Within the past few days, I’ve been asked for money 3 times by deserving people who are "economically-challenged." Generous as I like to think I am, I’m coming up short. And I'm getting annoyed...not at the askers.
The first was easy to help. A slight, bearded man politely asked if I had any change. I used to agonize about people on the streets asking me for money, but that was before the economy tanked (one might be tempted to ask how it tanked, who was responsible?) and I had to acknowledge that some folks weren’t going to make it through the day without us sharing. And I can do it without judgment, a personal accomplishment.
Second, a reasonable request on one hand, but it could be seen as frivolous by those with a discerning eye toward self-sufficiency: a mother of 3 small boys wants help getting them Halloween costumes. The family is in an undefined/unsanctioned state of homelessness, bad enough, but they are also grappling with horrendous health issues with all of the boys, who apparently have been exiled by the local public school system—deeming these little guys too tough to handle. So much for free, appropriate education....
Third, a young woman I’ve known for about 20 years asked if I’d help raise funds for essential back surgery following an accident; she had a seizure and totaled her truck. She has no insurance and no income. She just started nursing school, which may be on hold unless things come together fast, leaving her income-less, and pretty well screwed. I just can’t fathom how this country, with money to spare for the things it wants to spend it on, can’t figure out how to make sure people can get quality health care. And holding bake sales seems a tad ineffective in light of the 100s of thousands in medical bills.
Now, those, ahem, more conservative readers are stirring in their seats thinking, “If people would just be more self-sufficient, and better use their money, they’d have what they need.” And, let’s assume for a moment that it is true (far from my belief)....
That kind of thinking assumes that at the count of 3 that everyone will jump up and become productive enough to afford the basics of food, health care, housing, etc. What about those who, for any number of valid reasons, are not able to jump up and pull it all together? What about those mired so deeply in the pit of poverty that they’d need a crane to lift them out? What about those who couldn’t succeed in this crazy and cruel world despite their best, albeit flawed, effort? What about those working for corporations like Walmart, whose wages are so low they qualify for welfare (my tax dollars and yours)?
Do we just toss people into the dump? We already toss “dead-beats” into jail, further impeding their self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Who pays for this punitive and fruitless approach?
What’s wrong with bolstering a safety net for those who need help temporarily, with dignity, letting them move forward, while ensuring those who need more substantial assistance to receive it?
It’s not just Congress’ fault, though they bear a significant responsibility, as do our President and elected officials. Each person, according to their abilities, must be responsible for living a productive life. And to those who have been given much, much is asked, but to those who've been slammed with daunting challenges, they need help. Continuing on the path of our mutually destructive ways, the weakest will crumble and fall.
Do we think that the wealthy/healthy among us deserve to enjoy the fruits of their—and other—labors while the lowly crumble and fall? Who pays? still demands an answer. I'm not holding my breath.
NOTE: "Garbage" photo, (c)Pat Van Doren, used with permission