Promoting the General Welfare

When the President and Congress bought into the across the board cuts in government spending called sequestration and then piled on recently with cuts to the food stamp program and emergency heating oil subsidies, it is safe to say that this was a direct attack on the poor. Here in our region food pantries are struggling just to meet the growing demand and now the cuts in the food stamp program are going to make matters worse.Then there is heating assistance that many poor and those on fixed incomes receive from the federal government. In recent years that pool of money has shrunk, for example a $ 20 million decline for Massachusetts last year. Now New England governors are pleading with the Congress and the President to increase fuel assistance. If this winter turns out to be especially cold, those that need fuel to heat their homes will be in trouble.

The food stamp cutback along with the regular decreases in fuel assistance are in large part the work of conservatives in Washington and elsewhere who are convinced that the poor have been misusing the system as they engage in fraud and contribute to government waste. There is no doubt that such “gaming” of the system occurs but let’s be real, there is also considerable evidence of billionaires not paying their taxes, doctors and insurance companies ripping off Medicaid and Medicare and corporations over-charging the government (remember the $200 hammer for the Air Force?).

The real issue here is not fraud and waste by the poor and their liberal supporters, but rather the unwillingness of Washington policy-makers to come to the assistance of those who live on the fringes, many actually employed and the rest children, the old, sick and disabled. This country remains one of the richest in the world and yet we argue over how much assistance should be given to the needy.

At the core of this anti-poor attitude is the view that somehow these people are supposed to take care of themselves and if they can’t, well that is just too bad; it’s not the government’s responsibility. This is a terribly misguided view of the poor and worse yet such a view ignores or belittles the responsibility of government to be the safety net of last resort. I remember that there is something in the Preamble to the Constitution that charges the new government to “promote the general welfare.”

Let’s hope that sufficient monies are allocated for those who are hungry and need heating fuel this winter. Really, the poor aren’t asking for much.


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