Dr. Michael Forster

Do state leaders need a math refresher?

Try to make sense of this:

State tax revenues continue to lag, so on Friday the governor ordered more cuts in spending for the current year (ending June 30).  This has become a depressing ritual; Friday’s cuts were the sixth round of reductions by Bryant in the past two fiscal years.

Making a bad situation worse, next fiscal year’s revenue projection was revised downward, necessitating new cuts across state government even as the “old” cuts are made permanent.  New cuts (on top of the old) include 1% for K-12 education, 6% for community colleges, and 5% for the IHL schools like Southern Miss, in addition to another 5% for Health, 2% for Mental Health, and under funding of the Medicaid deficit (among many other cuts; the suffering is truly broad-based).

Meanwhile, the leadership acts as if it’s blissfully unaware of the revenue impact of 40 tax cuts made over the past five year (about a $350 million loss for next year), or that of $415 million in new corporate tax reductions that start kicking in this year.  Instead they point to a slow national and state economic recovery as the culprit (no doubt due to turn around any time now!), and show no signs of willingness either to delay scheduled tax cuts, or to impose new taxes. Instead they strike a “suck it up” pose in regard to pleading agency administrators.  “This is going to require state agencies to do more with less,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.  Thank you, Mr. Reeves, for that deep insight into fiscal prudence.

Does our state leadership really not get the simple math involved here?  Or do they really think that this is the government reducing “tough love” that Mississippi needs to improve the well being of its overly pampered citizenry?

Dr. Michael Forster

Republican health care act will be devastating to Mississippi

If there’s any doubt what a disaster the Republican’s health care “reform” will be for Mississippi, read Sid Salter’s column in today’s Clarion-Ledger.   Compared to the rest of the nation, Mississippi has more poor uninsured citizens, and greater dependence on Medicaid.  

Salter’s column reads in part –

“(I)n the poorest state in the union, Mississippi’s health care disparities create a huge problem in terms of paying for health care…

“How important is Medicaid in Mississippi? Well, about 46 percent of all federal funds received in Mississippi is tied to Medicaid. In 2011, 37 percent of Medicaid spending in Mississippi was for Medicare (health care for senior citizens) beneficiaries with 162,000 dual eligible — those eligible for both Medicare (by age) and Medicaid (by poverty).

“In Mississippi, the Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers 1-in-7 adults under the age of 65, 1-of-2 low income Mississippians, 1-of-2 children, 3-of-4 nursing home residents, and 2-of-5 people with disabilities.”

The “American Health Care Act,” presently sailing through a Republican-dominated Congress, will be devastating to Mississippi.  Health care costs will rise, coverage will shrink, health disparities will multiply.  Love Trump or hate Trump, this is not what candidate Trump promised.  This is not “reform” that we can afford.

Dr. Michael Forster

Advancing social work values in a hostile climate

Mississippi social workers are correct to complain, as one did to me recently, that “it’s hard to talk about social work values these days; we live in Trump country, you know.”  Hard, perhaps, but not impossible.

Fruitful discussion requires avoiding two traps in particular  – (1) the trap of defending specific flawed policies, and (2) the trap of wanting to walk away the “winner” of an argument.  I don’t try to defend Obamacare, for example; instead I say that we need a health care system that takes care of everyone at a cost that everyone can afford – my interlocutor included!  In the same vein, I do my best to avoid “arguments” to start with, and never, ever try to win one.  Far better to keep the relationship bridge open – “I appreciate your point of view.  You’ve given me a lot to think about.  Let’s talk again soon.”  With luck you’ve given them something to think about in the meantime too.

Values cut deeper than specific issues in any case.  Especially in hostile and perhaps heated contexts, focus on deeply ingrained cultural values such as the golden rule, shared responsibility for the common good, and compassionate response to the innocent.  Despite the stereotype, social workers are not “bleeding hearts.”  They know that people can be selfish, uncaring, even cruel.  But they also know that a mean spirit usually arises from circumstances of fear, insecurity, and ignorance.  Social work values are at bottom universal values, and universal values are at the heart of our deeper, better natures as human beings.  When speaking with our “tough” talking fellow citizens, appeal to that better nature.



Dr. Michael Forster

Private prisons love President Trump’s immigration policies

A USA Today story details the intersection of big donations to Trump-related PACs and big gains expected by the private prison industry – http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/23/private-prisons-back-trump-and-could-see-big-payoffs-new-policies/98300394/

Out goes the Obama order attempting to scale back federal use of private prisons, too often the focus of bribery and poor management scandals and prisoner abuses.  In comes tough new immigration enforcement orders that ensure a big increase in demand for prison beds.  Homeland Security directives call for the construction of new jails along the southwest border in particular, where a big jump in the number of undocumented immigrant detainees is anticipated.  Not surprisingly, share prices in publicly traded private prison stock have skyrocketed.

To apply a favorite Trumpian term to this plan to cash in on exploding human incarceration – DISGUSTING!


Dr. Michael Forster

Mississippi social workers need to watch, think, act

If you think this is bad, wait, it’s going to get worse.  The poorest state in the USA is likely to spiral down further under the impact of continuous budget slashing at the state level (Gov. Bryant just ordered the 3rd cut to the current year’s budget, the 5th in the last two years, and is calling for even more cuts next year), and eventual cuts to federal human services funding by the Trump administration.  As per usual, the most vulnerable will endure the most suffering.

The governor likes to say (I heard him on the radio this morning, and he said it again) that (1) he must balance the budget, and when revenues are down, as they are, that means cuts, and (2) Mississippi is not alone, with 30 or more other states enduring the same economic woes as we are.

True as far as it goes, but this line doesn’t go nearly far enough.  What the governor doesn’t like to remind us is that Mississippi, along with most of the others states in fiscal trouble, has seriously hurt its revenue by slashing taxes and refusing to enact new taxes of any kind, based on the false belief (a virtual article of faith on the political right wing) that tax reductions painlessly engender booming economies and robust new revenue streams.  When the boom doesn’t arrive, budget cuts to education, health care, mental health, public safety, public infrastructure, and just about everything else “public,” necessarily ensue.

Unless this rapid race to the bottom is checked, things can only get worse.  Last year (2016) Gov. Bryant signed into law the biggest package of tax cuts in Mississippi history, scheduled to start kicking in in 2018.  And we haven’t even started to factor in the financial impact on poor ole Mississippi of an expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act and federal Medicaid cuts.

Pay attention social workers.  We can’t assume that “tomorrow will be more or less like today.”  It decidedly will not be.  Watch. Think.  Act.