Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Here's the Latest GOP Assault On Food Stamps: Requiring a Photo ID to Buy Food

| Thu Jan. 16, 2014 10:41 AM EST

Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a bill that would force recipients of food stamps to show a valid photo ID to buy food. Anti-hunger advocates say that because many poor people cannot afford to purchase government IDs, the requirement would make it harder for low-income Americans to eat.

Vitter says the bill is designed to cut down on fraud. "Using a photo ID is standard in many day-to-day transactions, he said upon introducing the bill. "My bill will restore some accountability to the program so it's not ruined for people who use it appropriately."

But it's not that simple. Vitter's bill would also prevent many Americans from using the nutrition aid they're eligible for. "Many poor people do not have photo ID's, and it costs money they do not have to get them," Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the advocacy organization Coalition on Human Needs, told the Times-Picayune on Wednesday. "Senator Vitter's proposal will be especially tough on elderly and poor people who do not have the documents needed to get their photo ID, and who will struggle even to get to the necessary offices. They will wind up going without food."

This is just the latest assault in the long-running GOP war on the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last year, Vitter drafted an amendment to the Senate farm bill—the five-year legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture programs—that would ban those convicted of certain violent crimes from ever getting food stamps. The amendment, which the Senate approved, would have "strongly racially discriminatory effects," according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In 2013, House Republicans passed a version of the farm bill that would cut $40 billion from the food stamps program. The House farm bill also contains GOP-backed provisions that would impose new work requirements on food stamp recipients, and that would give states financial incentives to kick people out of the program.

The final version of the farm bill, which is a compromise between the Senate and the House versions, is reported to contain $9 billion in cuts to SNAP.

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Elizabeth Warren's New Bill Could Save Taxpayers Billions

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that aims to make government settlements with corporations more transparent and fair. It could end up saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

When banks and other corporations are accused of breaking the law, the government often settles cases instead of going to trial. In the wake of the financial crisis, for example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and government banking watchdogs have settled cases against banks that helped tank the economy. Regulatory agencies have argued that settlements are adequate tools to enforce the law, but Warren has protested. She notes that many settlements are tax-deductible. Other deals are confidential, meaning the public has no idea whether the terms of the agreement are fair.

Warren's bill would discourage tax-deductible settlements by forcing federal agencies to explain why certain settlements are confidential, and to publicly disclose the terms of nonconfidential agreements so that taxpayers can see how much settlement tax-deductibility is costing them.

For a sense of how much Americans could save if Warren and Coburn's legislation passes, just take a look at how much taxpayers lost in each of these settlements over the past decade:

JPMorgan Chase

Jamie Dimon
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

In October, JPMorgan reached a record-breaking $13 billion settlement with the DOJ over the dicy financial products that it created and sold in the run up to the financial crisis. But JPMorgan will be allowed to soften the blow by claiming up to $4 billion in tax deductions from the settlement.

 

Fresenius Medical Care Holdings

rangizzz/Shutterstock

In 2000, the health care company Fresenius Medical Care Holdings entered into a $486 million settlement agreement with the federal government over allegations that it defrauded Medicare and other federal health care programs. Last year, a court allowed Fesenius to write off $50 million of that settlement payment.

 

BP

BP/Facebook

BP, the company responsible for the massive 2010 Gulf oil spill, entered into a settlement that year with the federal government that set up a $20 billion clean up fund. BP was able to deduct $10 billion of that settlement.

 

HSBC

Michael Fleshman/Flickr

Last year, the banking giant HSBC settled charges that it turned a blind eye to billions of dollars of money laundering by entering into a $1.9 billion settlement with the federal government. The DOJ has not yet disclosed whether the settlement is tax-deductible, but if it is, taxpayers will lose $700 million.

 

Exxon

Paulo Ordoveza/Flickr

Exxon got a $576 million tax deduction on its $1.1 billion Alaska oil spill settlement, which saved the oil giant half of the cost of the deal.

 

Marsh & McLennan

Marsh & McLennan

In 2005, the insurance brokerage firm Marsh & McLennan reached an $850 million settlement with New York state regulators over bid-rigging and conflicts of interest. The firm was eligible for up to a $298 million tax write-off, according to calculations by Francisco Enriquez, an expert on corporate taxation at US Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization.

Economy Adds 74,000 Jobs—Economists Predicted 200,000-Plus

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 11:47 AM EST

The economy added just 74,000 jobs in December, which was fewer than expected, according to new numbers released by the Labor Department on Friday. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent. But as has been the case in previous months, this drop is due largely to the fact that many Americans left the labor force, and thus were not officially counted as unemployed by the government.

The number of jobs added in December was the smallest monthly gain in three years. Gains of over 200,000 jobs had been expected.

The unemployment rate for adult men and whites declined last month to 6.3 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the jobless rate for blacks and Hispanics remained disproportionately high at 11.9 percent and 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate for Asians remained at 4 percent. The rate for women held at 6 percent. 

In December (as in November), 7.8 million Americans were employed in part-time work because they could not find full-time jobs.

As in previous months, employment increased in low-wage service jobs. Jobs in retail, including in restaurants, bars, and clothing stores, rose by 55,000 in December. Temp work gained 40,000 jobs. 

Manufacturing added 9,000 jobs. Employment numbers in the healthcare industry held steady.

The number of long-term unemployed—those without a job for 27 weeks or more—remained at a whopping 37.7 percent of the unemployed last month. Federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless expired at the end of the year. The Senate recently voted to consider a bill renewing these benefits, but it is unclear if Republicans in the Senate and House will approve a final bill.

If Congress does not renew the benefits, we may see an even greater shrinkage in the labor force, as the long-term unemployed, who are some of the least employable Americans, no longer have the means to continue searching for jobs.

Marco Rubio to Jobless: Get Out Of Town

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 9:05 AM EST

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

Among the more intriguing proposals in Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)'s War on Poverty anniversary speech Wednesday was giving jobless people subsidies to move to low-unemployment areas. Sounds like a common-sense fix? Maybe—but Mike Konczal, a expert in unemployment and inequality at the Roosevelt Institute, says it would just move the problem around.

Here's why. Even though some states and localities have sunnier employment rates than others, Konczal tells Mother Jones, that doesn't mean there are more jobs available in those places. "States with low unemployment are often small states that are heavily agricultural," he says. "There is not a lot of dynamic turnover… There are already unemployed people there who want those jobs" that are open. Konczal had a deeper analysis of this type of proposal on the Washington Post's Wonkblog last August, noting that such relocation vouchers would also likely go to"people who are at the back of the job queue—long-term unemployed with low savings. These are populations that will have trouble finding work, and so it is likely that they’d just move to be at the end of the queue of another state."

Kevin Drum has more on Rubio's other proposals, including a government wage subsidy.

Here Are the Chris Christie Emails Everyone Is Talking About

| Wed Jan. 8, 2014 1:01 PM EST

On Wednesday, news outlets released emails indicating that top aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blocked lanes on a major bridge last year in retaliation against a political opponent.

Last September, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey abruptly closed two lanes on the George Washington Bridge, causing a massive traffic jam that clogged the streets of Fort Lee, N.J. News outlets and New Jersey Democrats began to look into the circumstances surrounding the bridge closure, suspecting that the Port Authority closed the bridge lanes in an act of political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who backed Gov. Chris Christie's opponent in the 2013 gubernatorial campaign. The emails released today suggest that was indeed the case:

 
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