children.”
In New York, a contingent came from Moore, Oklahoma, where a massive tornado killed 24 people last year, as did hundreds of people affected by Superstorm Sandy, which the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British meteorological office said was made more likely by climate change.
In Australia, the largest rally was in Melbourne, where an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets with banners and placards calling on their government to do more to combat global warming.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a particular target of the protesters. Abbott’s center-right coalition has removed a carbon tax and has restricted funding for climate change bodies since coming to power last year.
Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/global-marches-draw-attention-to-climate-change/article_26e20f36-998b-567e-bbc5-98819911232c.html#ixzz3E3P5154l
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Human trafficking sting in NE Minnesota, NW Wisconsin results in 6 arrests
DULUTH, Minnesota — Authorities conducting a human trafficking sting in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin have made six arrests.
They include a Douglas County, Wisconsin man charged with child enticement. Investigators say 51-year-old Ronald Provost, of Foxboro, responded to their fake online ad, supposedly from a 15-year-old girl. Police say he arranged to meet with the girl at a Superior, Wisconsin hotel after sending her a sexually explicit picture.
WDIO-TV (http://bit.ly/VQwazy ) says five other Northland men were arrested on prostitution charges that resulted from the sting. Police say the men responded to a fictitious online ad placed by detectives that offered sex for money.
The sting operation was conducted by Superior and Duluth police along with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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Governor signs human trafficking bill
Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that tightens Wisconsin’s human trafficking laws and narrows the meaning of consent for victims.
“Current Wisconsin law defines trafficking as recruiting, enticing, harboring or transporting someone against their consent. The bipartisan bill removes the consent element and adds using schemes to control an individual to the definition.
The measure allows trafficking victims to ask a judge to vacate or expunge prostitution convictions. The judge could grant the request if he or she gives the prosecutor a chance to respond and determines society won’t be harmed.” LaCrosseTribune.com
Human trafficking is a significant issue in Wisconsin and in the next legislative session there will be more discussion about the problem in both urban areas and small cities.
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Nationally on Trafficking:
From Catholic Charities:
“House Approves Human Trafficking Bills
On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed a series of bills with bi-partisan support aimed at reducing human trafficking and assisting victims of that crime.
Many of the bills have counterparts in the Senate, and are expected to move forward through the legislative process.”
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Safety Nets Still Needed
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of our U.S. government launching a War on Poverty by increasing safety nets for people who launched programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Job Corps and Head Start. How are we doing today?
THE STATE OF OUR STATE
- Approximately 12.5% below poverty line in Wisconsin (in 2011, the official poverty rate in Wisconsin was 13.3%. The Wisconsin Poverty Measure at the Institute for Research on Poverty estimated the poverty rate was 10.7%)
- FoodShare Enrollment: 722,000 people; 322,000 households; 6,900 families enrolled for the first time in March.
- Wisconsin Schools serve 317,000 kids free and reduced price meals;
- Approximately 13,000 youth are homeless.
In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from January 18, 2014, Timothy M. Smeeding, who directs the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, said “It’s not exactly a war that we lost (or that) we fought the war on poverty and poverty won,” he said. “It’s that the economy has turned against less-skilled people and people at the bottom of the barrel socially. Those people are having a harder time.”
“The answer is jobs, but we don’t have enough jobs, especially for them,” he added. “The jobs we’re creating are part-time service-sector jobs that don’t pay enough. So we have these programs, food stamps or SNAP, the earned income credit, and they are really saving people’s bacon. They’re keeping the poverty rate far below (what it) would have been.”