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Slackers and Your Money

Bill Neinast


Slacker is not heard so often today as it was 75 years ago.  During WWII, the word was frequently used as an epithet for a man who was avoiding military service.

That pejorative term came to mind recently while reading Dr. Stuart Yoffe’s comments on the prisoners in the Washington County jail who are drawing monthly SSI checks from the U.S. Treasury. 

Dr. Yoffe believes that many of the SSI prisoners he treated in jail were fully capable of productive work but had managed somehow to get on the federal disability dole.  While the county was providing them free room and board, they were getting monthly checks of federal money that average $600.

He calculates that, if there is only one such prisoner in each of the 254 county jails in Texas, “we are spending at minimum $64 million on non-disabled individuals just in Texas.”

As my blood pressure was returning to normal after reading those statistics, another Banner Press hit my doorstep.  “Taxpayers shell out nearly $3.7M for ex-presidents” was headlined on page 2 of that issue.

Those millions did not include the amounts spent to provide the very necessary security for our former leaders.  This was money for offices, secretarial help, postage, travel, etc.

Thinking about shelling out $64 million a year for dead beats in jail and another $3.7 million for individuals at the other end of the economic spectrum shot those blood pressure readings back into the stratosphere.

The largess for those poor presidents who have been sent back home is provided under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. Under that act, ex-presidents get a lifetime pension equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the heads of executive branch departments. 

This pension is “earned” after just four or eight years of service.  In 2011, that meant the federal treasury piled $199,700 on top of their personal income.

Congress, however, was looking out for the poor taxpayers.  The act provides that the pension is taxable.

Except for Truman, and possibly Ford, every president during the last 100 years has been a millionaire or in the highest echelon of the upper class. So providing rich people with such benevolence is as bad or worse than sending SSI checks to prisoners.

Another blood pressure enhancer was on page 3 of the same paper.  It reads, “USDA expanding program to fight poverty in rural areas.”  The gist of the article is that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was in South Carolina to kick start new initiatives in the war on poverty.

Interestingly, the only activity in this program that is discussed in the article is the assistance being given to Larry Harris.

Harris has been operating a “small” farm for 15 years.  The USDA is now going to help him dig a new well so that he can expand his farm and grow vegetables.

That’s fighting poverty? 

In the 40 years that my father owned and operated a small retail business in Somerville, he expanded or improved the physical plant four times.  He got the money for each expansion or improvement from his own operating budget.

So why is government assistance needed for Harris to expand his business?

The budget foolishness discussed here is so minuscule in the overall scheme of the massive federal budget that it probably will not be noticed by sincere  reformers.  Thus the vexatious question is how, when, and why did these items get in the budget to begin with?

So here’s the perspective.

SSI payments for prisoners, pensions for well heeled presidents, and wells for farmers are the proverbial tips of the iceberg.  If the entire iceberg of foolish federal programs were melted, however, the problem would not be solved.

The problem is the mind set of most of our elected representatives in D.C.  As a group, they seem to lack any understanding of why budgets must be balanced, with income equalling or exceeding outgo.

If the long list of wasteful spending identified by Representative Paul Ryan were eliminated during this session of Congress and if the safety net entitlement programs were controlled, the fix would be only temporary. 

Until common sense individuals like Dr. Ben Carson, Senators Marcus Rubio and Ted Cruz, Governors Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindall, and others like them get into positions of decision making prominence the country may patch a few pot holes but will continue down the same old road.

Eliminating some of the pot holes, however, may be good for blood pressure.