Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at The American Prospect. Her email is kthomhave@prospect.org.

Recent Articles

New Legislation Would Rein In Corporate Offshoring

It’s a necessary step in identifying progressives’ tax priorities.

As the president continues to extrapolate on all the jobs he says he’s saved from corporate offshoring, the GOP’s actual record on trade has prompted Democrats to target offshoring in a new bill. Last week, Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced the No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act and the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act. These bills aim to close loopholes stemming from the 2017 GOP tax bill that incentivize companies to offshore their assets overseas—or at least to make it appear that their profits were earned outside the U.S. Doggett and Whitehouse introduced similar legislation last year. The dangers these loopholes present are well known to policymakers on the left and the right. In its analysis of the tax law last year, the Congressional Budget Office warned that certain provisions , including the halved corporate tax rate for profits earned overseas and other loopholes, “may increase...

Another Way to Police the Poor

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the federal government was exploring ways to use social media to crack down on instances of disability fraud, even as applications for disability benefits fall.

This is not the first time that the government has looked to social media to investigate welfare fraud—in fact, such an intrusion of privacy is actually quite key to the history of public assistance programs. Back in the 1960s, welfare officials would regularly make unannounced home visits (sometimes even “midnight raids”) to women receiving traditional cash benefits to see if they lived in accordance with welfare eligibility rules. If there was, for example, evidence of a “man in the house” (no matter the casualness of the relationship), the woman would be denied her benefits.

While raids and inspections like these have generally been ruled unconstitutional, the state has turned to the internet to regulate the poor. It’s not uncommon for state governments to scan social media for instances of “welfare fraud,” which is, it is necessary to note, exceedingly rare.

The Department of Social and Health Services in Washington state is very clear on its website that it “focus[es] on the use of social media to identify EBT card misuse.” What they likely mean is that extremely poor people will often try to sell their measly food stamp funds—which can only be used to purchase food—in order to get a smaller amount of cash. This investigative program is operated by a federal grant that created a partnership between the federal Office of Family Assistance and law enforcement “to hire additional investigators and carry out online sting operations.” Indeed, Washington’s DSHS even celebrated the arrest of someone trying to trade their drugs for EBT funds. The agency’s press release began ominously, “Note to would-be food benefits traffickers. You’re being watched.”

Even the most progressive of local governments—like that of the District of Columbia—devote substantial attention and resources to cracking down on the ever-elusive welfare fraud. The reason that “program integrity”—the fancy way to talk about fraud—is such a priority even for progressives is so that they can pre-empt conservative arguments about people who use welfare who are seen as undeserving. (I would argue that’s not a battle that can be won.)

The federal government scanning disability recipients’ social media goes a step further than checking Craigslist or the Facebook marketplace. Under the new plan that the administration is developing, federal officials would look for evidence on personal social media pages to determine whether a person receiving disability insurance is disabled. Distasteful as the proposal is, it is also ridiculous—not to mention offensive—to assume that disability (especially mental illness) can be so easily detected.

“Just because someone posted a photograph of them golfing or going fishing in February of 2019 does not mean that the activity occurred in 2019,” Lisa D. Ekman, chairwoman of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, told the Times. And regardless, the experience of disability is so varied and personal it should not be up to the government to decide whether a person is or is not actually disabled enough for them to work. Laughably, the Trump administration pointed to telework—which some of its agencies are actively reducing—as a reason that fewer people should receive disability benefits. (Telework, of course, is not a possibility in every job—especially low-wage jobs.)

The dichotomy between those who are deserving and undeserving of public benefits, with the government as arbiter, lies at the foundation of the American social safety net. The plan to police personal social media accounts is an invasion of privacy—but it’s nothing that low-income people haven’t always experienced.

Q&A: Sometimes Bureaucracy Is Intentionally Complex

Most people hate filling out complex forms and have trouble figuring out complicated government regulations. Conservatives use this to their advantage—and progressives should too.

screen_shot_2019-02-13_at_2.21.06_pm.png I t’s a universal experience, having to fill out a long and complicated government form. You may have to pay fees to have that form processed or notarized. Too late, you might realize you actually filled out the wrong document. Missing a deadline, the fear of the consequences, and the endless worry compound your stress. Public policy scholars Pamela Herd and Donald P. Moynihan call these experiences and other encounters with rules, regulations, and the bureaucrats who enforce them “administrative burdens.” Using everyday examples like paying taxes and accessing social welfare programs, their new book , Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means , describes the administrative burdens that affect our lives in more ways than we realize, and how politicians can exploit these burdens to subtly and effectively make policy when their legislative attempts fail. Yet there are popular U.S. policies and programs that place few...

Amazon Is Giving Up on New York, and Activists in Nashville and Northern Virginia Are Energized

Like their New York counterparts, organizers in other potential sites of Amazon expansion want a more democratic process that produces more equitable growth.

trickle-downers_54.jpg Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is giving up his helipad—at least, the one planned for New York City. In a stunning move announced Thursday, Amazon is pulling out of its deal to build a second headquarters in New York, as “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project,” the corporate giant said in a statement. Amazon was to receive roughly $3 billion in tax subsidies in an opaque deal that was approved without input from local residents and local politicians (other than Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio). Amazon’s contest for its second headquarters, which had cities throwing money at the company, resulted in Amazon splitting its decision and choosing two well-established cities on the East Coast, Crystal City (a suburb of Washington, D.C.) and Long Island City, Queens. The company also...

Thanks to Trump, Payday Lenders Will Keep on Merrily Bilking the Poor

The government shutdown reminded us that millions of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck—which payday lenders will only continue to exploit if the CFPB has its way.

trickle-downers_54.jpg The cycle of the payday loan is a well-known horror story. A person needs money, and they need it fast, so they visit a payday lender with names like EZ Cash or Cash Express. They get their money on the spot. The trouble comes later, when it’s time to repay the loan. Most borrowers default on that small-dollar loan, which is how EZ Cash profits—as the loan is renewed or rolled over and the fees rack up. One of the last regulations published under President Obama’s director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Richard Cordray, was a 2017 rule that would have curbed the most-egregious forms of payday lending. The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed to revise that rule—aiming to gut a powerful provision designed to protect borrowers. The oft-cited statistic that the average American doesn’t have the means to come up with $400 in an emergency was thrown into sharp relief over the past month, as federal workers...

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