Stupid Idea of the day: Tax the Homeless

Don't complain about your taxes today, they are surely less than the 44 percent of one's income that homeless New Yorkers are about to start paying.

New York City, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is worth an estimated $17.5 billion, has announced that it is going to charge homeless people for staying in city housing shelters. The Daily News reports:

Homeless people with jobs are going to have to start paying the city rent to stay in shelters, officials said Tuesday.

"Open-ended handouts, we know, don't work," Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said.

I assume Gibbs would make an exception for taxpayer-funded handouts to campaign loyalists, which Bloomberg has been generous with recently. Anyone who has spent a minute in a homeless shelter knows better than to buy the preposterous idea that people who could afford an apartment would rather stay there.

Shelter residents will pay up to 44 percent of their income in their first year in the program. If you are homeless and unemployed you will continue to pay nothing. So the city will be discouraging the homeless from getting a job, by penalizing them for doing so. Isn't Bloomberg supposed to be one of those savvy neoliberals who believes in policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit that reward poor people for working? Isn't that the basis of his controversial proposal to pay kids for doing their homework?

What windfall will the city reap from this poverty levy? The first bills, to be sent in September, will generate $2 or $3 million. That's 2 or 3 percent of the $100 million or so that Mayor Bloomberg spent out of his personal fortune buying reelection last year. If city shelters are overcrowded, why doesn't Bloomberg just take a few million dollars of his money—a rounding error on his balance sheet—and open some homeless shelters on his own dime?

Oh, wait, that's a stupid question. It's already been established that Bloomberg thinks the poor should pay more for social services than the rich. After all, Bloomberg endorsed increasing the city's regressive sales tax instead of taxing its richest residents. There's a word for this kind government, where the rich buy power and use it to abuse the poor. The word is oligarchy.

To be fair, the city is actually required to charge homeless people with jobs for staying in shelters by a heretofore unenforced 1997 state law. Chalk up another success to New York's incompetent, unethical state government.


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