With the fiscal cliff debacle hanging over us, I find myself cringing every time I hear the word “entitlements.”
The argument, or part of the argument, as concerns how we get out of our financial crisis, is that the entitlements, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security – are just too expensive and are not sustainable. The Republicans are willing to budge on their desire not to raise taxes for the “wealthy,” IF there are substantial cuts in entitlement spending.
Those entitlements, however, are what help “the least of these.” I keep wondering what legislators are thinking. How are the poor, the elderly, and those who have worked all their lives and now need Social Security …supposed to live? Because one is poor, is he or she not worthy of being treated with dignity? And because one has grown old, is he or she not “entitled” to expect some financial assistance from the country in which they lived during the days of their youth, working to contribute to its economy?
If spending for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is cut, what happens to this broad swath of people who simply need help? Everybody needs help – even the wealthy. The difference between the poor, lower middle class, and for much of the middle middle class and the wealthy is that the wealthy have more resources to pull from when they need help. The poor have so little access to what they need for quality of life and, frankly, the wealthy are not concerned about them as regards their reality. If and when a poor person needs help, he or she is often forced to get money from predatory lenders, who charge them exorbitant interest rates. The poor really do not have a chance. They get ensconced in a downward spiral that goes faster and faster…And the wealthy are not concerned. The wealthy look for ways to make more profits – even if it is from or on the backs of the poor – and too often turn a deaf ear toward the cries of those who are suffering.
I read a story about a woman who had worked all her life, in a job where there were no benefits, including health insurance. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/gop-obamacare-medicaid_n_2347933.html) She began to feel poorly, but would not go to a doctor because she could not afford it. She began to look up home remedies, and tried some of what she read, but eventually, not even the home remedies helped. She collapsed on her job and was taken to an emergency room, where it was discovered that the had high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. The doctor asked her why she had waited so long to get help.
The insensitivity to the plight of the poor and the working poor is phenomenal.
Following this episode, she was able to get Medicaid, and was able to get the medicine she needs to keep her alive, but recently, her Medicaid allotment was reduced because of a state policy that said persons receiving it can only make a certain amount of money; this woman made over that amount, and so her benefits were slashed. Now, she is in the dangerous place of not being able to afford her medicine; the money she makes is just enough for her to pay her rent and utilities. The article said she is feeling bad again; the fluid is accumulating in her chest again, and her blood pressure is no doubt going up.
Hers is not the only story like this. The elderly, many of them, are not doing much better. It is heartbreaking to think about the elderly who worked all their lives and who now are malnourished because they cannot afford to pay their rent AND buy food. There is something terribly wrong with the way people think – or don’t think – about those who suffer.
And yet, the Conservative hard-liners insist that the aid these people receive are “entitlements” and should be slashed. The very word “entitlement” brings up negative feelings. Anytime anyone says that someone thinks he or she is “entitled” to something, there is a negative undertone that accompanies it. Slash spending, the Conservatives rail, on these dratted entitlements. Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of Americans think they are “entitled” to help from the government. The attitude is one of distrust and disdain; the implication is there that the poor and working poor are where they are because of some deficit in their characters.
Ironically, there is a lot of money in poor people; maybe that’s why the wealthy are not so concerned about them. The poor need and want to work, and have been willing, in the past and in the present, to work under horrible conditions for paltry pay. The poor are then penalized for being poor; they pay higher – the highest – interest rates on purchases they make. The wealthy take advantage of them and others who are not so steeped in how America’s financial system works. How else do we explain the antics of mortgage companies, who made millions, maybe billions, off people who were lured into getting mortgages they could not afford?
The attitude seems to be “let them eat cake” while the wealthy go blithely on their way, looking for more and more ways to make more and more money. Meanwhile, many of those same people want the spending on defense to be left alone or perhaps be increased. The stated reason is that we, the United States, need that money to defend ourselves, but the wars we have been engaged in since President Bush got us into them had nothing to do with defending ourselves. The massive spending, causing much of our current indebtedness, was done not to defend America, but to get America in a place where it could dip into and be a part of the huge profits that are available in the oil in the Middle East. By all means, spend money to make more money. It is not good business to spend money on that which loses money – and poor people make the government lose money, they would posit.
The wealthy think they are “entitled” to make more money. That’s what business is, and long ago, President Calvin Coolidge said that the “business of America…is business.” They poor and the elderly are not “entitled” to quality of life, not entitled to help from the country they helped prosper.
That is a really sad commentary on America and its “values.”
A candid observation …