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Welfare budget

After decades of watching state welfare budgets increase by double-digit percentages, the economic slowdown finally hit.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons announced late last year those budgets will have to be pruned for the upcoming biennium.

Needless to say, those who make their livings off those tax collections are unhappy.

In an attempt to bolster the claim that a flat or reduced budget won’t meet welfare “needs,” those who lobby for such spending would like to be able to point to the ongoing growth of student populations in the public schools, as well as ongoing case loads for other welfare programs, including those that help homeless children.

Problem is, school populations are not up — they’re steady or down. And recent attempts to locate and count all of Nevada’s newly homeless children and families have encountered a similar problem: Advocates can’t find many.

Testifying before the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Clark County Director of Family Services Tom Morton reported he and his department have so far seen no increase in homelessness. An increase might be forthcoming “nine months to 12 months down the line,” if home foreclosures continue, Mr. Morton reported. But there’s been no such increase as yet.

Cue the caterwauling. The homeless are out there, they’re just in hiding, insists Julia Ratti, a representative of the Human Services Network. “They don’t know where to go” to be counted “because they have never done it before,” Ms. Ratti asserted Monday at a Capitol news conference, seeking to explain why all Nevada’s newly homeless people seem to have come disguised as empty sidewalks.

Added Amanda Haboush of the group Every Child Matters: “Just because someone isn’t getting services doesn’t mean they are not homeless or not in need.”

“These are families who are falling through the cracks,” asserts Jan Gilbert, former teacher and now lobbyist for the collectivist Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, who adds: “This is a time when Nevada’s children … need us to say ‘I will pay more taxes.’ “

Wow.

Yes, it’s worth keeping an eye out for families and especially children going without shelter. No one is saying those in real need should be ignored. That’s why we have churches, temples, missions, fraternal organizations and other private charities — organizations (unlike government) well-structured to avoid subsidizing the self-destructive behaviors that get many into trouble in the first place.

But the reaction of Democratic state Sen. Bob Coffin, who responded to all this Monday by saying the Legislature may have to set aside extra money for children’s services, remains puzzling. Mr. Morton testifies there’s not currently any such unmet need, and no one has any statistical evidence he’s wrong.

Yet Sen. Coffin — supposedly struggling to balance a budget in the face of declining revenues — asserts lawmakers may have to “set aside some extra money” for additional homeless children and families no one can actually find.

There is real hardship out there. Many have lost their full-time jobs through no fault of their own. It’s possible the “need” to feed and house the homeless will grow in 2010. But it’s equally possible the rhetoric decrying this as the “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” is a tad overblown. Unemployment and other signs of “depression” are not as dire today as even during the stagflation of the 1970s, let alone the 1930s.

Meantime, it was Louise Helton, state director of Communities in Schools, who took the cake, lamenting Monday that “people now are working two or three part-time jobs. They can’t find a full-time job. They are struggling to raise three kids. It is just getting worse.”

The problem with creating permanent jobs to succor the needy is that it’s in the nature of bureaucracies to look first to their own survival. Someone who really wants such Nevadans to succeed should be overjoyed when our neighbors show the resiliency and spirit necessary to take on several part-time jobs — whatever’s needed — to keep their families housed and fed.

Instead, there seems to be a frustration here that if not enough people show up with begging bowls, darn it, the “care industry” will just have to go beat the bushes till they flush out some more newly “needy.”

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