Over on his blog today, Stacey Campfield is now directing readers to a New York Times column by Tina Rosenberg profiling a successful international program that Mr. Campfield claims is very much like the one he’s now proposing.
“Well, well, well. What do you know? A similar plan to mine that would award government benefits only with child success in school is already in place in over 40 countries and having spectacular results where ever (sic) it is (sic) been implemented.”
Tennessee State Sen. Stacey Campfield
I read the NYT column Mr. Campfield references as offering clear support for his own proposed legislation, and bizarrely, I found that the international aid program Mr. Campfield says is “similar” to his own proposal is actually not very similar at all. In fact, its approach is pretty much the exact opposite of Mr. Campfield’s Big Idea.
The NYT column praising this international social program immediately makes this difference crystal clear with its headline reading, “To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor.” And that’s exactly what this successful program does; it pays poor mothers who are able keep their children enrolled in school with what is described quite plainly as “cash transfers.” And yes, only women can receive this stipend, an idea I can’t imagine Mr. Campfield ever endorsing, despite the fact that the NYT column states that this mothers-only benefits transfer system is a critical part of the program’s success.
The international aid program also offers payments to poor mothers who choose to undertake other identified health-promoting parenting actions, such as keeping their kids’ immunizations up to date. However, any low-income mother is eligible to receive the basic cash stipend, even if she does none of the incentivized “extras.” There is no punitive element to this program whatsoever; it literally PAYS mothers in poverty to do a better job caring for their children, rewarding them for every extra step they take toward a better life for themselves and their kids.
Clearly, this positive and successful approach is in no way the same as the one proposed in Mr. Campfield’s legislation, which would decrease the existing, minimal and time-limited cash payment to Tennessee’s very poorest families in order to punish women who don’t toe the line, Campfield style.
Another primary difference between the two programs is that women in the international aid system are encouraged to promote school enrollment and attendance – something that is generally (though certainly not always) within a parent’s control – while in the Campfield version, the punishment comes not only if children in poor families are not attending school, but also if these at-risk children fail to meet certain academic benchmarks while attending school. As any parent of school age children can tell you – whether that parent is poor or not – there are many factors that contribute to how a kid’s report card looks every semester, and if parents could control all of them, virtually every student in America would be making straight As. Many children who are not special needs and who do have very involved, attentive parents will sometimes struggle to maintain even a “C” average. Parents simply cannot guarantee a child’s grades, no matter how hard they try, period.
Thus, in slashing a struggling family’s already minimal public aid (topping out at $185 a family in Tennessee) based on a child’s most recent report card or test scores, Mr. Campfield is shifting the primary responsibility to poor children to perform in a way that won’t threaten his or her family’s already shaky ability to survive. The international aid program Mr. Campfield seems to believe is much like his own proposed legislation does not punish poor mothers for their actions, and it certainly doesn’t punish poor children.
Last, I would like to point out once again, just as I did in my previous post about Mr. Campfield’s legislation, that Tennessee’s public assistance program for very poor families already requires satisfactory school attendance by the children in those families. No family can receive aid unless their kids are enrolled in school and attending as required by state educational law. So what problem is it that Mr. Campfield believes this legislation he’s come up with will fix? Did he speak to any educators or to the people who run Tennessee’s public aid program before writing this legislation? I cannot imagine that he did, just as it seems unlikely that he made the minimal effort to actually read the existing guidelines of the state program he now seeks to permanently modify.
As a Tennessean, a voter and a mother, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Mr. Campfield’s true intent as he wastes my tax dollars by introducing bizarro and worthless legislation again and again is to gain momentary national attention. To what purpose, I have no idea, but his desire for the attention is clear. Mr. Campfield is well aware that this latest legislation has no chance of being adopted, or even gaining any support even among his fellow GOP legislators and conservative activists, who continue to distance themselves from Mr. Campfield in every way they can.
And it appears he’s once again been successful in his quest for attention, as the national media is now once again publicizing his latest stunt legislation.
Fellow Tennesseans – Republicans and Democrats alike – we must get this man out of our state’s legislature in the next election. I hope that we can work cooperatively to make that happen.
A final comment from me:
Over on Mr. Campfield’s blog, dozens of people – many of them his own constituents and most of them Tennessee taxpayers – have taken the time to read and consider what he’s written about why he believes his proposed legislation is a good idea. These readers have then taken even more of their valuable time to pose thoughtful and specific questions for Mr. Campfield in the comments he has invited at the end of his blog post. Yet, instead of showing these engaged citizens courtesy and respect by taking any of his own (taxpayer funded) time to actually respond to their inquiries in a substantive way, Mr. Campfield is, in my view, mocking these voters by re-publishing the same verbatim answer to every question. No matter what someone asks about his proposed legislation, and no matter how politely he or she asks it, this elected public servant just cuts and pastes the same few lines of text that in no way attempts to actually respond to these various and legitimate questions.
I have never, ever seen a real public official do anything like this. This isn’t an auto-generated “Thank you for contacting me with your question. A member of my staff with be in touch with you” type of constituent service response that busy legislators must sometimes use as initial feedback to voters. No, this is Mr. Campfield himself manually cutting and pasting the same insubstantial reply each time a citizen takes the time to pose a question to him. The fact that he behaves in this way is frankly weird. It’s just not the way legitimate government officials behave when interacting with taxpayers. I’m unclear why he is unwilling to have a substantive dialogue with citizens regarding his work as an elected official. That’s what we pay him to do. And in my opinion, we are not getting our money’s worth.