EDITORIAL: HUD rental hikes: As rich get richer, the poor pay
President Donald Trump’s administration is nothing if not consistent.
Take his Cabinet, which sports a roster of secretaries whose chief job qualifications seem to be a visceral opposition to the mission of the agencies they run:
- Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt is a climate-change denier who sued the agency he now heads more than a dozen times while attorney general of Oklahoma.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry famously proposed shuttering the agency while running for president. (An idea so imbecilic even he couldn’t remember it during a presidential debate. Oops!)
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had no previous experience in education other than a passion for privatizing it. Her lack of understanding of even basic challenges facing public schools was embarrassingly spotlighted in a recent “60 Minutes” interview.
And there there’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, a critic of social safety net programs in general and fair housing initiatives in particular.
Like many in the Trump Cabinet, Carson was not burdened by an overabundance of experience in the field he now oversees. But following his own failed campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination he endorsed Trump and the loyalty was repaid in the form of a Cabinet position.
Which Carson is now using to attack the very population the department was created to assist.
The former brain surgeon’s cost-saving brainstorm, announced last week, is to increase the rent paid by millions of the poorest Americans.
Not only has Carson proposed forcing those receiving federal housing assistance to put more of their limited incomes toward rent, he wants to impose work requirements on them.
The move follows an executive order signed by Trump — absent his customary signature-displaying pomp, understandably — that directed federal agencies to ratchet up work requirements for those receiving federal assistance, including food stamps and housing aid.
The request comes, of course, on the heels of the party’s budget-busting tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefit corporate interests and the wealthy.
For Republicans, evidently, it’s not enough for the rich to win; the poor must also lose.
But amiable soldier Carson responded quickly. His proposal would see rents triple for the poorest of those receiving housing aid: from $50 to $150 a month.
This from a man who thought nothing of spending $31,000 for a dining room set to appoint his HUD office. Like his Cabinet colleague Pruitt — who has wasted millions on first-class travel, posh lodgings, even a $40,000-plus private phone booth for his office — Carson thinks nothing of pampering himself with the dollars he hard-heartedly squeezes from the poorest among us.
How increasing the housing burdens on those now living hand to mouth will help them off of public assistance — Carson’s stated goal — is never explained. But the secretary tries:
"The way we calculate the level of assistance to our families is convoluted and creates perverse consequences, such as discouraging these families from earning more income and becoming self-sufficient," Carson told the Associated Press.
The consequences for poor families would far more perverse were Carson’s plan put in place.
Fortunately, that can’t happen without congressional approval. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is among those who have already voiced strong opposition.
Carson admits his proposals are “just the beginning of the conversation” with Congress and, truth be told, a conversation needs to be held. It is not income limits that keep the majority of poor Americans holed up in hovels, subsisting on paltry but desperately needed government assistance. It is a lack of adequate education, a dearth of employment opportunities, and the burdens in terms of health and criminal justice that go arm in arm with poverty.
So yes, by all means, begin the conversation. But not with a proposal to make life even harder for those who on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.