You've probably heard about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement on Wednesday that he is "not concerned about the very poor" because "we have a safety net there." (For the CNN story, click here.) Pressed to clarify, Romney cited programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and housing vouchers as elements of this "safety net" which presumably rescues those in the most dire circumstances and prevents illness, homelessness, and deaths among the "very poor."
Continuing with his metaphor of the safety net, Romney stated, "If it needs repair, I'll fix it." I couldn't help but wonder what kind of repairs would be performed by a man whose party has consistently fought funding for badly needed social programs, programs that help pull people out of poverty and ultimately help the economy flourish, but are fought tooth and nail because they temporarily leave less money for politicians' pet projects and unnecessary wars.
I'm a Democrat, but I don't have a mouth-frothing, all-encompassing hatred for Romney like some people seem to harbor for their opposing party's candidates. At least he doesn't scare me as much as some others have. But as many have pointed out, his belief in this safety net highlights how out of touch he is with reality.
The arrogant belief that the poor have it easy because of welfare and food stamps and free medical care is not Romney's belief alone, however. It's something I've heard from many, many people who have never been there. I would like to sit down with Romney, and my friends who believe as he does that the poor are protected and safe, and describe in detail what life is like in his 'safety net.'
I'd like to tell Mitt Romney how many hours one has to sacrifice from the job hunt to sit in the Income Support Office waiting to apply for food stamps, and the very specific and prolific paperwork one has to produce to procure them. You have to prove income and residency and all sorts of other things that you might not have because you don't get mail when you're living in your car, you haven't had a pay stub in 18 months, or all your paperwork is 20 miles away in storage and you have no car, no bus fare, and no support system. And if you do receive food stamps, you will still have to find a way to buy toothpaste and toilet paper. Think those aren't necessities to stay alive? Try living without them for a week.
See how easy it is to get a housing voucher, especially if you are single, without children, able-bodied, and relatively young. Do you think there are dozens of empty apartments out there just waiting for one of the very poor to qualify for one and move in? No, there are hundreds, thousands in some cities, of people on a waiting list for just one place to live.
And if you are fortunate enough to be capable of producing the necessary documentation and passing the interviews and waiting period to obtain Medicaid, you can look forward to hours- or days-long waits in hospital emergency rooms, and months-long waits to see an actual primary care doctor. Need a specialist for your heart disease or schizophrenia? Sorry, the specialty clinics are so full they are no longer even accepting people on the waiting lists.
The insulated ignorant might feel better believing that everyone who is sleeping on the streets tonight is there by choice or a moral failing of some sort - mentally ill people who don't take their meds, drug addicts, drifters...but a large (and fastest growing) segment of the homeless population is families with children. Some can't get treatment for their mental illness. Far too many are veterans, American heroes going hungry, heroes people think they are helping by placing magnets on their cars.
And too often, the same people complaining about the proliferation of junkies and crazy criminals, are the same people shouting for Congress to cut funding for health care and treatment programs that could and would help those people, reduce their numbers, reduce nuisance panhandling and crime, and improve local tourism and economies.
Regardless of what many believe, no one plans or chooses to be very poor. You won't believe me about any of this until it happens to you, and you find that that safety net is more like one single thin thread that cuts into your hands as you hang on for dear life. If there were a working safety net for the very poor, no one in America would ever die cold and alone, curled up under newspapers in a park.