The economy's cratering and families all across Tennessee are struggling to feed their children. But help is on the way.
As part of the stimulus package, the feds are sending Tennessee $800 million for food stamps for the next two years. Good news, right? Not according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
He's fretting the money will make our food stamp program too generous and wondering how we ever will spend all that cash without unreasonably raising the expectations of poor people for full stomachs.
Ramsey's comments to reporters last week drew an immediate rebuke from House Democratic caucus chair Mike Turner.
"Let them eat cake. That's what he thinks," Turner said. "Our first priority in hard times like these is to make sure that people can eat. There are a lot of poor people in Ron Ramsey's district, and he needs to be looking out for the poor people in his district."
Tennessee has one of the nation's stingiest food stamp programs, contributing roughly $100 to a family's monthly food budget. At last report, one in six Tennesseans were receiving the benefit, and that number was going up fast. To be eligible, a family of four can't earn more than $27,560.
You'd think our elected leaders would be anxious to provide as much help for these families as possible. But for Ramsey, the issue is what happens once that money disappears in a couple of years. He worries that too many families will become dependent on the extra help and demand that the state keep giving it.
"It's my understanding that we're getting about $800 million for food stamps and that has to be spent over the next two years," he said. "Now, you could assume that there's $800 million worth of people who aren't getting food stamps. Well, that's not the case. We're covering the people now who are supposed to get food stamps. So what do you do to spend that money? You can either raise the check that they're getting right now to spend that $800 million over the next two years, or lower eligibility to get more people on. But if you do that, what do you do two years from now when the money runs out? I know how politically hard it is to take something away once it's been voted in."
Informed by the Bredesen administration that benefits automatically will revert to normally pitiful levels once the stimulus money disappears, Ramsey said he felt better.
Then he started worrying about having too much federal money to weatherize homes.
State representative speaks for God
An unidentified advocate for children's issues went on a blog last week to report on an alien encounter in Nashville. She said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, told her (A) that God might drop entire states, apparently starting with California, into the ocean as punishment for letting gays adopt children and (2) God-fearing Christians might secede from the union and start shooting minié balls at people if gays keep trying to adopt babies.
The Scene was able to contact the anonymous advocate, who said she can't give her name for fear of losing her job.
"If I take this any more public than I already just posted on the blog, I could literally be fired," she told us. "I was just shocked because Rep. Shipley had never met me before. I thought, 'How do you know I'm not gay? How do you know I don't have a gay kid?' "
Asked about all this, Shipley explained that the advocate generally reported their conversation correctly. But he wished to clarify that he was not ranting and raving at the time, as some readers might have assumed. Instead, Shipley said he was perfectly reasonable and calm as he warned God might drop Tennessee into the sea for the sins of its people.
"The way it was presented is a little bit out of context. But the fact of the matter is that being of that way of thinking, a conservative Christian, I do believe that God punishes us for things that are against his word. I believe that with all my heart. I did tell her, and this is in reference to the calamity of Sodom and Gomorrah, the parting of the seas and all those things that happened in the Bible, that if we misbehave as a people God could place calamity on us. I did say, you know, God could punish California or anybody else, he could slide it off into the sea, if it's not doing things that comply with God's word. It was a biblical reference."
Shipley added that he objects to the advocate's blog post because "it made me appear to be ignorant and I'm not, not even close to ignorant."
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