Some workers in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) are in an uproar after reading comments made by state Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, in a recent story posted at IdahoReporter.com about federal food stamps. Some DHW staffers feel the legislator's comment were degrading and inflammatory, while Thayn maintains there was at least a hint of truth in his rhetoric.
DHW policy prevents individual staffers from going on record with local media outlets, but that didn't stop one worker from placing a call to IdahoReporter.com to bring attention to the issue. The flap originated from Thayn's comments in an article about DHW's asset test, which is a thorough examination of the hard assets of a person or family applying for food stamps. In the past, if a person owned more than $2,000 in hard assets - travel trailers, boat, ATVs and the like - he would be disqualified from receiving food stamps. Gov. Butch Otter suspended the test in June of 2009, due to a slumping economy that prevented families from turning assets into cash to purchase food. When Otter's original suspension ran out at the end of May 2010, DHW felt the economy hadn't recovered enough to justify reapplying the test, so agency officials decided to suspend it for an additional year.
That decision riled Thayn and other Republican lawmakers who had given the legislative OK to Otter's original suspension in January. When asked about the second suspension, Thayn told IdahoReporter.com his belief as to why the requirements were lifted again. "The reason I believe DHW employees don’t want to deal with the asset test because it means they would have to work," said Thayn.
That comment didn't sit too well with several DHW workers. Thayn told IdahoReporter.com that he had received a myriad of e-mails from DHW employees about the remarks and that he even posted one of the letters on his blog. Here is what the DHW employee said to Thayn (name withheld for privacy):
I am writing to express some concern about a comment I read that supposedly was said by you regarding the Asset Test at DHW. Reporter Dustin Hurst quoted you as saying the following:
"The reason I believe DHW employees don’t want to deal with the asset test because it means they would have to work,” said Thayn. ”The whole philosophy behind federal food aid is wrong because we are missing a good opportunity to teach people how to stretch their food dollars are instead teaching people to become reliant on the government for sustenance.” Thayn
Mr. Thayn, I sincerely hope you were misquoted. As a "Self Reliance Specialist" I can assure you that I nor any of my fellow eligibility workers here in the Twin Falls office of the DHW are "afraid to work", in fact I have done nine interviews today myself and many of my co-workers have done just as many or more. Most days there is literally a line out the door in our office, which consists, I believe of a large percent of people who don't want to be here. Whether or not we have to verify resources for our clients makes no difference to me; what does however is the perception of the work we at DHW are doing. We may sit at a desk all day, but I can assure you that listening to people in crisis day in and day out and trying to give them just a little bit of help is very hard work. If you doubt it, you should try it some time!
Thayn posted his response to the worker, which said that maybe his words cut deeply because there is some truth contained in his statement. Here is what Thayn replied to the worker:
I believe that going out and determining the assets a person has would require more work. Determining income alone is much easier. Am I wrong on this? Second, giving food stamps to people only helps them in the short-term. It does not help them in the long-term. We simply cannot afford to get more and more people dependent upon government programs by paying them not to work.
The wealth of a nation is determined by the productive capacity of the people. As much as your work is supposed to help people, if you look over the last 45 years, the programs of the Great Society have done just the opposite. Until we come to this recognition and reform the system, our nation will continue to decline and experience poverty. If you would like to help me reform the system and modify it to help people become productive and independent, I would like your help.
Thayn did admit that he may have said the wrong thing to IdahoReporter.com. He indicated Wednesday that he should have said that the re-implementation of the asset test would mean more work for DHW employees.
The anonymous source within DHW who contacted IdahoReporter.com about the flap said that Thayn's comments came off as "disconcerting and smug." The source said that because the legislator doesn’t work at DHW, he has no idea of the caseload each staffer carries. "We are buried here," she said. "He obviously thinks he knows what's going on here ... but his statements were just careless." The source said that Thayn's words were particularly cutting at a time when the department has cut its staff by 126 and closed nine offices, which, she said, is putting more of a strain on employees statewide. DHW spokesman Tom Shanahan said that because of office closures, response time for casework may be negatively impacted.