Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life in Romney's 'Safety Net'

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.


Anonymous said...

As I sit here staring at the huge packet of paperwork from Social Security I have to fill out Again in order for them to believe I am still disabled, I'm wondering why Romney thinks this is a safety net. Yes, I'm very thankful for the healthcare that has been provided over the last 3 years, as well as the small stipend that has payed my rent. My tiny food stamp amount, as well. Yet I am incredibly frustrated that anyone would believe I feel safe. My entire life is one big game of Jenga, just waiting for the right (or wrong) block to be pulled, and it all comes crashing down.
I don't feel safe. Not at all.

PBoyett said...

I can understand where you are coming from, Karen. You have been through some very difficult times. But I also see Romney's point. Having lived in a 3rd-world country where there truly is no "safety net" for the poor, I can clearly see that we do indeed have one here. Yes life is very difficult for the poor. But how many Americans die of starvation each year? Or malnutrition? Or from lack of emergency medical care? On the world's stage, poor Americans have it made!

Conservatives can see that the government is not doing a great job taking care of the needs of the poor (when do they do a great job with anything?), and therefore believe that it is not the government's job to take care of the poor. That is the job of the Church. As Christians, that is one of the commands we are given. But when the government is taking 30-45% of our income for their failing programs, that leaves us restricted in the amount we can give to effective ministries. I strongly agree with President Bush's push to strengthen faith-based ministries to the poor. They are the ones on the street ministering face-to-face, able to see and meet the needs effectively.

So, as you rant about how the government should be helping people more...consider how much you personally are helping those in need. Do you serve at homeless shelters? Or minister to those on the streets? Do you give to enable those who do? Are you truly concerned about the poor...or are you just angry?

Karen said...

Oh, you're absolutely right that Americans are pretty spoiled, and even the poor ones can usually still find or get things totally off-limits to those in third-world countries. No argument there.

I may be naive but I am not willing to give up on the government and what I see as its responsibility to take care of ALL of its citizens, including the poor. If our government is doing a lousy job, it's our job to make sure it gets better at it by electing the right people and staying vigilant and involved.

And to answer your last few questions, as a matter of fact, yes, I am helping the poor and contributing to worthy charities who do the same. I am really enjoying the privilege of being the helpER rather than the helpEE.

Thanks for reading my blog & commenting. :)

Anisah said...

I have been on medicaid on several states, and we did not have to wait months to see a PCP, nor days at the emergency room. As for the er, they don't care what insurance you have, or even if you don't have any. They take people in by the severity of gyour symptoms.

I do think it was horrible what he said, so I agree with you there.

Housing help is especially hard to get. I only got mine without waiting years because I was in a homeless shelter. I have never had to live on the street, and I am very glad of that.