May 22, 2015

Be Our Guest / Linda and Hank Cooper

Cutting government assistance for those in poverty not a moral solution, readers say

In a “Be Our Guest” column in the April 17 issue of The Criterion, Congressman Todd Rokita suggests that our approach to poverty in America is not working and that churches and other groups—not government—should help people lift themselves out of poverty. But what if those groups can’t help—or can’t help enough? Where will that leave the 46 million Americans who live at or below the poverty line?

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, recently pointed out that if not for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” we would have an additional 40 million Americans living in poverty. By that measure, our approach to fighting poverty is working.

Rokita quotes President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as saying, “We can’t expect the government will take care of it.” But in that same speech, Roosevelt also said, “While it isn’t written in the Constitution, nevertheless, it is the inherent duty of the federal government to keep its citizens from starvation.”

The budget proposed by the Republicans in Congress strips millions of Americans of health insurance, while making cuts to federal tuition grants for college students, Medicaid and food stamp programs for the poor, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, housing, nutrition, job training, elderly services and Medicare.

“This [the Republican budget] is an absolute disaster for the working families of this country,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.

People who work with those in poverty know that cutting safety-net programs would not help the poor to “realize the dignity of work and earning one’s success,” as Rokita states.

Many of the poor are mentally or psychologically ill and will never “realize the dignity of work,” but the majority of the poor we come into contact with here in Bloomington desperately want the dignity of work and earning their own success, And until they find that job and success, those safety-net programs keep them above water. Some social safety-net programs have increasingly been designed to reward and facilitate work—in many cases, requiring work.

Research has shown that for most safety-net programs, the majority of beneficiaries receive assistance for only a short period when their earnings drop for some reason, and then they bounce out again. Without help from these programs, they would not be able to bounce out.

Michael D. Tanner of the conservative Cato Institute stated that “over the last 50 years, the federal government spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty.”

Total federal spending over the last 50 years—adjusted to current dollars using the White House’s historical budget tables—adds up to $103 trillion, which means anti-poverty spending of $16 trillion was a little under 12 percent of total federal spending in this 50-year period.

Twelve percent to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. We fail to see how cutting that 12 percent follows the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Linda and Hank Cooper are members of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.)

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