Republican governors in several states, including Mississippi, Nebraska and Arkansas, have sent back federal aid meant to help people avoid being evicted from their apartments and houses. According to those governors’ condescending talking points, money to prevent people from being thrown out on the street will decrease their will to work. Never mind the fact that in Mississippi, for example, NBC News reports that the unemployed account for less than a third of the applicants for the Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program, or RAMP. But almost 70% of those applicants earned less than the median income in their areas.
Republican governors in several states have sent back federal aid meant to help people avoid being evicted.
Despite those statistics and despite having $130 million in federal funds to distribute to struggling people in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves cruelly put an end to RAMP this month.
“Mississippi will continue to say no to these types of liberal handouts that encourage people to stay out of the workforce. Instead, we’re going to say yes to conservative principles and policies that result in more people working,” Reeves said at a news conference.
The conservative principles Reeves touts apparently don’t include compassion for poor Mississippians, who face 155 eviction filings every day, a filing rate of 14.7%, more than double the national rate, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Housing advocates are already predicting worsening housing crises in these states as more lower- and middle-class homeowners and renters who never fully caught up from the pandemic crisis fall further behind on their rents and mortgages. And the weather will soon be getting colder.
“Mississippians are working — and working hard. But our leaders keep depriving them of basic tools to survive, trapping them in an endless cycle of poverty,” wrote Vangela M. Wade of the Mississippi Center for Justice. She called the governor’s decision “outrageous, heartless, and utterly devoid of any reason.”
In April, when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson took only about $60 million of $146 million in federal aid offered by nonprofit groups for job training, education and rental assistance, he said, “Our economy has returned, there’s jobs aplenty out there, and we have existing programs in place for rental assistance that were pre-pandemic.” And in a letter, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts described Covid relief money as “incentivizing people to rely on the government.”
Hutchinson said the money wasn’t needed in Arkansas because the unemployment rate “remains at a record low, and it is also lower than the national employment rate,” adding, “There are economic opportunities available for our citizens who can work.” Available jobs don’t mean there are jobs available that pay the rent. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the eviction rate in the state is higher than it has been in five years.
Because the typical applicant for Covid rental assistance in Mississippi is a Black woman, it’s impossible to hear Reeves’ remark about “liberal handouts” and not remember the “welfare queen” rhetoric Ronald Reagan used to appeal to white voters in the 1970s and '80s.
America seems to hear some form of it every election cycle: conservatives blaming people in great need for asking for and receiving help. And we’re even more than likely to hear it during the upcoming presidential election cycle. Given former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles, it’s even unclear who will win the Republican nomination. There may be space for a little-known conservative governor with good conservative press to swoop in and curry favor with millionaire donors and conservative PACs.
Even if Trump does win the nomination, it seems unlikely that he will again have Mike Pence as his running mate. That leaves a spot open on Trump’s GOP ticket for a staunch conservative running mate. And what better way to grab the attention of conservative donors than by falling back on one of the GOP’s tried and true axioms: They don’t deserve it. They don’t want to work. They are living the high life with our tax dollars.
It’s impossible to hear Reeves’ remark and not remember the “welfare queen” rhetoric Ronald Reagan used.
Expect whomever Republicans nominate for president or vice president to also claim that a program helping the needy is corrupt and a waste of the American people’s hard-earned tax money.
After Reeves shut down the rental assistance program, a Clarksdale landlord admitted to having defrauded the program of more than $80,000. “This is part of why we ended this program,” Reeves tweeted. “It was being abused. While some Democrat politicians lambasted our decision, the exposing of this fraud further justifies it.” No one who needed money to avoid eviction was implicated.
Reeves and other Republican governors justify cutting off needed assistance as making the hard choice for their residents. It just so happens, I guess, that these hard decisions don’t affect their donors. Instead, they affect those who don’t have the money to sway state or national politics.
Republican governors’ sending federal money back means their residents’ federal taxes will be used to provide help to people in other states, the same help their governors refuse to let them get.
Hopefully, when these Republican governors are nice and cozy in their mansions this winter, they’ll remember that conservative principles don’t keep their struggling residents warm. And their residents will remember that their tax dollars are going to keep other Americans in their homes, which their governors didn’t allow for them in the name of burnishing their conservative bona fides.