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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is my local paper. I read its editorial page including the letters to the editor. I respect all those individual citizens who are willing to enter the fray publicly – regardless of their opinion (even though some few do, I admit, inspire despair). This week, though, I’m making an exception to that rule. The letter that has earned my contempt was written by one Logan Elizabeth Pike, a spokesperson for the Heartland Institute, and doesn’t really represent citizen opinion, bravely expressed for all to see, but is instead the scripted effort of a hired shill for one of the most notorious of the right’s cluster of custom-tailored “research” organizations.

In case you aren’t familiar with its nefarious deeds, The Heartland Institute is one of those right-wing “think tanks” that benefit almost exclusively from the very large donations of the interlocking network of conservative “foundations” best described in Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money – think Koch, Scaife, Bradley, ALEC, etc. It exists to serve the anti-regulatory, anti-tax interests of the conservative wannabe oligarchy.

The Post-Dispatch article that got Heartland juices flowing was a report on the effects of Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature’s efforts to cut poor Missourians off various welfare rolls:

In the article “Tougher rules shrink Missouri welfare rolls” (June 17), Kurt Erickson examines the new number of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families numbers released by the Missouri Department of Social Services. Erickson largely blames 2015 legislation, known as the Strengthening Missouri Families Act. Unfortunately, Erickson misses what the law actually does and what it aims to accomplish.

The policy changes enacted in 2015 by Missouri’s Legislature now incentivize work, will help increase upward mobility and will encourage recipients to move from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately for her credibility, Pike offers Maine as an example of what welfare policies like those of Missouri’s GOP can achieve if they are taken to their logical extent:

In October 2014, Maine began requiring about 16,000 able-bodied childless adults to work, train or volunteer on at least a part-time basis in order to receive food stamps. Today only 1,500 able-bodied childless adults rely on food stamps in Maine. The state has also reduced the number of TANF recipients by 10,000 cases. According to a preliminary report published by Maine Department of Health and Human Services, not only has Maine reduced the number of welfare enrollees, but the recent welfare reforms have led to more employment, higher earnings and less dependence. Within a year, these able-bodied adults saw their incomes rise by an average of 114 percent.

The numbers, however, tell a very different story. According to a research summary report issued by two scholars from the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine:

Since its welfare policies shifted direction, Maine has diverged from national trends in a discouraging way. While other parts of the country have shown improvement in fighting poverty and hunger, Maine has seen increases in child poverty, food insecurity, and numbers of children and parents going without health insurance.

The number of people who experience hunger daily is higher in Maine than the national average; when it comes to food insecurity, it ranks 12th nationally and 1st in New England – as of 2015, the USDA puts the number of food insecure households in Maine at 16.2%. This number is much higher than that of Missouri where, according to the 2016 Hunger Atlas, 7.9% of all households are food insecure. Of course, if our legislature continues down its current, Heartland-endorsed path, Missouri may soon rival Maine when it comes to poverty-induced misery.

Missouri Republicans, along with the folks at places like the Heartland Institute, like to talk about how welfare creates dependency among those it “traps,” but it is pretty clear that what you get when you lack a robust welfare safety net is suffering – even to the point of starvation, something I hoped never to see on a large scale in the U.S. But hey, when it comes to the poor, conservatives say that’s their problem. Let ’em get a minimum wage job and eat cake.