Shame of the Poor

April 2005


Just when you think they can't do anything worse, those compassionate conservatives slam the poor with yet another cut to social programs.

Quite a lot has been said about the Bush 2006 budget. Among other things, it reduces spending on early childhood education, child care for the working poor, home energy assistance for low income families, and nutrition programs for pregnant women.

The effects of these cuts on the long-term health of the nation are severe. The lives of millions of Americans are being put at risk by this penny-wise fiscal policy.

Congress has now taken aim at Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). These programs provide important support to one in six Americans and provide the only support for medical costs for one in four American children. In all, more than 38 million low-income Americans, mostly children and the elderly, depend on these programs. Citing soaring costs, our legislators are saying that we can afford billions for foreign wars, but we cannot afford to support the weakest and most vulnerable Americans by helping them to receive necessary health care.

At the same time that the number of people in poverty grew from 34.7 million to 35.9 million, the number of people with no health care coverage rose by more than one million, to almost 45 million people.

While complaining that the government has insufficient funds to help people who cannot help themselves, Mr. Bush proposed a further $1.3 trillion in tax cuts for the richest and most powerful citizens (his constituency, the haves and the have mores) over the next ten years.

How people can turn their backs on the needs of millions of their fellow citizens, while calling themselves good people of Christian conscience, I have never been able to fathom. It is the same kind of mentality that drops bombs to preserve the peace or clear cuts old growth timber to preserve the nation's natural heritage.

There are those who think that the government ought not to be in the business of helping people. The only trouble with this theory is that government has always been in the business of helping people. They don't mind when the government steps in to help some trans-national corporation by giving them our money. They only object when the government gives their money to inner-city poor children. They argue that corporations make jobs, whereas poor children don't make jobs. By that logic, we should spend money to promote traffic accidents -- they make jobs (body shops, hospitals, funeral homes), whereas making better, safer roads doesn't make jobs.

A government is just a fancy kind of institution -- a body of people we pay to conduct certain classes of business for us. They're supposed to try hard to do right by people and to try hard to refrain from harming people. Lately, our government has been far more willing to harm people than help them -- not because the people involved are necessarily evil, but because there was a great deal of money to be made by changing the way in which the government spends our money. That kind of malfeasance should not be allowed. It runs directly contrary to every principle this country was founded upon.

In the wealthiest nation on earth, it's almost a crime to be poor and that's a crime.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

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