‘I am here to say Nevada has never thrown money at the problem’

After decades of watching state welfare bureaucracies and their budgets increase by double-digit percentages, the economic slowdown finally hit.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons announced late last year those budgets will have to be pruned by a modest 9.3 percent — some $2.3 billion — for the upcoming biennium.

Needless to say, those who make their livings out of those tax collections are unhappy. They demand that state spending remain the same, with the difference to be made up by increasing taxes on all Nevadans, including those they insist are in need of their “help.”

In an attempt to bolster the claim that a smaller budget won’t meet welfare “needs,” those who lobby for such spending would like to be able to point to the ongoing growth of student populations in the public schools, as well as ongoing case loads for other welfare programs, including those that help homeless children.

Problem is, school populations are not up — they’re steady or down.

And recent attempts to locate and count all of Nevada’s newly homeless children and families have encountered a similar problem: can’t find any.

Testifying before the Legislature in Carson City Monday, Clark County Director of Family Services Tom Morton reported he and his department have so far seen no increase in homelessness. An increase might be forthcoming “nine months to 12 months down the line,” if home foreclosures continue, followed by families turning to TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Mr. Morton reported. But there’s been no such increase as yet.

Cue the caterwauling. The homeless are out there, they’re just in hiding, insists Julia Ratti, a representative of the Human Services Network: “They don’t know where to go” to be counted “because they have never done it before,” Ms. Ratti asserted Monday at a capital news conference, seeking to explain why all Nevada’s newly homeless people seem to have come disguised as empty sidewalks.

“Just because someone isn’t getting services doesn’t mean they are not homeless or not in need,” added Amanda Haboush of the group Every Child Matters.

“These are families who are falling through the cracks,” asserts Jan Gilbert, former teacher and now lobbyist for the collectivist Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, who adds: “This is a time when Nevada’s children … need us to say ‘I will pay more taxes.'”

“I hear people all the time say, “We just can’t throw money at the problem,'” Ms. Gilbert added, Monday. “I am here to say Nevada has never thrown money at the problem.”

In fact, the Nevada state Legislature annually funds numerous welfare programs for beneficiaries with family incomes considerably ABOVE the levels at which the federal government requires such aid. If all those who have received the imaginary aid which the state has “never thrown at the problem” for the past 30 years would send those “imaginary” billions back to Carson City, it might go a long way toward making up the current revenue shortfall, which Ms. Gilbert seems to believe is equally make-believe.

Yes, it’s worth keeping an eye out for families and especially children going without shelter. No one is saying those in real need — as opposed to new populations of “the needy” ginned up by placing fliers under windshield wipers, inviting budding welfarepreneurs to “Call us for free stuff” — should be ignored.

That’s why we have churches, temples, missions, fraternal organizations, and other private charities — organizations (unlike government) well structured to avoid subsidizing the self-destructive behaviors that get many into trouble in the first place.

But the reaction of big-spending Democratic Sen. Bob Coffin, who responded to all this Monday by saying the Legislature may have to set aside extra money for children’s services, remains puzzling.

Mr. Morton testifies there’s not currently any such unmet need, and no one has any statistical evidence he’s wrong. Yet instead of saying “Whew, that’s a relief; finally we catch a break,” Sen. Coffin — supposedly struggling to balance a budget in the face of declining revenues — asserts lawmakers may have to “set aside some extra money” for additional homeless children and families no one can actually find.

I waited for the ceremony in which Sen. Coffin was to publicly hand over half his legislative salary to the United Way. But no such event was scheduled — apparently he didn’t mean his OWN money.

Meantime, it was Louise Helton, state director of Communities in Schools (does that mean she’s a tax-funded bureaucrat whose job is to turn the public schools into “full-service” welfare agencies?) who took the cake, lamenting Monday “People now are working two or three part-time jobs. They can’t find a full-time job. They are struggling to raise three kids. It is just getting worse.”

The problem with creating permanent jobs to succor the needy is that it’s in the nature of bureaucracies to look first to their own survival. Someone who really wants such Nevadans to succeed should be overjoyed when our neighbors show the resiliency and can-do spirit needed to take on several part-time jobs — whatever’s needed — to keep their families housed and fed.

Instead, there seems to be a frustration here at the shortage of mendicants, a determination that if not enough people show up with begging bowls, darn it, the “care industry” will just have to go beat the bushes till they flush out some more newly “needy.”

It’s possible the “need” to feed and house the homeless will grow in 2010. But it’s equally possible the rhetoric decrying this as the “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” is a tad overblown. Unemployment and other signs of “depression” are not as dire today as even during the stagflation of the 1970s, let alone the 1930s.

There is real hardship out there; many have lost their full-time jobs through no fault of their own. But it’s also true that those going through the worst changes tend to be those who allowed themselves to be conned into forgetting a few simple rules most are taught by their grandparents: Buy only what you can afford; don’t live on credit; set something aside for a rainy day.

The greatest cause of the current economic slowdown is a perfectly sensible reluctance on the part of American families to assume new debt or spend money they could be saving, thanks to considerable uncertainty about how Washington (or Carson City, for that matter) may intervene to mess up our standard economic expectations, next.

The best way to restore economic confidence and faith in the market, Sen. Coffin, is for government to back off, to tax less and do less — not more.

Or does anyone believe the massive Keynesian “œeconomic interventions” attempted in the past six months — with all the calm and methodical consistency of a toddler set loose with fingerpaints and a jar of Ritalin — have “got the problem just about licked”?

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