State of the State: What’s Missing?

Governor Spitzer mentioned nearly everyone in his State of the State address yesterday, He publicly credited legislators, Republican and Democrat, whose ideas he’s promoting. He talked about taxes. Universal health care for children. Upstate New York and its needed revitalization. Everybody seemed to be included. Except for…

the poor.

The last time New York State did anything about the poor was 11 years ago, when we were making the best of the federal scapegoating-inspired Personal Resposibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (aka “welfare reform.”) While New York can be said to have minimized the damage, its net accomplishment, partially by necessity, was the construction of new hoops.

The last time New York State actually did something positive was 1990, when the basic grant was raised 15%. This increase, when combined with the shelter and home heating allowances, amounted to a net increase between 3 and 4%. This roughly was the amount of inflation that year. So, in 1990, the poor got a cost of living adjustment. Since then, nothing.

Meanwhile, the cost of living has gone up 50%. No wonder we get realities such as these:

  • The official poverty rate statewide increased to 14.7%.
  • New York City’s poverty rate was 19.1% in 2005. 
  • Syracuse was 31.3%
  • Rochester 30.0%
  • Buffalo 26.9%
  • Albany 26.5%.
  • Over half the residents of Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo had incomes below 200% of the poverty threshold.
  • More than 10% of the residents of these cities and Albany are classified as extremely poor – with incomes less than half the poverty threshold.

It would have been minimally decent to propose a raise in the basic grant consistent with inflation — say, 49%. But nothing. For whatever political reasons, the poor are off the official radar.

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