Further thoughts on Shumlin and poverty

Well, seeing’s how my most recent GMD diary touched off something of a shitstorm (durr hurr hurr), I’d like to present a few more thoughts.

Regarding the unfortunate acronym, POOP (Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty): my criticism of that is purely on political/PR grounds. It’s just plain stupid to craft an acronym with unintended connotations. It is, as they say in soccer, an own goal. The Council isn’t done any favors when it’s given a name straight out of Beavis and Butthead.  

I’ve also raised an objection to the underlying idea behind the name. It borrows from conservative rhetoric: that the purpose of social-service programs is to eradicate poverty. That’s part of it, to be sure; but some people will never escape the need for assistance. This is especially true in a society where the deck is stacked against the poor and working poor — and even the middle class are walking a tightrope above the chasm.

As for the work of the committee itself: Some very good things may come out of the simple fact of putting this group of people together on a regular basis. They may well spot systematic problems — the forest beyond their individual trees — that can’t be seen from any single perspective. But if their charge is limited to the social-services system, their ability to create anything as grand as “pathways out of poverty” will be limited as well. Social services fights against very strong currents of wealth and income inequality, the decimation of the middle class, many years of wage stagnation for the working poor, and tax policies that too often favor the rich.

That’s a lot to overcome. A close consideration of social-service flaws is useful, but it fails to address most of the equation.

I don’t know for a fact that the Council’s charge is limited to social services, but its membership points in that direction. I’d be happier if the Council included some progressive voices on broader policy questions. To pick a name out of my frontal lobe, how about Paul Cillo or Jack Hoffman of the Public Assets Institute?

As for the new antipoverty measures unveiled by Governor Shumlin this week: Chris Curtis is encouraged. I, the snarky blogger, am cynical. Based on past experience.  

The Governor’s January “priorities” have died a quick death before. In January 2013 there was a lot of lip service to, among other things, energy efficiency, social services, and early education. But during the actual legislative session, some items just didn’t seem to get a lot of push, and others failed when the Legislature balked at Shumlin’s preferred funding mechanism.

And the Governor has yet to say where he’d find the money for this week’s initiatives. Based on past experience, it wouldn’t surprise me if he dumped the whole thing in Doug Racine’s lap (“Here, Doug, cut something else to pay for these things”) or identified a funding source that’s unworkable (the ill-fated break-open tickets tax) or unpalatable (the ill-advised proposal to slash the Earned Income Tax Credit) or both.

One more thought from the blogger’s cynical brain. This wouldn’t be the first time Shumlin used a bunch of good people as a backdrop for a feel-good announcement that never went anywhere. I don’t blame any of the participants in this week’s event; if the Governor asked me to be part of his backdrop, I’d say yes. And I’d feel a little dirty afterwards.

So this week’s announcement was a good first step, but there’s a long way to go. And past experience doesn’t fill me with confidence.

And the Council, unfortunate name and all, is full of fine people — some of the state’s best and most dedicated. Indeed, maybe a measure of hope is the difference between them and me: They go out and fight the good fight, while cynical me sits in my metaphorical Mom’s Basement and writes commentaries.

I hope they prove me wrong. But for now, I remain skeptical.  

10 thoughts on “Further thoughts on Shumlin and poverty

  1. …to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism (so long as you don’t become a total cynic… political blogging, when it works, has to remain inherently hopeful when all is said and done).

    So good on ya. Test ’em all. Keep ’em on their toes. Makes our side stronger in the end.


  2. Thanks for asking. The Governor’s Council was established with maximum membership of up to 30. Currently there are only 19 members. As we prepare for our first formal meeting one of our first tasks will be identifying others who might be interested or willing to serve, including and especially low-income Vermonters themselves who may or may not have any affiliation with a particular issue or interest based on past participation or experience.

    The impetus for establishing a council came from the Governor after an ad hoc group of advocates began meeting over the summer and fall months – a number of us had participated in the rulemaking process (public comment) for Emergency and General Assistance emergency shelter rules. Out of that began discussions about other essential programs and services that might be threatened or that we hoped would be expanded as priorities in the coming legislative session. The Governor then asked us for our recommendations, which we presented. Then the Council was formed.

  3. Regarding the unfortunate acronym, POOP (Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty): my criticism of that is purely on political/PR grounds. It’s just plain stupid to craft an acronym with unintended connotations. It is, as they say in soccer, an own goal. The Council isn’t done any favors when it’s given a name straight out of Beavis and Butthead.  

    I’ve also raised an objection to the underlying idea behind the name. It borrows from conservative rhetoric: that the purpose of social-service programs is to eradicate poverty. That’s part of it, to be sure; but some people will never escape the need for assistance. This is especially true in a society where the deck is stacked against the poor and working poor — and even the middle class are walking a tightrope above the chasm.

    I must agree with your takeaway re the nuances & many facets of the issue.

    I could be cautiously optimistic it weren’t for the elephant in the room everyone else seems to be ignoring –“POOP” does not inspire my confidence given Mr Shumlins disdain for the poor & affinity for protection of those like himself — wealthy Vermonters. I call it a very telling Freudian slip.

  4. Sat in on Human Resources committee this afternoon. I believe the excrescent acronym to which you referred the other day has been hurriedly amended to MFOOP — Moving Families Out Of Poverty. The power of the virtual pen leaves its indelible mark and moves on…

    It was, I might add, one of the few actual factoids to emerge from Mr Yannacone’s unimpressive testimony. In her attempt at getting straight answers concerning a rather unimpressive review of the ReachOut program the committee had requested of the DCF back in July, the chair, Ms Pugh, seemed at times to be trying to nail a strand of cooked spaghetti to the wall.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *