Carol Forsloff — Certain politicians rail against government, as if government was somehow out there with no relationship to the electorate and the people, as if it were a kingship developed from divine right. The argument often has its source in the Ayn Randyan notions of being “on your own,” that government owes you nothing except freedom, and that private donations and organizations can help the poor when needed. But is that true, and what is like to really be on your own in America?
This morning local television in Oregon announced that the Salvation Army is reducing its hours and staff by at least 25%. Their reason has to do with lack of contributions, the deficits they have, and therefore their inability to manage the demands of people in need. And that comes even when there are government programs helping. Yet it is the downturn in that government helping, the pressure on states to reduce their budgets, and the target of the people, many truly in need, that has private agencies hurting as well.
Contributions to charities often allow tax breaks for donors, yet these may easily be targeted in the future so that the tax rate conforms to the standards some politicians propose. Without the tax breaks, what else may happen to the private agencies that depend on donors? It is likely the contributions will diminish further. So much for the funnels of private support for “on your own.”
Furthermore if the right to life advocates’ proposals to disallow abortion for rape and incest, and to prohibit teenage girls from seeking abortions without parental approval, the number of unwanted children will rise consequentially, especially those with mental and physical health difficulties. This means greater pressure on those private agencies, at a time when “on your own” messages abound. So the 16-year-old, vocationally-limited, pregnant girl will find public programs undercut and no room in the inn for her or her child. Recall that same 16-year-old girl was held up as the drag on the welfare system and the entire economy, even as bankers and Wall Street brokers created financial downturns by mismanagement, greed and just plain stealing. But the compassionate conservatism has not translated into increased support for job finding and training in the brave new world of financial distress. So how does the pregnant teen find support in the private sector that already has insufficient funds to carry out its programs, like the Salvation Army reports in the Portland, Oregon area?
The poor elderly and the severely disabled are the ones who most use Medicaid, a program designed to help the neediest individuals. Yet the state budget restrictions have reduced funds for Medicaid in a number of states. So the old woman with mental and physical health problems, with non existent children or children steeped in debt themselves and under pressure with financial burdens, find themselves having fewer and fewer resources for help. Private agencies have already announced they lack sufficient funds to intervene. Without a commitment to help the most unfortunate first, the “on your own” worst off, will only be worse off, if the current trend continues, even as the wealthier individuals are said to “trickle down” their wealth. Yet somehow that trickle has not happened to salvage a shrinking middle class or the poorest of America.
The largest group facing bankruptcy in America are seniors. Many problems develop as life span increases and financial difficulties mount. Agencies like the Salvation Army have often helped with loans, food and other essentials. But without private agency help and government-restrictions, what happens to the 80-year-old “on your own” individual.
A recent encounter with an 80-something senior illustrates the “on your own” issues that will increase in severity if the philosophy becomes the American way as touted by some politicians. This is not an agrarian culture with a farmer in every home. So living off the land for food, and building your own home with logs and a fireplace, may not meet the needs of seniors and their families in the modern world where land is no longer plentiful and cheap and the new GMO crops and seeds make it impossible for that old-time way of planting. And in most towns and cities, the lack of transportation requires a reliance on the automobile for going to appointments. But our 80-something senior had prepared. Or at least she thought so.
We will call her Margaret. She sits in a wheelchair at a local senior center, wondering where she will go when the money runs out. And that will be soon. She has lived in a modest retirement residence where she gets help with daily living tasks. She pays for this out of savings and Social Security. Medicaid facilities are fewer and fewer every year in Oregon. She says her family has found long waits or insufficient beds for folks needing help. Margaret weeps and wonders what will happen to her, as her children work to sustain their own family and cannot quit work to care for her. Her dilemma is one that more and more seniors face with the economic downturn and the growing number of seniors.
But private agencies cannot make the difference, as they did in those small-town, old ways, that folks say can return again. Those “on your own” in America are finding out that it means “no room in the Inn” in every way that help could come. So while folks worry about the election, it might be a good thing to reason the consequences of “on your own” if public funds are reduced further, as private agencies no longer are able to help the most needy.