Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My 47 Percent Worth

Damn, I knew I couldn't do it.  I knew that sooner or later I'd get around to blogging about national affairs, when I told myself, and you, beloved reader, that I wouldn't.  We'd talk about MS and being bipolar and how that affects me, and maybe you, and families.  But isn't the big world view also about families and the decisions made that affects them? Or it should be? Instead of wealth and power and domination?

Which brings me to Mitt Romney's 47% comments at a fundraiser. He said, according to Mother Jones site:

[T]here are 47 percent who are with him [President Obama], 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 -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.

Now I am retired after putting in near 30 years in the Social Services world.  I handled it all from Food Stamps, when they were actually coupons in a book and not an ATM card, to Medicaid, Cash Assistance (call it AFDC, TANF, whatever) with a trip to Employment programs.  These were and are the entitlement programs that are popularly(?) known as "Welfare."  The majority of the benefits go to seniors and the disabled who can not work, with a good chunk helping to support the working poor.  Yes, poor people actually do have jobs.  In 1996 Congress added a serious work requirement to AFDC (which became TANF - Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), and turned the program more into a block grant (this means: here's the money, here's your goal, you figure it out from there).  We adjusted.  Soon there were fewer people on cash assistance.  It was kind of a self fulfilling prophecy since there was a five year time limit on being eligible for TANF.

I don't think I'd be going out on a limb too far if I said that Welfare, in any of its forms, has ever been popular with the taxpayers.  Hell, if you walked around the building(s) where I worked, we weren't all that thrilled with it, despite the paychecks we got on Thursday.  We had the clearness to see 2nd and 3rd generation AFDC/TANF recipients.  Something was clearly not working, and it wasn't just the recipients. Frustration for those of us working in the system was reflected by empty desks (and hiring freezes), and piled up work so when recipients contacted the agency that phone may just ring and ring, adding to their frustration and on and on.  The assistance system as it stands now is fundamentally flawed, means testing the poor for minimal assistance, and Congress was considering more cuts in Food Stamps but fortunately(?) Congress did what it does best in the summer. Nothing.  Sorry, farmers, looking for help.

I recently read a post from a former local supervisor at my agency noting his frustration when he left the DSS building in Albany seeing recipients outside smoking and using cellphones.  Of course, county employees such as him and myself merely went to the back of the building to smoke.  We could use our phones at our desks, but only during lunch hour (Note to present administration:  How's that working for ya?).  I too would feel odd when I left the building and see this same situation.  And I think that's one of the things that makes it so easy to dump on these assistance programs.

You can see it.  You can drive around cities in I would guess the entire country and find areas of poverty.  People are standing around the welfare building.  A semi-hobby of mine is when I was traveling to find the welfare department for that city/county.  And there you are driving by, going to work or something important to you, and those people (sorry, "those people" - if you have any racist tendencies, please fill in the group you don't like of your choice) are standing there in front of those buildings.  Why don't they get a job?  I mean, money for nothing and kicks for free (we'd provide the kicks, or security would.  Ah, power.).

Poverty is real.  Drive through the same cities I did and thousands more I won't be able to. There are areas that just don't make the video.  I live down the road from posh Saratoga Springs which brings tourists galore every summer.   Right near the swell homes and mansions and race tracks are dilapidated homes that people still live in.  Glad to provide a tour.  Infested public housing visits a speciality.

I hope, and I think there may be some validity, that that gut "Get a job!" reaction is one that hides the more serious thought of concern for people in serious trouble, or thinking of the fact that you yourself are living paycheck to paycheck, and are not that far from not being able to feed your family.  

We think in two ways - love and fear.

All right, I'm supposed to be dealing with MS and BP here.  And here's how I barely connect the conditions and my Department of Social Services years (aside from the stress from my DSS years, which you might detect in the writing, added to MS and BP symptoms).  My wife Jackie and I attended a presentation at the local MS Society last week.  These are informative little get togethers, this one dealing with the yucky details of wills, living wills, funeral preplanning and the like, but always good pizzas and subs to nosh while meeting other folks dealing with MS.  One gentleman, older and using an oxygen tank, asked about  a supplemental needs trust.  Click to the left if you want to know what it is.  Anyway, what did get me was his comment:

"Those people in Medicaid in Albany County don't know nothing.  That place is a joke!"

My wife and I shared a look of knowing.  But here was a man trying to find help and stated that he was being blocked.  Long ago and far away, his concerns would have ended up on my desk as I was the supervisor of that unit.  A couple of folks who knew my background at the meeting looked over at me and smiled at my smile.  DSS a joke? I don't know.  I'm not there (and admit there are days I wish I could be, for even in my dreams I am there just helping out) and have little contact with staff there now, except for old friends.  Could I have solved the gentleman's problem if I was still in the chair? Dunno, and never will.

This man, as far as I could tell, is part of Mr. Romney's 47%.  Looking to the government for assistance and, oddly, asking the government to not count at least part of his income (a pension of some sort) so he could qualify for more assistance.  I would hazard a guess this guy pays no income tax, but does his part with other local taxes such as sales tax.  I do pay income taxes on my government pension (New York State - County employee) but I doubt I'd get much of a break with any proposals.  However, I am DEPENDENT on that income (granted I worked for it in the past), and also DEPENDENT for my health insurance, which doles out to pay for the many doctors and prescriptions.  I could try working but those of you who know with both MS and BP I'm not very helpful most of the day.  But now and then...

Like the country song goes: I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm good once as I ever was.

So yes, Mr. Romney, I am dependent on that, and I do have an entitlement feeling.  I worked hard for these public benefits, at least I think I did, and now as these disorders take greater control of my life, I will be dependent upon the health care system to keep me going for as long as I can.  Whoever is in charge over the next four years may affect that health care system, assuming Congress does anything else except send me postcards telling me what a great job they're doing.  So I am watching.

One last thing.  We spend at the federal level approximately 13 billion dollars a year on TANF.  We have spent approximately 1.376 TRILLION dollars on the Afghan and Iraq wars in the past ten years (or 125 billion dollars a year).  I'm fairly sure that no one on my staff killed any of the recipients we worked with, though there were days when rocket launchers were requested.  I kept mine locked up.

You don't see the war.  Maybe the coffins. But you can't tell the coffin to get a job.  It's got one.

More later. Thanks for reading.

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