Separated at the Border

Off-Kilter Podcast
May 31, 2018 · 47 min read

How Indivisible’s 435 campaign is backing activists-turned-candidates to bring about a Blue Tsunami in November; how the Poor People’s Campaign is changing the narrative on poverty in America; plus a special all-immigration edition of In Case You Missed It; and more.

This week on Off-Kilter, it’s midterm season — the time when members of Congress come home to their districts to tell their constituents just how hard they’ve been fighting for them, and why they should send them back to Washington. For a look ahead to the upcoming midterms — and a sneak peek at how Indivisible is supporting activists-turned-candidates challenging GOP incumbents through the “Indivisible 435” campaign launched earlier this week — Rebecca talks with Indivisible’s Chad Bolt.

Next: One month after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, a group of faith leaders resuscitated the civil rights icon’s final project by launching the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. You’re probably familiar with campaign co-chair Reverend William Barber II from his leadership of the Moral Mondays movement. But less well known is his co-chair, the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, who has spent the past two decades working as an organizer with groups led by people in poverty, such as the National Welfare Rights Union and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Rebecca speaks with Rev. Dr. Theoharis about what’s behind the campaign — and how it’s trying to change the narrative on poverty in the U.S.

Later in the show: TalkPoverty.org broke the story last week that Ohio is hoarding over half a billion dollars in unspent funds for poor families — and how when a bipartisan group of 70 rural mayors asked to use just a small portion of it to help struggling Ohioans afford their water bills… the state said no. Rebecca talks with Jack Frech, who spent nearly four decades working in an Ohio welfare office, first as a caseworker and ultimately as its director, to get the skinny on what’s going on in Ohio.

But first: With horrifying immigration stories dominating the headlines, from families being separated at the border to people dying in ICE custody, Rebecca and Jeremy bring in a ringer — Claudia Flores, immigration campaign manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund — for a special all-immigration edition of In Case You Missed It.

This week’s guests:

  • Chad Bolt, associate director for policy at Indivisible
  • Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign
  • Jack Frech, former director of the Athens County Department of Jobs and Family Services in Ohio
  • Claudia Flores, immigration campaign manager at CAP Action

For more on this week’s topics:

  • Learn more about the horrific mistreatment of immigrants in ICE detention in this Human Rights Watch report — and (shot, chaser…) how LGBT immigrants are 97 times more likely than non-LGBT immigrants to be sexually mistreated while in detention
  • Check out this helpful thread to understand what the media got wrong about #WhereAreTheChildren (they aren’t actually “missing”) — and why it matters
  • Learn more about how Indivisible 435 is working to turn resistance into electoral power in every district in the country
  • Read Greg Kaufmann’s scoop for TalkPoverty.org which revealed that Ohio is hoarding over half a billion dollars meant for poor families
  • Learn more about how the Poor People’s Campaign is trying to change the narrative on poverty in America — and get involved with the campaign at PoorPeoplesCampaign.org

This week’s transcript

REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off Kilter, the podcast about poverty, inequality and everything they intersect with, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week on Off Kilter I talk with Chad Bolt of Indivisible who just launched a new campaign called Indivisibl 435 to support candidates challenging Republican incumbents as part of the ‘Blue Tsunami’ we know is coming in November. Next I speak with the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, she’s the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign for a look inside their 40 days of action currently underway. Later in the show TalkPoverty.org broke the story last week that the state of Ohio is hoarding over half a billion dollars in unspent funds for poor families and when a bipartisan group of 70 rural mayors asked to use just a tiny portion of it to help struggling Ohioans prevent water shutoffs, the state said no. I talk with a former Ohio welfare director to get the skinny on what’s up in Ohio. But first Jeremy Slevin is back with in case you missed it and because so much of what’s going on this week which I’m sure you didn’t miss but need to know lots more about is about immigration, we’ve brought in a little bit of a ringer. Her name is Claudia Flores, you’ve heard her before on this show, she’s the immigrant campaign manager here at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and she’s going to help us break down some of what’s going on in the immigration space because it’s a lot. Claudia, thanks so much for joining us.

CLAUDIA FLORES: Thank you for having me.

VALLAS: And thanks to you too Slevs.

JEREMY SLEVIN: Thank you.

[LAUGHTER]

VALLAS: So Slevs, I’m not even going to ask if you brought good news this week because I know you didn’t because it is a dark, dark moment for how the United States is treating immigrants and refugees and folks seeking asylum

SLEVIN: Yeah it’s been a dark moment but I think a lot of issues that have existed for a little while came to the forefront this past week, deservedly so. The first and biggest piece of news was that the Trump administration is forcibly separating families at the border. In some cases, migrants fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America, they are literally tearing children apart, in one case a one-year-old infant was taken from his mother, which had sparked outrage. It forced Trump to blame the Democrats for the policy, saying that it was a Democratic law, in fact there is no law on the books that requires this policy and it is a Trump administration policy that is being put forward by the administration. But there is also a lot of confusion because there is talk of missing children, 1,500 children who entered the country and who have reportedly gone missing, which I think many people conflated with the original story of family separation. So thankfully, we have Claudia here who works on these issues everyday who can walk through in way more detail than I, the different threads of what the administration is doing, what is new, what isn’t, what we should organize around and what we shouldn’t.

VALLAS: So Claudia, let’s start with the separating families including forcibly as Jeremy was describing at the border.

FLORES: Correct. So earlier this month the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced this new zero tolerance policy, which basically means that everyone who is caught crossing the U.S. border including asylum seeking families with children will be forcibly apprehended, detained, referred for prosecution and that means that many of these kids have been removed from their parents and has created this hallway of chaos on our borders and also prompted a new movement about what is happening to the treatment of children in the country and across our borders. So this policy is new, it is in fact, as Jeremy mentioned, something that Trump administration can end at any point. They have through a series of executive actions made it much harder for people to claim asylum in this country. They are using the cruel practice of separating kids from their parents as a way to deter migration. What is really wrong and really moving about this is that one, it’s been helpful to see how many people have been outraged by this policy but I think it’s important to understand that the initial reports about 1,500 children that were, quote unquote, “missing”, these kids are not missing. These are kids that the government for some reason or another has not been tracking given that in some cases some of these children may have been reunited with family members who are sponsors but the last thing we want and something that we saw the Trump administration trying to do and in some cases going after family members that were becoming sponsors for these kids.

So under the zero tolerance policy, one government official testified in a congressional hearing that in just a two week span over 600 children may have been separated from their parent. So we have seen reports about wide spread abuse by CBP, by ICE and I think what we are going to see because of this policy is that many more kids are going to be separated from their parents.

VALLAS: And the outrage on social media was just tremendous this week and I think a lot of people are reading for the first time accounts of parents being forcibly separated from children as young as a year, 18 months, literally infants. The picture that is burned into my brain from this past weekend when these stories were breaking all over the place was there’s actually a bus and maybe there’s more than one that ICE uses that is exclusively for babies and you look at the picture and it is literally all car seats, right, that are strapped into chairs throughout the bus. The thought that there’s at least even one bus dedicated to babies who have been taken from their parents at the border tells us almost everything you need to know about this White House’s immigration policy.

FLORES: And it’s important to note Rebecca, the parents are also suffering, right, they’re suffering not just only because they’ve taken their kids away but because under this new Sessions-Trump policy they are being prosecuted as criminal even if they have valid claims for asylum. So people are being jailed, they are being detained, in some cases they may be deported and questions remain about whether they will be able to reunite in time with their children.

VALLAS: So huge impacts on the parents but also and I want to note here the American Academy of Pediatrics even weighed in this weekend with a powerfully worded statement pointing out that we’re inflicting life long damage on these kids in ways that could even stymie their brain development because of the trauma that they’re currently experiencing at the hands of the federal government.

SLEVIN: And to paint a picture of who these people are because it’s so often caricatured not only by the Trump administration but in the media, these are not MS-13 gang members. These, in many cases, are a young mother and her child fleeing a country like Honduras or another country in Central America, which have some of the most extreme levels of violence in the world. Gang violence is rampant, which is why we’ve seen an uptick in immigration recently. And they make it, basically are fleeing [for] their lives in many cases and make it to the U.S., which we hold as the land of opportunity and they get there and they are not only criminalized and criminally prosecuted but they then have their child torn for them, a tool that throughout history has been used to criminalize and emotionally torture people. I mean family separation short of the death penalty, it’s one of the worst things you can do to a human being and I think this leads directly back to Trump calling these people ‘animals’. The only way you can do something so dehumanizing is if you no longer thinks of them as human.

VALLAS: And that’s exactly what we’re watching play out. You mentioned Honduras. Another headline that broke in the past several days was about a trans woman from Honduras seeking asylum in the United States who died in ICE custody, not the first death in ICE custody, actually the fourth in custody for ICE just this year alone. Her name was Roxana Hernandez. Jeremy, what was the story there, how did she come to die in custody of ICE?

SLEVIN: So this was a 33 trans woman from Honduras as you mentioned. So she was seeking asylum in the U.S., which means they are applying to be protected, often fleeing violence. The cause of death listed was pneumonia, as Claudia was explaining before the show, the reason someone might have pneumonia in ICE custody is they are often kept at sub zero temperatures. There has been documentation of serious health abuses at the hands of ICE by Human Rights Watch. This is the fourth death this year alone. There have been dozens and dozens of deaths at one single ICE facility in the past couple years. There was one man who ended up dying from cancer who they found his journal afterwards, he was treated with Ibuprofen. He pleaded with his family for help throughout the process. I think it’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around but the way our country is treating immigrants is on par with some of the worst abuses in history.

VALLAS: And Claudia, you were describing right before we started taping how commonplace pneumonia actually might be among people who are being detained because of specifically the conditions that they’re held in. This Human Rights Watch adds further color to that really documenting in painful detail what medical care looks like when people are in detention. But it isn’t just the Human Rights Watch report that came out in the past several days. There’s also a staggering new report from the ACLU finding that there’s also widespread about happening of children at the hands of the federal government. Claudia, what do we know about how kids are being treated?

FLORES: So first, Rebecca, since we’re talking about the trans woman that died under government custody, CAP actually has a new analysis showing that LGBTQ immigrants in detention experience far more horrendous things than other detainees. LGBTQ migrants who are detained are 97 times more likely to be assaulted. So not only are immigrants suffering from medical neglect and all these potential complications but it’s also the potential harms that they face when they are placed into some of these detention facilities, many of which are private run. In terms of the ACLU report, the ACLU conducted FOIA requests and received thousands of records showing that migrant children were in fact either sexually assaulted, abused, neglected by CBP officers. This is something that happened throughout several years and this is something that we can only expect to become aggravated under the Trump administration policy where a culture of impunity and this toughness that is really turning law enforcement into what seems to be monsters is leading to a lot of mistreatment of families who are seeking refuge.

VALLAS: Now in the last couple of minutes that I have with both of you, it’s wonderful to see the level of outrage that we have, it’s something I’m really hoping continues on unabated until there is an imperative for policymakers in Washington to act. Jeremy, you mentioned and I think this is something that bears repeating until it is deader than dead as the dead horse it needs to be for people to hear this and hear it clearly, there is no law in place that is requiring the forcible separation or separation at all of parents and children at the border or their criminal prosecution. These are Trump administration policies that this administration has put in place and now is moving aggressively forward with and so Trump’s calls to blame this on Democrats or his punting to Congress to say you guys should fix this are absolute and complete hogwash. Setting that aside and looking ahead, Claudia what can people do if they’re feeling this level of outrage but are done tweeting about it and wanting to take action so that they can bring about some change here?

FLORES: So communities are mobilizing. They are taking it to the streets across the country. There’s going to be, this Friday, a national day of action for children. You can to familiesbelongtogether.org where you can find information about local events and if you are in Washington DC there are going to be activities starting outside the White House at noon and we really want to increase the visibility of these children and these families that are being mistreated. At the same time there are plenty of family petitions that are if you just Google in family separation you can find petitions from the ACLU, Moms Rising, Move On and Women’s March, I mean the Women’s Refugee Commission has been doing this work for a very long time so just a click away to either sign from the comfort of your home or if you are able to physically join us just visit families belongtogether.org

VALLAS: And Jeremy, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this spate of horrors is not even close to the end of what the Trump administration is planning when it comes to inflicting intentional pain and trauma and harm on immigrant families. We’ve mentioned before on this show but not in a few weeks a policy that we have heard is coming, we’ve seen leaked and it’s something called, it sounds wonky, “Public Charge”.

SLEVIN: So we’ve mentioned it on this show before but it is not imminent, it is any day now, it is already gone from DHS, Department of Homeland Security to the White House, although apparently there are some issues and they’re haggling the differences, but essentially this policy would take what they’re doing at the border and turbo charge it for millions of legal immigrants. It would take, set and income test in order to become a citizen of this country. So if you need Medicaid, or if you have a child with a disability who needs Medicaid, or you even get the Child Tax Credit, you would not be able to become a citizen of this country. It upholds the entire immigrant process that our country has had for decades and honestly many people whose families came to this country would not be here if there were this kind of income tests in order to become a citizen. So that is coming any day now.

VALLAS: So something to be watching for, I know we’ve said a lot of hurry up and wait, which seems to be the way that things go with this administration but truly, truly horrible list of policies and practices and lots more to keep exploring the weeks and months ahead. Claudia, thanks so much for coming in and helping us understand what’s going on on these different fronts. Claudia Flores is the immigration campaign manager for CAP Action and Jeremy as you know, the Slevinator, what are you, the Advocacy Director of Poverty Things at the Center for American Progress?

SLEVIN: That works.

VALLAS: As well as other things as well as my ongoing faithful side kick. Thank you to you both. Don’t go away, next up speaking with Chad Bolt from Indivisible about how Indivisible is working to bring about the “Blue Tsunami”, stay tuned.

[MUSIC]

You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. It’s midterms season, A.K.A. the time every two years when members of congress comes hope to their districts to tell their constituents how hard they’ve been fighting for them and why they should send them back to Washington to represent them. To help me look ahead to the upcoming midterms, I’ve brought in my trusty friend, Chad Bolt, from Indivisible, who has terrible taste in television and movies but I have him back anyway because he knows things. Chad, thank you so much for coming back on the show.

CHAD BOLT: I’m glad to be back, Rebecca, even though everytime I come on you find a new way to embarrass me. My working theory on this is it actually just endears me further to your listeners.

VALLAS: That’s certainly the Jeremy Slevin approach to being endeared to listeners. So if it’s working for him I see no reason why it shouldn’t work for you.

[LAUGHTER]

BOLT: Agreed, agreed, I’m happy to be back and I can’t wait to be embarrassed again.

VALLAS: I don’t have anything specific, I don’t like actually show up to these segments with, “Oh I know Chad hasn’t seen the following, I’m going to bring it up”, it really happens organically. So I think you’re safe as long as we don’t actually talk about what you have and haven’t seen.

BOLT: Well we can actually bring the listeners in on this, I mean hey, just “at” [@] me in the comments.

VALLAS: That’s a great suggestion. So listeners, you heard it here. If there is something that you think is a must have seen such as “Seinfeld”, which Chad has not seen, such as “Ghostbusters”, which Chad has not seen, such as what else have you not seen?

BOLT: So the example that comes up is “Forrest Gump”.

VALLAS: Yeah but see, that’s not the one that I would get on you for, because I didn’t see “Forrest Gump” until college.

BOLT: Really?

VALLAS: Really.

BOLT: That feels late in the game.

VALLAS: I mean it was.

BOLT: I’m not one to talk because I still have not seen it.

VALLAS: You don’t have a leg to stand on.

BOLT: No spoilers, no spoilers.

VALLAS: But chocolate? Run, Forrest, run? You’ve probably seen most of the movie in life.

BOLT: I know the punchlines, I can tell you that.

VALLAS: So Chad before we get back to a place where I learn things about you that make me wonder why I love you so much, let’s actually take a look back at what Republicans have done since they’ve been running Washington, which really is the backdrop that leads up to the midterms. Well help us turn back the clock, well I wish we could turn back the clock but help us go back down memory lane to remember what Republicans have been up to since they’ve been in charge.

BOLT: Sure thing. And I think I’m just going to hit the greatest hits, especially as it pertains to working families so first, Republicans got to Washington and they have been promising their donors and the most extreme voters in their party for 8 years that they were going to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And so they hit the ground running at the beginning trying to pass Trumpcare. We all remember that would have left 23 million more Americans without health insurance, it would have destroyed Medicaid as we know it by ending the Medicaid expansion, which Virginia just expanded, 34th state in the control so that’s huge.

VALLAS: Not without it’s bittersweet components because the bill also including taking away Medicaid from people who aren’t working a certain amount of hours and we all know from this show how much I hate those policies and how much they hurt people but a huge thing to celebrate in Virginia even though it isn’t perfect.

BOLT: Absolutely, so the fight is not over there. We all know Trumpcare would have jeopardized coverage for people with preexisting conditions and dealing with opioid abuse and it would have given huge tax breaks to opioid manufacturers. And the conventional wisdom at the time was this is an 8-year priority of Republicans and they’re going to do it on day one. Of course we know that’s not what happened despite their best efforts. So they followed up their loss on Trumpcare, they came right back with another plan to make healthcare worse for people and give huge tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. Of course that was the GOP tax scam. 83% of the benefits of that bill went to the top 1%. Even though corporate profits are at record levels, we’ve already seen that workers are getting left behind and the vast majority of the benefits are getting paid back to shareholders and stock buy backs. And that bill also repealed the individual mandate, which CBO said is going to drive insurance premiums up at least 10%. So they came back in the New Year and decided that they haven’t given away enough giveaways to big banks and so they followed that up with the bank lobbyist act. That’s a bill that allows racial discrimination mortgage lending to go unchecked, rolls back key provisions of Dodd-Frank intended to prevent another financial crisis, CBO says about this one that it increases the likelihood of future taxpayer funded bank bailouts. We all know how popular those are. And then most recently we had the Farm Bill, which would have ripped away food assistance from families that rely on SNAP and we know Republicans are treating this as a test case for future work requirements on programs like TANF, Medicaid, LIHEAP but victory here. Thanks in no small part to your listeners and others’ phone calls, we were able to keep the Democrats unified here and so the at least first attempt of the Farm Bill in the house went down just two weeks ago.

So we definitely had those greatest hits in congress but not only did members of congress rubber stamp the Trump agenda legislatively, but they’ve also been complicit in his norm smashing.

VALLAS: And before we even get to that, that’s a lot to take in. I want folks to let this sink in for a second. So you just walked one, two, three, four major pieces of legislation, two of which actually involve a sixth of the American economy or more when you’re thinking about health care and then when you’re thinking about tax, Dodd-Frank also the rollback there, a huge share of the economy. But just to review, look a little bit of the through line here, we’re talking about a party that since it took power in Washington has had the following as it’s major legislative crusade. Take away health care from tens of millions of Americans to pay for huge massive tax cuts for their donors. They failed at the first part, they decided to skip right to the second part and just do that and now turn around and rollback protections that would keep us from spiraling into another economic crisis and then try to take away food from millions of people. Did I get all that right?

BOLT: That’s basically right. I think to sum it up, they keep trying to tilt the playing field further and further in favor of the wealthy and corporation and further away from the middle class and working families across this country.

VALLAS: And the reason I wanted to walk through those things and bring them together is that through line isn’t just a talking point. It’s not just something that progressives say a lot.

BOLT: Yep.

VALLAS: It is through and through the entire Republican agenda since they took control of Washington.

BOLT: That’s exactly right and as you said earlier, they’re going to be going home in the run up to November and saying hey, we’re working for you in Washington. I went there to get things done for you. And the facts and their voting records just tell a completely different story. They are not working for you. Their votes make clear who they’re working for.

VALLAS: Assuming that the you you’re talking about in this case is a person who’s not a friggin’ bajillion-aire who just got to buy a boat to put inside their boat because of the tax cut that they got.

BOLT: That’s right. If you are the owner of a yacht on which you are taking the mortgage interest deduction then congratulations, congress is working for you. If you’re a big corporation reaping record profits then your member of congress is working for you and anybody else, not so much.

VALLAS: So with all that as the backdrop of what we’re walking into in the 2018 midterms where I’m going to put this in massive blue wave emojis around everything that I’m saying. We’ve got everyone that I’m talking about talking about the potential for a blue tsunami. And for Democrats to potentially take back the House, maybe even the Senate although that seems to be a little bit less likely. So Indivisible, bringing this to why I have you here for this conversation. Indivisible started as a guide. It was a downloadable guide, it’s hard to even remember, that feels like decades ago.

BOLT: It does.

VALLAS: That that’s what Indivisible was literally like a toolkit for resistance. But that was of course where it started, a shout out to Ezra Levin who was one of the authors of that guide who’s been on the show several times and is a good friend. And then that became a hub for resistance and for engaging people who are new in many cases to political activism, to civic engagement generally. But now you guys have actually grown even further and that’s because a big part of how we change, how things are done in Washington you believe and I believe and agree is to change who’s running it. So what’s this new growth that you guys have just announced?

BOLT: That’s exactly right. So just yesterday we announced a really exciting new electoral program. It’s called Indivisible 435, 435 is the number of congressional districts and with this program we intend to compete in all 50 states, in every congressional district. And you’re exactly right. The Indivisible guide started as a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda. And it was intended to tell people that they had power and if they deployed their constituent power, they could defeat things like Trumpcare, and we did. We made the tax scam the most unpopular piece of legislation to ever become law. But over the course of those victories, defeating Trumpcare, even small victories like getting your member of congress to have a town hall for the first time in a decade. It really gave people, not only showed them that they had power but it also gave them hope in dark times. Indivisible 435 is another reason to have hope and another way to take back power and this time do it electorally. So this is really the next evolution of the Indivisible movement that we’re all building together. So starting with this program, every Indivisible group in the country now has access to canvassing and phone banking tools. We’re providing training so every group knows how to use them. We’ve doubled the size of our organizing group to support our groups. And this will help both grow Indivisible groups and support candidates in November. So if I can just take a second and talk about just what this actually means in real terms. So you’ll be able using these tools to canvass door to door using only a cell phone or tablet. So you don’t have to flip through your analog clipboard anymore.

VALLAS: Alright hold on, I like my clipboard. I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan and always have been of clipboards so are you saying I don’t get to use my clipboard?

BOLT: Look you can stick to clipboard if you want.

VALLAS: Chad, hands off my clipboard.

[LAUGHTER]

BOLT: Are we going to get #HandsOffClipboard trending?

VALLAS: I think we’re going to find based on who decides to engage after hearing this.

BOLT: Sounds like a dud to me.

[LAUGHTER]

VALLAS: Maybe not the next “Hands Off” social media campaign.

BOLT: What do I know? You can make phone calls to voters in your area, you can keep track of voters’ responses to questions. You can text now to help get out the vote and mobilize voters in the final days before the election. So these are all really exciting tools that we’re deploying to every Indivisible group.

VALLAS: And it sounds like for people no matter what their level of engagement in the midterms is going to be, whether that’s wanting to knock on doors and help with get out the vote activities or whether that’s just being informed about who is on the ballot and who is fighting for them, you guys have one stop shopping.

BOLT: That’s absolutely right and again, this is about competing literally everywhere. And we’re going to talk later about some of the candidates that we’ve endored and it really runs the gambit from blue districts to deep red districts and so when we say that we’re competing everywhere we really mean it. It’s about expanding the electorate, it’s about diversifying the candidate pool and it’s really about building something that lasts. This is not like we deploy these tools and we turn them off the day after the election. This is about building sustainable power starting in 2018, starting now and into 2020, 2022 and beyond.

VALLAS: So you at the time of launching Indivisible 435, so as we’re talking now and this week you have already endorsed 14 candidates so far.

BOLT: Yup.

VALLAS: And those are folks that you think are the kind of change we need to bring to Washington but they’re also taking on particular people who are some of the choicest examples of the folks leading the agenda that we were just reviewing in terms of fighting for the donor class and not for their constituents.

BOLT: Yep, some of the biggest rubber stampers of the Trump agenda are getting challenged in November by Indivisible endorsed candidates. And that’s really exciting.

VALLAS: So you’ve endorsed 14 candidates so far, you brought a few of them with you, not the people in person, I wish you had, that would actually be super fun if we opened the door and now all of a sudden had a bunch of candidates, maybe that’s a few segment.

BOLT: Andrew Learned what are you doing here in the Off Kilter studio?

VALLAS: Come on in! Oh look, yes, a friend of the show! But so actually that would be super fun to do at some point and I do want to have some of these candidates on this show.

BOLT: Absolutely.

VALLAS: So people can hear from them down the road. But you brought a few of them with you in spirit, as well as who they’re running against. Who are some of the folks you’re most excited about?

BOLT: So I should say first that the really good thing about this is that this endorsement process is ground up. So Indivisible groups, they’re the ones that know their turf the best and so they recommend to us who we should endorse at the national level. So that it’s really a process driven by our local groups. So we vet them and if they pass then they get our national endorsement. And we’re really excited about this because we think this disrupts the traditional gatekeeping that holds back candidates that may not have a certain resume or look or background that tend to get maybe party support or bigger support but they would still make great leaders. So our Indivisible local groups nominate folks for endorsement and so far we’ve made 14 national endorsements as you said, to elevate a new class of leadership. Some of them that I’m really excited about, first of all, Paulette Jordan. Running for governor of Idaho. If elected she would be the first Native American woman elected governor, really, really exciting, really excited about that endorsement in Idaho. We’re making endorsements both at the gubernatorial level and at the congressional level. Another one is Andrew Learned, he’s running in Florida 15th.

VALLAS: The guy who just came in the radio studio.

BOLT: Right, imaginarily yes. So he is a former US navy officer, he actually, the incumbent in his district is Dennis Ross, he announced his retirement the same day as Paul Ryan so that is now an open seat. It’s a district that Trump won by 10% but with his retirement we really think this one’s in play. He’s a really exciting candidate, we’ve also got Harley Rouda running California 48th. He’s an entrepreneur who’s been endorsed by unions out in California and gun safety groups. He’s taking on Dana Rohrbacher, you probably know that name. he’s one of the most infamous members of the Republican house caucus. This is a congressional district that Trump actually lost by 1.7% and when I say that he’s one of the worst incumbents, one of his worst votes was he voted for Trumpcare in the house. It would have meant that 41,000 fewer of his constituents would have health care, it would have meant that protections for his constituents with pre-existing conditions, all 316,000 of them would have been in jeopardy. He also voted for the bank lobbyist act despite the fact that following the financial crisis, California had three and a half million mortgage delinquencies. He voted to take us back to those same regulatory conditions that preceded the financial crisis.

Another big candidate, oh I’m really excited about this one Liuba Grechen Shirley, she’s running in New York 2nd. You may know this name because she fought for a ruling from FEC that she could use her campaign funds to pay for daycare.

VALLAS: That’s right, I remember reading about that.

BOLT: Which is huge and it just opens up the field, it means that we can bring new leaders into the fold for the first time.

VALLAS: It also highlights, sorry to cut you off there, you’re here in the groove Chad, you’re naming some blue wavy people. But it’s huge because what it also does is to shine a light on one of the things that is a huge obstacle to more people getting involved in electoral politics from the standpoint of actually running.

BOLT: Yup, that’s absolutely right. And she was actually someone who read the Indivisible guide and started a group and is now running for office.

VALLAS: That is so cool.

BOLT: So that’s amazing. And when I say that we’re competing everywhere, we really, really are. We’ve endorsed Jeramey Anderson in the Mississippi 4th. He’s one of the youngest state legislators in the country. He’s taking on Steven Palazzo. Steven Palazzo has gone four for four in terms of the bills that we just mentioned. He voted for Trumpcare, the tax scam, the bank lobbyist act and the Farm Bill so he’s really hit them all. And we’re hoping that Jeramey Anderson can take him out. Shawna Roberts, another exciting candidate that we’ve endorsed in Ohio 6th. She joined her Indivisible group and actually participated in die-ins in Senator Portman’s office while Trumpcare was moving through the senate. She’s now running for congress, taking on Bill Johnson, another joker that voted for all four of the aforementioned bills. Trump won this district by 42%. But when we say we’re competing everywhere, we really mean it and we’re building something that’s built to last so we’re really excited about Shawna running too.

VALLAS: And hearing you describe all of those folks and there’s a lot more where that came from so people can go to, what’s the website?

BOLT: It’s indivisible435.org.

VALLAS: So folks can learn a lot more about the other candidates that you’ve endorsed and there’s a lot more where that came from. A couple of questions but I have a quick reaction just hearing you tell the story of who all these people are and who they’re taking on. There’s been this conventional wisdom for some time now that Republicans are the ones who are more authentic. They’re the ones who are the outsiders and that was sort of how Trump ran. I’m this person who’s not from Washington, I’m not part of the political establishment but these people, some of them are folks who have been activists who have decided to become part of the change, it’s like the ultimate outsider.

BOLT: That’s exactly right. And if your Republican member of Congress tries to say that they are some sort of outsider or that they are the Trump brand of outsider, passing huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations is about as establishment Republican agenda as you can possibly get. Repealing the Affordable Care Act is about as establishment as you can get for Republicans and these are all candidate who have said absolutely not, they’ve all said universal health care is where we need to be and so they want to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act, they’re obviously taking on incumbents that would rather repeal it and throw it in the trash. And so the difference between some of these Indivisible endorsed candidates and their Republicans that they’re taking on couldn’t be more stark.

VALLAS: So in the last couple of minute that I have with you how are you guys making decisions about who you’re choosing to endorse. You’ve got folks making nominations, you’ve got questionaires coming in but how are you deciding who are the people you think Indivisible should be backing?

BOLT: Yeah so again, it’s really driven from the ground up. So a local group, a local Indivisible group, they’re the ones that know their home turfs the best. They decide to nominate a candidate and the first thing we do is take a look at that candidate’s campaign and their resources. We do a policy vet, so we have them fill out a really detailed questionnaire that we then share with groups so that the local groups can see how the candidate that they nominated responded to our questionnaire. Make sure that obviously they are aligned in terms of policy with our movement and then we make the national endorsement. So what does that mean when a candidate gets the national endorsement? Well, it means that they get —

VALLAS: I wish folks could see right now because you’re scrolling through this fabulous database of information and you’re like what does this mean? [LAUGHTER] Getting meta about it, I’m waiting for the broader meaning of life to come out of this.

BOLT: It means that they get additional support from our, our Indivisible groups get support from our organizers. Indivisible groups get additional media training to shine a spotlight on their support for these candidates. It means that they again, they have access to those canvassing and phone banking and text banking tools and plus it gives them the benefit of our national platform. So we are again talking about these, first several rounds of endorsements that we’ve made as these new class of leaders that we want to see sent to Washington.

VALLAS: So it’s a really cool and novel on ramp for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to break into politics and have a serious chance or at least not electoral politics because they, to be endorsed by you guys, you don’t have to have a whole bunch of baking from a national party or all sorts of connections that would make you the heir apparent to a particular candidacy. These are people who really in many cases knocking on the door from the outside and you guys are saying come on in, we think you’re the next wave of leaders.

BOLT: Yep, I just think such an exciting class of folks here in these first couple rounds of endorsements. We’ve got first time candidates, we’ve got women, we’ve got people of color, women of color, parents, young people, all different kinds of backgrounds represented here. Folks who after the 2016 election were upset and joined an Indivisible group and decided that the next step they wanted to take was running for office. This is a really exciting set of folks and we couldn’t be more excited to back them.

VALLAS: Well in the last couple of seconds I have with you, I know you hate getting this question but if you had to look into your crystal ball, early as it is in midterm season do you think that Dems flip the house?

BOLT: I think we stand a really good chance of it and again, I think it’s because these Republican incumbents are going to go home to their districts and say I’m working for you and I think the American people are smarter than that. I think they look at votes, whether it’s Trumpcare, which would have left people without health insurance and protections for people with preexisting conditions, whether it was the tax scam that gave huge tax cuts to the wealthy but did next to nothing for working families and the middle class. Whether it was the bank lobbyist act, which increase the likelihood of future taxpayer funded bank bailouts. Whether it was the farm bill that would have ripped away food assistance from people. I just think people see through the Republican charade of hey, we’re the ones on your side. I just think they’re not going to buy it. Folks know that Republican incumbents in the house are rubber stamping the Trump agenda and I think folks have had enough of that. I think we stand a good chance. It’s early to crystal ball.

VALLAS: Never too early to crystal ball.

BOLT: Especially not on Off Kilter.

VALLAS: Nope.

BOLT: I feel really good about our chances.

VALLAS: I’ve been speaking with Chad Bolt who you know because he’s a friend of the show, he’s one of the fabulous gurus over at Indivisible who’s going to be helping bring on this blue tsunami, bring it on Chad, bring it on. And I love him dearly even though he hasn’t seen Seinfeld yet but if you’d like to start anytime is a good time and then the next time I have you on I wont have to do this everytime. Take that as your incentive, Chad.

BOLT: I’ll catch a rerun.

VALLAS: And you can find him on Twitter because he’s worth a follow @ C H A D E R R ?

BOLT: Almost, @Chadderr.

VALLAS: I never get it right.

BOLT: Two D’s, two R’s. You can also go to Indivisible435.org and check out our electoral program.

VALLAS: Chad thanks for coming back and I’ll see you soon.

BOLT: Absolutely. Anytime.

VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.

[MUSIC]

I’m thrilled to be joined by phone by the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis. She’s the co-chair of the Poor People’s campaign, she’s also the founder and co-director of the Cairo Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice. Reverend thank you so much for joining the show.

REVEREND DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: Thank you for having me.

VALLAS: So the campaign is dedicated to the idea that quote, “People should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist.” What’s behind the revival of this campaign and how did you come to be involved with Reverend Barber in leading it?

THEOHARIS: So I have been involved in grassroots anti-poverty organizing for more than two decades now and I was introduced to the 1967, 1968 Poor People’s Campaign when I was organizing with the National Union of the Homeless and the National Welfare Right’s Union many years ago. And it’s really come out of grassroots organization8s of poor people who have said it’s a crime that 140 millon people live in poverty in this rich country. It’s a crime that 250,000 people die every year more than die from heart attacks and cancer and strokes combined from poverty. How can we live in a rich country, a rich world and have people without food, without housing, without health care? And so out of that and out of the cry and organizing work from grassroots communities across the country we’ve come forward to call for and launch the Poor People’s Campaign, the National Call for Moral Revival and to be carrying out these 40 days of action as a launch for a longer and deeper campaign to organize the poor, to connect people and moral leaders and clergy and activists and advocates into a broader based fusion society movement that can actually change things from the bottom up.

VALLAS: So you mentioned in describing the purpose of the campaign and what it’s about, you mentioned 140 million people in this country who are living in poverty. And that’s a different number than the number that gets used that comes out of the Census Bureau every year and the official number that people are maybe familiar with is something more like 43 million Americans living officially in poverty but a big part of what you guys have been doing through this campaign has been trying to open eyes that that official measure of poverty is really friggin’ pathetic when it comes to describing what it takes to live in this country and not be struggling to make ends meet.

THEOHARIS: That’s right. So there’s 140 million poor people comes from using the Supplemental Poverty Measure. So the official poverty line like you were talking about is based on kind of arcane formula based on food from many, many decades ago and it famously says that if you’re a family of four and you’re making more than $24,000 a year as a family, you’re not poor. Or if you’re a single individual and you’re making $12,000 you’re not poor. But our research has shown and people’s story of their lives have shown that you can’t afford, the majority of cities across this country, people cannot afford a two bedroom apartment if they’re making the federal minimum wage, right? So part of what this campaign is about is demanding that people should have living wage jobs. Is demanding that people should have single payer universal health care. But it’s also demanding we need to broaden our definition and understand of poverty because so many poor people are experiencing poverty in this rich country. And that we have 4 million households that have water, when they turn on their water, leaded water comes out, that 13 million households in this country can’t really afford water or are on the verge that 40% of people in this country could not afford a $400 emergency expense without basically becoming homeless or having to have dire, dire circumstances. So this problem of poverty isn’t something that effects just people in urban areas or just people in rural areas, it isn’t something that effects people of just one particular racial or ethnic group or gender or one sexuality or one religion. Poverty disproportionately impacts women, it disproportionately impacts people of color, it disproportionally impacts queer people but it effects people from all walks of life, all ages and is growing ever in our world today and in our society today.

VALLAS: And a big part of why I zoomed in on that number in particular and a big part of the power of that number, 140 million is it tells a very different story and it communicates a very different message to people who hear it than when they think about just some very narrow slice of the population who we’ve been led to believe by headline statistics are the people who are struggling to make ends meet in this country. Poverty is much more of an ‘us’ than it is a ‘them’ when you start to think about it meaningfully in terms of what it takes to be able to make ends meet in America in the 21st century. A couple of studies that we mentioned on this show last week actually helped to underscore how much more right that 140 million number is than the much smaller 43 million number of the official poverty statistic. We heard from the United Way that nearly half of American households don’t earn enough to afford basically like food and housing and health care and we learned from the Federal Reserve that 4 in 10 Americans don’t even have $400 in the bank. So a big part of what you guys have been so successful at doing since the campaign launched is really starting to open eyes to that us quality of poverty as opposed to that them.

THEOHARIS: I think that’s exactly right and I think to be able to turn things around, to be able to ensure that everyone has living wage jobs, that everyone has an adequate standard of living, that decent housing for everyone then what we need to do is build a big movement and to build a big movement it means that people have to come together across all the lines that currently divide us, whether that’s geography, whether that’s race, whether that’s sexuality, whether that’s gender, whether that’s religion and I think by showing the reality of who is impacted by poverty, who is impacted by low wealth, who is impacted by economic insecurity is to show how hopeful it is that we can come together and make sure that everyone gets what they need to thrive, not even just barely survive.

VALLAS: So the first phase of the campaign is 40 days of direct actions, teach ins, cultural events and I’m actually speaking to you right after you’ve just gotten out of jail for the third week in a row. You’ve been arrested now several times in the course of these direct actions. I’d love to hear a little bit about what you got arrested for.

THEOHARIS: So all across the country in more than 30 states and in Washington DC poor people and moral leaders, advocates and activists have committed to doing actions on Mondays. This week because of Memorial day the action was on Tuesday and those actions are focused on the intersections between systemic racism and poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy showing how all of these evils are connected and showing that we have to put ourselves out there and put our bodies on the line being willing to engage in non-violent disobedience in order to call attention to the problem, the urgency of the problem and be able to put forward the sets of demands that we have. Demands like automatic registration at the age of 18, demands like universal single payer health care, demands like education that is equitable and free even into higher education. So we in Washington DC yesterday went into the Senate Russell building outside of Mitch McConnell’s office making connections between the war economy and how 53 cents of every discretionary dollars goes to the military when only 15 cents goes to poverty programs and we had veterans there who were talking about this war on the poor that is going on and why we need to organize and why we need to engage in direct action.

VALLAS: So in the last couple of minutes that I have with you what lies ahead for the campaign and what does success look like? What are you guys seeking out to achieve with these 40 days of action and where does it go from there?

THEOHARIS: So I think we actually have already seen a lot of victories. The fact that across of all of these different lines, lines that people say are not possible to cross, between race, to have poor white people and poor Latino folks and poor Black folks and poor Native folks all organizing together in states like Kansas and Alabama and Mississippi and Alaska and Vermont and everywhere in between. And putting together a proactive vision and a set of demands that are very possible. They’re completely within reach. The question is do we have the political will to make them happen. To have people already coming together and organizing, being a part of these state coordinating committees for the Poor People’s Campaign that are not just interesting in doing 40 days of mobilizing and education and organizing but are in it for the long haul. So we will continue, we have three more weeks of the 40 days and we’ll have a big rally on June 23rd in Washington DC that will be a call to action and a next step where folks will be sent back to their states, back to their locales to keep organizing, organizing, organizing and we really see this as the beginning of a state based national movement to unite and organize poor people and to be able to win all kinds of concrete demands as well as to get people organizing in order to show that something different is happening and something different is needed than the current status quo.

VALLAS: And what a timely moment to be having that final action in DC given that that seems to be the week we may be seeing the House try to vote yet again on a farm bill that would take away food assistance from millions of Americans. No better time for congress to be hearing from this amazing and growing movement. I’ve been speaking with the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, she’s the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. She’s also the founder and director the Cairo Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice. Reverend thank you so much for this amazing work and for taking the time to join the show.

THEOHARIS: Thank you for having me and hope that everyone can get involved by going to poorpeoplescampaign.org and finding an action near you.

VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.

[MUSIC]

You’re listening to Off Kilter I’m Rebecca Vallas. Ohio is sitting on over half a billion dollars in unspent funds for poor families as much colleague Greg Kaufmann reported for TalkPoverty.org last week. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 70 rural mayors in the state asked to use a tiny portion of those funds to help struggling families afford their water bills and the state said no. to unpack what’s going on in Ohio, I’m joined by Jack Frech. He’s former director of the Athens Country Department of Jobs and Family Services in Ohio and before that a former welfare case worker among other things. Currently he’s a VISTA volunteer with the mayor’s partnership for progress, a coalition for makes from 15 Ohio Appalachian counties. Jack thanks so much for joining the show.

JACK FRECH: Thanks so much for having me.

VALLAS: So I teed up Ohio with some pretty big numbers, half a billion dollars, more than half a billion dollars the state is currently hoarding effectively in funds that it received from the federal government that were intended for some of the poorest families in the state and that’s through a program called TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. How did it come to be that the state had so much in unspent money meant for poor families.

FRECH: Well essentially when Ohio took a very harsh stand on implementing the work requirements which as we know was from changes in the TANF rules during one of the previous reauthorization and out of fear of not hitting the participation, 50% participation goals, Ohio took a very, very harsh stance on having people meet the work requirements. Of course, I was running a welfare department during all of those years and we know at the time particularly in rural Ohio, these poor families, almost none of them had transportation. That was the huge, biggest problem at hand plus the fact that benefits were so low that they had a hard time finding a place to live with a stable address, just numerous barriers including health problems and lots of other issues and we knew they were not going to be able to meet those standards but the state was very, very insistent on pressing these work requirements and as a result the caseloads started dropping dramatically back in 2011 and have dropped continually since then.

VALLAS: So this wasn’t a story of oh people just didn’t need help anymore. To be clear, this was the state making the program even stingier, holding on to the money instead of giving it to families in need.

FRECH: Yes, and of course even the families who met the work requirements were living on $300 or $400 a month. Even if they did everything required of them, they still were struggling to survive. So I mean we were stingy on every possible front that we could be and still are. And that is a large part of that unspent funds accumulated as a result of that but part of the issue too is that because there were so few people on TANF many of the counties weren’t even spending their administrative funds, they weren’t spending their direct service funds and the state had invested heavily in child care and the state was also not even spending all of the funds set aside for child care. So combination of all those things led over the years to a higher under-spending their TANF funds each year and particularly in the last four or five years that money finally piled up to be able $579 million of unspent funds.

VALLAS: And to give people a sense of context here we’re talking about a program that nationally is $16.5 billion, that is the stream of federal funding that goes to 50 states and to DC and we’re talking now about Ohio have amassed a sum the size of more than half a billion dollars. That is how, when you consider how small the stream of money going into states for this purpose is you get a sense of how unbelievable it is that Ohio has managed to end up with this large a sum in unspent money.

FRECH: Ohio’s annual allocation is about $728 million I believe and the $570 million figure by the way is as of last July, since that time, this is almost another whole year the caseloads have continued to drop so my guess is it’s considerably higher than that now. So it’s almost a whole years worth of money. The truth is that homeless shelters are packed in our state. Families are double and tripling up in their house and the USDA quality control reports confirm that well over 20% of people on food stamps has zero cash income, none whatsoever. And clearly that number has risen over this whole time as we storm people off cash assistance. So that combined with the people that we’re now throwing off food stamps because they don’t meet the work requirements for that program, the adults without dependents, it’s devastating, every time of that money is coming out of the pockets of a poor family and a poor community. So when you think about taking a half billion dollars it’s not like we’re talking a half billion dollars out of the richest people in the state, we’re taking out of the pockets of the absolutely poorest.

VALLAS: Now you are not just talking about sitting on money. There’s more to this story and I mentioned that a bipartisan set of mayors from rural parts of the state went to the state and said hey, we know you’ve got this money, this is a lot of money, we’re not asking for much of it but could we just a little bit, I think it was about $15 million dollars to help some families who are some of the hardest hit folks in this state afford to keep their water on and prevent water shutoffs and some other purposes as well. What happened and tell the rest of that part of the story?

FRECH: Well my current role is a VISTA volunteer, I’m working with this group of mayors from 15 Appalachian counties and in our discussions they noted the fact that people are struggling trying to pay their water bills and of course there are other issues that they’re aware off too. People not having soap, not having diapers. In these small communities they know families who have zero income personally. They know these folks. And so in my discussion with them and pointing out that there was a considerable amount of unspent money, at the time we applied for this we only thought there was about $200 million and we asked for $12 million. $8 million was to help people with their water bills and $4 million to help people get diapers, soap, things like that put in their food boxes. Upon further discovery when we actually got copies of the federal reports we found out that that unspent balance was really $570 million. And the state sat there without the [INAUDIBLE] for six, seven months, just studying it and ultimately, maybe in the last few weeks they notified us that they were going to give us $500,000 of Community Services Block Grant money, not the TANF money that unspent by Community Services Block Grant money that typically goes to community action agencies. And basically the response from the mayors has been well thank you we can use that money for families who don’t have children but we still need that $12 million. Our people are hurting out here today, all day, every day and there’s no justification for that so the mayors have renewed their request to the state to get our $12 million.

VALLAS: So now take us to present day. A part of why the state said they didn’t want to open up their coffers to share some of the money meant for poor families with poor families is because they want to use it for a different purpose. You mentioned that they’ve invested heavily over the years in child care and that’s what they say they’re holding onto this money for but you and other advocates are skeptical that that’s really where the money’s going to go.

FRECH: Well basically what they’re saying is they’re going to spend the money to improve the quality of childcare, this program where they reimburse providers who meet higher standards. The reality is that they’re actually losing day care providers because people cannot meet those higher standards, that’s what’s really going on. And in our area in particular, the Appalachian counties, we’ve lost 30% of our childcare here because our folks cannot meet the requirements that involve doing your billing and training and everything online. Because our people don’t have computers or internet access. So those benefits would not help us anyway but in general the state is not spending that money. Then on top of that, as you know in the recent federal budget that passed, the amount of money they’re getting for childcare in the Child Care Block Grant just doubled. So they literally don’t need this money at all. They have more than enough childcare money to spend to meet the needs they have and their argument makes no sense but it’s pretty clear to me that they just don’t want to spend the money to help these people.

VALLAS: Now something that you have pointed out in the past and I think is important to bring into this conversation as well in particular because we are still in the throws of a fight over a farm bill that was defeated momentarily in the house. It would have taken away food assistance from 2 milliion Americans. But you have looked at what as happened in Ohio not just on TANF spending but also on spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program, SNAP formerly known as food stamps. And you found that it’s not just TANF the state has made so stingy that they are spending dramatically less on poor families in need. It’s also SNAP.

FRECH: Exactly, they took also a very harsh stance on the work requirements for able bodied adults. And again it’s the same problem, those people even more so are more likely not to have any cash income whatsoever because there is no financial assistance for them. So as a result they don’t have addresses, they don’t have transportation, they have no way to get to do work assignments. They’re set up to fail systemically. And of course when they do they throw them off food stamps as well. So on one hand, we have this growing number of people on food stamps with zero income and now we’re actually throwing people off food stamps as well. The thing about the farm bill and that whole discussion that just baffles me is I’ve ran a welfare department all those years and the fraud rate and the error rate is like 3 or 4%, the fraud rate is only half of that. It’s a really small percentage of what’s going on out there. And yet for five or six years now we’ve been looking at rates of people on food stamps with no cash income as being 20%, so how you can look at this program and decide that the biggest problem we’re facing today is fraud and not look at the bigger, much bigger issue, which is 20% of the people have no cash whatsoever and therefore must go hungry or homeless. There’s no discussion about that and instead spend all your time talking about the 2 or 3% that maybe involved in some kind of error. It just baffles me, particularly there in Washington DC where the rate of people food stamps with no cash income in DC is 33%, 33%. So that doesn’t seem to be even part of the discussion in the farm bill.

VALLAS: And of course, food stamps, we’re talking a program that provides on average $1.40 per person per meal, so imagine that not just as your food budget but as your budget if you’re someone who has no other source of income aside from what is helping you buy meager groceries. In the last minute or so that I have with you, Jack, you spend a long time working in the welfare office in Ohio. I mentioned that you ran it for a while before that you actually worked your way up as a welfare caseworker and a social worker. What takeaways and perspective do you have in this particular political moment that we’re in after three to four decades of working in a welfare office?

FRECH: I think what keeps me up at night is the fact that when I started as a welfare caseworker in 1973, that was the best that we were going to be treating poor people ever in my career. Poor families today are far, far worse off. Families that I deal with today and have been dealing with are much worse off then in 1973. The benefits they get back in those days the cash assistance and food stamps were just about bringing you up to at least 70%, 80% of the upper poverty level and we had cash assistance for adults. We had a more reasonable welfare system, something that had a little bit of compassion in. I don’t see any of that anymore. We’ve eliminated whole programs, we’ve cut benefits for people. We treat children as though they are not our most precious commodity. There are more children in Ohio now living households with no cash income than there are left on welfare. I never thought I would see that day but it’s bad and I see very little discussion on the horizon that’s going to turn that around.

VALLAS: I’ve been speaking with Jack Frech, he’s the former director of the Athens County Department of Jobs and Family Services A.K.A the welfare office in that county in Ohio. Before that he was a welfare case worker and social worker, many other roles that he’s played and currently he is a VISTA volunteer with the mayor’s partnership for progress, a coalition of mayors from 15 Ohio Appalachian counties. Jack thank you so much for what you’re doing to try to help poor families in Ohio and I’m hoping that further attention to what the state is doing and the money it’s sitting on instead of helping people in their time of need spurs some level of change in the weeks and months ahead.

FRECH: Rebecca thank you and thank you too for shining a light on this issue. I can’t thank you enough for that.

VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s episode of Off Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas, the show is produced each week by Will Urquhart. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @offkiltershow and you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the WeAct Radio Network or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.

This program aired on May 31st, 2018

Off-Kilter Podcast

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Off-Kilter is a podcast about poverty and inequality — and everything they intersect with. Hosted by Rebecca Vallas and powered by CAP Action.