Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at the Prospect.

Recent Articles

Senator Cassidy’s Home State of Louisiana Gets Hit Hard by the Doctor’s Bill

The Graham-Cassidy bill is atrocious. “Shifting of responsibility” for health care to states simply means fewer federal dollars for most states—but that’s not unexpected. Many Republicans have made it clear that their main focus is to get rid of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act by any means necessary. Unfortunately, this particular proposal doesn’t just repeal the ACA (and with it, its marketplace subsidies and many protections for those with pre-existing conditions), it also includes massive cuts to Medicaid. For the thousands of people that gained health-care coverage through the Medicaid expansion, it’s going to hurt.

And it’s going to particularly hurt people in Senator Bill Cassidy’s home state of Louisiana.

The poverty in Louisiana, as it is across the South, is devastating—and Louisiana consistently ranks at the bottom in just about every measure related to economic hardship and its effects—it has the second highest poverty rate, second highest income inequality, third highest infant mortality rate, and the fourth lowest median household income. The rates are even starker for African Americans and other people of color. (The expression “Thank God for Mississippi,” is mean-spirited, but it does speak to a sad reality: If it weren’t for Mississippi, Louisiana and some other southern states would often be dead last in such rankings.)

When Louisiana voters elected Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor last year, the first thing he did was to expand Medicaid to thousands of Louisianans. Not only does Graham-Cassidy end the Medicaid expansion by 2020, but it also caps and cuts Medicaid funding for vulnerable populations like families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The proposed block grants are structured so that states that expanded Medicaid are effectively punished. Louisiana stands to lose $7.2 billion in federal funding by 2027—when the block grants dry up completely.

But Medicaid expansion was a lifeline to many in Louisiana. By June 2017, one year after coverage began for the expansion population, more than 433,000 Louisianans gained health insurance. The uninsured population, which was a staggering 21.7 percent in 2013, dropped to 12.1 percent. Thousands were able to access preventative care and screenings.

Senator Cassidy, a physician who treated poor people in the state’s charity hospital system, will not only vote to ruin the health and well-being of Louisiana residents—he helped write the prescription.

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s health secretary, sent a letter to Cassidy (which she shared on Twitter) decrying the proposed bill, noting that it “gravely threatens health care access and coverage for our state and its people.” She said that ending Medicaid expansion is “a detrimental step backwards for Louisiana.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial board also criticized the bill, noting that a doctor like Cassidy shouldn’t be party to such “a dramatic erosion of coverage.”

In 1935, Huey Long, the legendary Louisiana governor and U.S. senator, told his critics, “All I care is what the boys at the forks of the creek think of me.” Today it seems that Senator Cassidy just wants to send his constituents down that creek without a paddle.

Fewer on Food Stamps, But Hunger Persists

An economy in recovery means some families and individuals no longer need as much help. But hungry people who do are being pushed off the program.

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews Fears of deportation have deterred many undocumented immigrants, including Rose, and her children Egard and Olga, from using food stamps. A lthough some regions of the country are still reeling from the Great Recession, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation has been steadily falling. And recently, the decline in SNAP recipients has been particularly dramatic—the number of individuals reliant on SNAP (also known as food stamps) fell by more than two million people between June 2016 and June 2017. The best explanation for this drop-off is that the economy is finally improving , and former SNAP recipients have found jobs that push their incomes over the SNAP income eligibility limits. But a recovering economy may not be the only factor contributing to this decline. There are two others to consider. The strict time limit on benefits that targets the unemployed has forced people off the program. The recent immigration crackdown also has...

In Hurricane Season, Underwater and Behind Bars

The poor, the old, and the disabled seldom seek shelter—because they can’t. And often no one evacuates inmates.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel A Texas State prison unit in Rosharon is submerged by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. H arvey has pummeled Houston. Irma has devastated the Caribbean and is projected to hit Florida. More tropical depressions are forming in the Atlantic, and scientists have warned that with rising temperatures come stronger, more frequent hurricanes. And yet, as is not the case with events like tornadoes, we get advance warnings when hurricanes are coming our way. There’s often time, sometimes even plenty of time, for people to flee. Why don’t they? Why not leave New Orleans before Katrina, or Houston before Harvey? At the very least, why don’t people go to a shelter? Often, the answer (to this and many questions) depends on a person’s wealth, or race, or age. Many people are unable to flee because they don’t have the means, they can’t risk their job, they’re old, or they’re disabled. Nor do governments provide much in the way of means...

Louise Linton, Conservative Id

This week, Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, was forced to apologize for an "insensitive" comment she made on Instagram. While this may seem like nothing more than a silly social media spat, Linton's comment is indicative of a much larger issue present in American conservative thought and public policy.

After posting a photo of herself exiting a government plane after a #daytrip to Kentucky, Linton shot back at jennimiller29, a commenter who’d said, “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.” Linton’s defense invoked the theory of trickle-down economics: “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”

According to Linton, the good folks at the top are actually burdened by their wealth, because their massive wealth provides a service to the rest of society. Not only do they “sacrifice” by the taxes they pay, but they're basically public servants of the economy. Never mind that the current tax system bolsters the wealthy through benefits that include the low capital gains tax rate, the mortgage interest deductions, and even a deduction for some expenses related to their yachts. The rich, with lifestyles so luxurious that the incautious among them will hashtag expensive brands on posts about government travel as Linton did (“#rolandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels,” she wrote), need even more tax breaks because they stimulate the economy for less worthy consumers. How can jennimiller29, and all the other lowly workers, be so ungrateful?!

The American idolization of the rich is threaded throughout society's discourse and policy, birthed from the bootstrap myth that has helped define America, falsely, as a land of economic opportunity. In this storyline, hard work always equals success, and success always comes from hard work. It ignores the systemic problems that make social mobility difficult (racism, classism, inadequate policies to address these phenomena), and provides justification for a tax and welfare system that favors the wealthy. This makes it easy to villainize the poor and venerate the rich. 

Linton, in her response to jennimiller29, uses words like “adorable” and “cute”: “Your life looks cute” and “You’re adorably out of touch.” Such patronizing behavior toward someone less wealthy than her extends well past personal insults and into conservative policy proposals. Just last week, a bill was introduced in the Florida legislature to ban Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) recipients from buying soda with their benefits.

But like many uncomfortable social realities, it's essential that this love of class hierarchy remain unspoken. Let us not forget Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark, caught on a hidden camera, in which, as he put it, there are 47 percent of Americans "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Presidential candidates aren’t supposed to talk that way—something that even the otherwise uncensorable Donald Trump understood.

Linton's outburst, complete with emojis, may well have come straight from the egos and ids of the very rich, and comported with actual conservative doctrine, but it violated their rule of omerta: You’re just not supposed to, you know, talk about this stuff if there's a chance of a leaked video—or with your Instagram set to “public.”