Robert Greenstein and other staffers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have deconstructed another of Mitt Romney's tall tales.
This particular one is the GOP front-runner's claim that Washington bureaucrats soak up most of the money the federal government spends on social programs so that very few the dollars actually reach the people they are appropriated to help. Romney's solution? Give the money directly to the states and let them handle administration. Oh, but first, whack off a big chunk of those dollars.
Romney's claim came on Sunday's "Face the Nation" debate when he said:
What unfortunately happens is with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead, with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs, very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.
Anybody who watches Foxaganda or listens to Rush Limbaugh or one his imitators all day long probably didn't blink an eye at that. After all these years of being cudgeled with their government-is-the-root-of-all-evil routine, that kind of statement is just, well, you know, like common knowledge.
And dead wrong.
Mitt Romney knows that it's dead wrong. And when you say something that is dead wrong, and you know it is dead wrong, it is called a lie. But it's campaign season and the objective when you're a politician without principles isn't to present facts, to tell the truth, but to provide the right emotional takeaway for the audience. In this case, it's, "oh, yeah, Mitt Romney is against those federal bureaucrats wasting my hard-earned money, so maybe I'll vote for him." In fact, you don't have to be a ditto-head to buy into this particular theme. Across the political spectrum, for many people "bureaucrat" has long been a four-letter word. It resonates because we've all had our run-ins with one or two bad ones.
The reality? Says Greenstein:
At least nine-tenths of federal spending for each of these programs (and in most cases, a higher percentage) reaches low-income Americans.
Romney said that “all these federal programs that are bundled to help people and make sure we have a safety net need to be brought together and sent back to the states,” and he specifically called for subjecting Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers to this treatment. He has also embraced the budget of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which the House passed in April, including provisions that would convert Medicaid and food stamps to block grants and cut their federal funding by $750 billion and $127 billion over ten years, respectively.
Not only are the federal administrative costs low, but many of them are incurred because the feds pick up state administrative costs. Those costs wouldn't be saved, under Romney's plan. They would simply be transferred to state governments.
The data on the six major federal funded low-income programs, as compiled from the latest available figures (from 2010) by CBPP, are as follows:
• Medicaid. Federally funded administrative costs accounted for 3.8 percent of federal Medicaid spending. However, all but 0.2 percent of that was federal money paid to the states to cover their administrative costs. The other 96.2 percent went for health care and long-term care for beneficiaries.
• SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Federal administrative costs accounted for one-quarter of 1 percent of federal SNAP spending in 2010. Federally financed state administrative costs upped the total to 4 percent of federal SNAP spending. Eight percent of total federal- and state-funded costs went for administration, less than 2 percent went for services for beneficiaries. Program money that went for food that beneficiaries bought: 90 percent.
• Housing vouchers. About 0.3 percent of the money went for federal administrative costs, 8.7 percent went for state and public housing authority administrative costs, and 90.9 percent went for rental assistance for low-income tenants.
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Some 92.8 percent of spending went for benefit payments to beneficiaries, with administrative costs accounting for the remaining 7.2 percent.
• School lunch and breakfast programs. 97.4 percent of the money went to schools to subsidize their costs in operating the school meals programs.
• Earned Income Tax Credit. More than 99 percent of the money dollars went directly to qualifying households.
Are there efficiencies to be had? Possibly, even probably. But Romney's assessment of the administrative costs doesn't come within a country mile of accuracy. As noted, that's not a slip-up, not an "I misspoke," not a staffer's bad judgment. It's intentional. All fodder for the Republican machinery being devoted to punishing the poor in order to pay for yet another round of tax cuts for the 1%ers while crowing about being good stewards of the public purse.