Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the GOP primary debate on September 16, 2015.
In 1996, then-Congressman John Kasich cosponsored a welfare reform bill that, for the first time ever, put a time limit on recipients' access to food stamps. Healthy, childless adults would be able to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for no more than three months in any three-year period, unless they were employed or in a training program for at least 20 hours a week. When Congress balked at a rule that would cause an estimated 1 million people to lose food aid each month, Kasich added an exception that would allow states to seek time-limit waivers for areas with especially high unemployment.
Twenty years later, in his second term as Ohio's governor, the GOP presidential hopeful is taking advantage of these waivers, as most governors have done. But Ohio civil rights groups and economic analysts say Kasich's administration is using the waivers unequally: It applies for waivers in some regions of the state but refuses them in others, in a pattern that has disproportionately protected white communities and hurt minority populations.
"The Kasich administration could have addressed the racial inequity in 2016," says Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, an economic policy research nonprofit, who has written extensively on the state's recent food stamp waiver policy. "The Kasich administration chose not to. The state should broaden its request to encompass all places and regions where jobs are scarce and people are hungry."
In 2014, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) had the option to waive time limits on food stamps for the entire state. Due to a struggling economy and high unemployment, Ohio had qualified for and accepted this statewide waiver from the US Department of Agriculture every year since 2007, including during most of Kasich's first term as governor. But this time, Kasich rejected the waiver for the next two years in most of the state's 88 counties. His administration did accept them for 16 counties in 2014 and for 17 counties in 2015. Most of these were rural counties with small and predominantly white populations. Urban counties and cities, most of which had high minority populations, did not get waivers.
"The Kasich administration could have addressed the racial inequity in 2016...The Kasich administration chose not to."
The decision would result in a drastic downsizing of food aid in the state, but the administration moved with surprising speed given the enormity of the impact. "It was really fast," says Kate McGarvey, deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. In August 2013, she says, the legal services community had heard that Ohio qualified for a statewide waiver, and was setting up meetings with the ODJFS to discuss how the state might proceed. "Within a week or two, we were told, 'It's going to be a partial waiver, it's already been submitted, it's done,'" McGarvey says. "No advocates that I know of were given a chance to give feedback on the wisdom of the partial waiver."
The policy went into effect in October 2013. By January—the three-month mark where those without waivers began losing their food stamps if they couldn't meet the work requirement—it had become clear that the policy had spawned a stark racial disparity in food aid. Across the 16 counties the state had selected for waivers, about 94 percent of food stamp recipients were white. Overall in Ohio in December 2013—immediately before the new policy's effects began to surface—food stamp recipients were 65 percent white.
By March 2014, six months into the new system, the six counties with the highest rate of terminating food stamps for able-bodied, childless adults were all counties populated mostly by minorities.
Within a few months of the system's implementation, food pantries began to see an increase in their numbers of clients. "Nearly 140,000 people have been removed from the food stamp program since October 2013," says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, which has gathered data on thousands of adults in Ohio who have lost their food stamps. "We believe that the majority of them were removed for inability to meet the work requirement. And they are turning to our agencies to get food. More people are going to soup kitchens and homeless shelters, begging, panhandling, and dumpster diving. It's not a good scene."
Six months into the new system, the six counties with the highest rate of terminating food stamps for able-bodied, childless adults were all counties populated mostly by minorities.
A USDA study released earlier this month ranked Ohio among the worst states in the nation for food security. The state has the highest rate of food insecurity in the Midwest and the sixth highest rate nationally.
In the summer of 2014, several legal organizations, including Columbus Legal Aid, filed a civil complaint against Ohio with the USDA, formally alleging that the state's rejection of waivers across the state disproportionately hurt minority populations. "Without any compelling reason, this decision, and its approval by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)…has unfairly made access to nutrition assistance more difficult for many minority Ohioans," the organizations wrote in their letter.
The ODJFS' waiver decision seemed to have little basis in math. Seventy-five percent of Ohio's minorities live in just eight of the state's 88 counties. None of those counties got a waiver, even though several of them have higher unemployment rates than counties that did get waivers, notes the civil complaint. "I've never seen the math that illustrates how they came up with these 16 to begin with," says McGarvey, one of the authors of the civil complaint. "When we looked at the data, what we saw was that if they were just cutting it off at the 16 highest unemployment counties, purely using a mathematical formula, those would not have been the 16."
"I've never seen the math that illustrates how they came up with these 16 to begin with."
"It was not a mathematical selection," says Patton. She explains that in 2016, the ODJFS said it would give waivers to counties whose two-year average unemployment rate was greater than 120 percent of the national unemployment rate during the same period. But the agency rounded county unemployment rates to two decimal points instead of one, as the USDA requires, effectively eliminating some counties from eligibility by mere hundredths of a point.
When asked to clarify the ODJFS method for selecting counties over the last three years, ODJFS spokesman Ben Johnson told Mother Jones, "The employment and training requirement does not deny anyone SNAP benefits. Rather, the requirement ensures that able-bodied adults without dependent children receive both SNAP benefits and education, job training, or volunteer or work experience...We have used the same methodology and calculated unemployment rates the same way each year."
In 2016, Ohio will continue its narrow waiver policy. Though the state will no longer be eligible for a statewide waiver of food stamp time limits because its overall unemployment has improved beyond the eligibility threshold, up to 34 counties and 10 cities will remain eligible. The state excluded the cities from its request and will waive time limits for just 18 counties—most, again, in places that are rural and white.
It's unclear whether Kasich's administration is turning a blind eye to the racial disparity intentionally. But the policy continued even after its disparate impact was revealed over the last two years.
"I haven't seen any evidence to show that it was intentional," McGarvey of Legal Aid says. "But certainly at this point they know what the impact has been."
Rosa Parks arrives at court to be arraigned for the racial bus boycott in 1956.
At the end of last night's GOP debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked the candidates which woman they would choose to put on the $10 bill. Several of the 11 candidates on stage named their daughters or wives. Mike Huckabee awkwardly poked fun at his wife's spending habits in nominating her. "That way," he said, "she could spend her own money with her face!"
But Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump went for gravitas. All three picked Rosa Parks, the civil rights leader whose refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, to be the first woman pictured on US paper currency. "An everyday American that changed the course of history," said Rubio. "She was a principled pioneer that helped change this country," noted Cruz, clarifying that he would put her on the $20 bill, in order to keep Founding Father Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.
The candidates are right that Parks was a "principled pioneer," but her advocacy went beyond racial justice. Later in life, Parks was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood, and she even served on its board.
That's an inconvenient fact for the GOP candidates who have been eager to demonize Planned Parenthood. Throughout the debate, all of them repeatedly touted their pro-life records and vowed to defund Planned Parenthood. Cruz is currently leading the charge against Planned Parenthood in the Senate, threatening to shut down the government over a spending bill that includes federal funding for the women's health organization.
Cruz elaborated on that ongoing funding battle at the debate, honing in on the doctored sting videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal organs for profit—a criminal allegation that state after state has found to be false. "Absolutely we shouldn't be sending $500 million of taxpayer money to funding an ongoing criminal enterprise," Cruz said of Planned Parenthood. "And I'll tell you, the fact that Republican leadership in both houses has begun this discussion by preemptively surrendering to Barack Obama and saying, 'We'll give in because Obama threatens a veto.' We need to stop surrendering and start standing for our principles."
In one of the GOP primary debate's most memorable moments, Carly Fiorina put Donald Trump in his place for his comments, in a recent Rolling Stone article, criticizing her looks as he argued why she could never be president. "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?" Trump told the magazine. "Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"
The debate exchange came after Trump doubled down on his criticism of Jeb Bush for remarking last month that "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health programs."
"I think it will haunt him," Trump said during the debate. "I think it's a terrible. I think it's going to haunt him absolutely. He came back later and he said he misspoke. There was no question because I heard when he said the statement. I was watching and he said the statement."
When moderator Jake Tapper then asked Carly Fiorina for her thoughts about Trump's recent remarks, she turned the tables on The Donald. "You know, it's interesting to me," Fiorina said. "Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly in what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said."
The typically bombastic Trump responded sheepishly: "I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman."
On Monday, yet another deadly shooting—this time at Mississippi's Delta State University—made national news. At least one person was killed, and as of Monday night, the suspect had not been apprehended.
This chart, pulled from an unrelated Center for American Progress report published on Monday, provides timely context on the prevalence of gun deaths in the United States. The chart tallies gun accidents, suicides, and murders, and shows that the number of gun deaths in the United States since 1989 exceeds the number of American combat fatalities in 239 years of US history—from the Revolutionary War to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Note: The military total pictured in the chart below represents only the number of American military killed in battle. The absolute total of US military killed in wartime since 1776 is higher, at more than 1.1 million, according to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs.)
Here's how the numbers shake out:
Center for American Progress
The report does not just focus on gun violence, but looks at the positions of the current group of Republican presidential hopefuls on a number of conservative mainstay issues, such as immigration, climate science, and taxes. Titled "Right of Reagan," the report uses former President Ronald Reagan, considered by many to be a model of conservatism, as a benchmark for measuring the extremism of many of the candidates. It notes that while Reagan opposed the National Rifle Association on several issues, including background checks and an assault weapons ban, many of the top GOP contenders have been highly rated by the NRA for their unwavering opposition to gun control.
Most GOP candidates oppose closing loopholes in the background check system—loopholes that "enable criminals to evade the system and purchase guns online, at gun shows, in parking lots, and just about anywhere else," write the report's authors. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, said this summer that he opposes expanding background checks, though in his 2000 book he wrote that he supported an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for gun purchases. Siding with the NRA is a common strategy among the candidates, the report notes: The powerful gun lobby group is one "that many Republicans dare not cross."
Gov. John Kasich presents his 2014-15 budget proposal in Columbus, Ohio.
In the crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has earned a reputation as a moderate conservative on fiscal issues. He often brings up his empathy for the economic problems facing regular Americans, from burdensome health care costs to ballooning student debt and unemployment. Last year, at a biannual retreat for donors organized by conservative megadonors the Koch brothers, an attendee confronted Kasich about his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio. "When I get to the pearly gates," Kasich fired back, "I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."
When he arrives at those pearly gates, he may have some explaining to do. The tax policies Kasich has championed and implemented since he was elected governor in 2010 left Ohio's low-income folks worse off than they were decades ago. His economic policies have led to growing inequality in a state that should be in recovery. Median household incomes began falling in 2007 and continued to drop during Kasich's governorship. They are currently lower than they were in 1984, even though the overall state economy has actually grown healthier.
"The real reason this growth has not translated into gains for the middle and working class is that an increasingly large share of the state's economic gains has been directed to those at the top," wrote researchers David Madland and Danielle Corley in a Center for American Progress report published last month.
When Kasich launched his bid for governor in 2009, the state was reeling from the recession, when Ohio lost almost 400,000 jobs. Kasich's campaign promised to "right the ship," using leaner budgets to boost employment and helps recovery. His big strategy: phasing out the personal income tax in Ohio, a goal that Kasich highlighted in nearly all of his campaign speeches. He argued that the tax hurt Ohio's ability to attract businesses and new residents.
"We'll march over time to destroy that income tax that has sucked the vitality out of this state," Kasich said when he kicked off his bid for governor.
"We'll march over time to destroy that income tax that has sucked the vitality out of this state," Kasich said when he kicked off his bid for governor. He called getting rid of the income tax "absolutely essential" for the state, "so that we no longer are an obstacle for people to locate here and that we can create a reason for people to stay here." He did acknowledge, however, that the state's dire budget situation would make this difficult to do in his first term.
Nonetheless, when Kasich began his first term as governor, he sought to slash a different tax by proposing to eliminate Ohio's income tax on capital gains, the profits that come from selling off assets like stocks or bonds. Kasich is intimately familiar with the hefty benefits the wealthy glean from this sort of tax, having worked for nearly eight years as an investment banker at Lehmann Brothers. Had he been successful, roughly three-fourths of the cut's financial gain would have gone to the top 1 percent of Ohio's earners, while middle-class taxpayers would have gotten an average tax cut of just $2. Kasich abandoned the extreme proposal after learning that the measure might be unconstitutional.
Still, the two-year budget that Kasich ultimately enacted was filled with tax breaks for the rich that would simultaneously hurt middle-class families. The budget either created or tweaked more than a dozen tax breaks for various industries, including energy and agriculture. Policy Matters Ohio, an economic policy research nonprofit, pointed out at the time that the lost government revenue from the budget's tax cuts, new and old, would amount to about $7 billion a year—a big chunk came from money saved by industry and the wealthy as opposed to low- and middle-income families.
Perhaps the most debilitating cut Kasich introduced in the 2011 budget was the successful repeal of Ohio's estate tax. This was another tax he vowed to eliminate during his bid for governor, telling audiences repeatedly that the tax was driving out successful Ohioans. He's often joked that entrepreneurs were "moving to Florida," which doesn't have an estate tax.
"Toledo closed some pools," says Wendy Patton of Policy Matters Ohio. "What is the impact on the family when the children don't have a safe place to play for their summer recreation?"
In fact, when it still existed, the tax took just 6 or 7 percent of estates valued over $338,333—the lowest estate tax rate of any state—and affected only the wealthiest 8 percent of the state's residents. Nearly all estate tax revenue (80 percent) went to fund local governments. The tax's repeal meant that local governments statewide lost more than $200 million, leading to cuts in critical services, including public safety workers like police officers and firefighters, city planning, recreation, and emergency response. Cuts like this, says Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, tend to hit low-income communities harder.
"For example, the city of Toledo closed some pools. What is the impact on the family when the children don't have a safe place to play for their summer recreation?" Patton says. "This is more important to a family that can't purchase a pass to a private pool, and depends on public recreation centers. It's an issue of greater importance when you go down the income scale."
In the 2013 budget process, Kasich introduced still more tax cuts. His final budget package cut income tax rates by 10 percent and increased the state's sales tax, moves that tilted the tax system to benefit wealthier families. This is because while income taxes are progressive, meaning different income brackets pay a proportional share, sales taxes are regressive: When the same percentage applies to everyone, it cuts deeper into the overall income of lower earners.
"The move to a higher sales tax and a lower income tax exacerbates inequality," Patton says. "As the tax structure in Ohio becomes even more regressive, poor people pay a larger share of their income than wealthy people do."
Kasich often points to his introduction of the 5 percent Earned Income Tax Credit in the state as another example of his compassionate conservatism. A version of this credit—a federal tax break for low-income working families adjusted based on income, marital status, and number of kids—is also implemented at the state level in 26 other states. Kasich has touted Ohio's EITC, which he introduced in the 2013 budget, as an example of his commitment to helping the working poor.
In fact, the credit did little to help Ohio's poorest families for two reasons: first, because it is nonrefundable, and then because it was introduced in the context of other tax changes that disproportionately burdened the poor. Both the federal credit and most states' credits are refundable, which means that those who receive them often receive a greater refund at the end of the year. Not so in Ohio. Kasich's nonrefundable credit doesn't increase a family's tax refund—it can only reduce the taxes already owed. This primarily hurts those who need the credit most: low-earning households that owe little to no taxes. Ohio is also the only state that caps its EITC.
"If you pick up Psalm 41, you know what the first couple of lines are? You'll be remembered for what you do for the poor," Kasich said in a Fox News interview in July.
Kasich's credit was part of a budget that resulted in an overall tax increase for the bottom 40 percent of taxpayers, due to the rise in the sales tax and other tweaks. In 2015, for the third time in his tenure as governor and at the beginning of his second term, he proposed more cuts to income taxes and yet another jump in the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent. Ultimately, the budget compromise implemented an income tax cut (though a smaller one than Kasich had suggested), an additional sales tax for cigarettes, and an increased tax cut for businesses, among other measures.
Once again, the budget brought tax savings for the wealthy, and higher taxes for those who can least afford them. An analysis of the 2015 budget by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that about half the benefit of the tax cuts, totaling about $1 billion, would go into the pockets of the top 1 percent of Ohioans, while the only group that would see a tax increase was the bottom 20 percent of earners.
In spite of this layering of tax cuts, Kasich the presidential candidate has repeatedly trumpeted his commitment to helping the poor. "If you pick up Psalm 41, you know what the first couple of lines are? You'll be remembered for what you do for the poor," Kasich said in a Fox News interview in July. "You can't allow people to be stuck in the ditch. You've got to help them to get out…And that's what we're doing in this state."
But the reality in Ohio isn't so optimistic. "The tax cuts are shifting the tax system so it is more dependent on lower- and middle-income taxpayers and less dependent on those who are most able to pay," says Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio. "Wages have not gone up in a meaningful way for the bulk of Ohioans, and we are taking funds needed for municipalities and giving them to people who don't need it. It's a shocking set of priorities."