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Welfare restrictions highlight U.S. inhumanity

BY GUEST EDITORIAL | SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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With the recent barrage of anti-welfare legislation being proposed, enacted, and touted around the country, I’m left wondering, “What’s fueling this hatred of poor people, especially in such tough economic times?”

With Indiana enacting strict time restrictions on welfare benefits and various other states proposing mandatory drug testing as a requirement for receiving welfare benefits, I’m left to wonder: When did Americans become so hateful and vindictive toward poor people? Are we now a country that operates via schadenfreude? Something doesn’t sit right with kicking people when they’re down.

Does anyone ever actually consider the human component involved here? And who will suffer? The poor, the left behind, the children and their broken families who need this help the most. The mob mentality behind this type of legislation, and its punitive nature, is really rather disgusting.

How low are people willing to go? How uncivilized has this country become? Saying, “We don’t care about you” to children of parents with drug problems, having them starve or become homeless, all to show that drugs are bad? These are real people and real lives that will be destroyed. These people need help, not your scorn and judgment.

We hear so much during this hyper-political season about budget cuts, out-of-control spending, but also that America is on the wrong track. Are we really going to stand for the richest Americans’ crying about a possible tax increase, and a Custer’s last stand from oil companies making billions of dollars in profits, not willing to consider losing a tax break — millionaires and billionaires willing to stop at nothing to increase their wealth and on the backs of the poor and destitute no less.

I’ve heard the tired, old arguments before, that too many welfare recipients are lazy, just looking for a handout and that if they don’t want to be drug tested, then don’t apply. Do any of these misanthropes actually know anyone who’s been on welfare? Do they actually know a poor person or someone who has had to ask for help? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, except it’s not that long a limb.

The welfare system in this country should be about making the American dream possible, even when things go wrong, when times are tough, when we fail. A system in place to see that we won’t let our friends, families, neighbors, and even strangers go hungry or suffer, we are a nation that’s better than that, or at least we were.

There is no backup plan, no alternative, no drug-treatment plan, no work-skills or education plan, only a plan to stop welfare checks in the event of a positive drug test, which is why I question the motives behind these kind of laws, and again ask, “What happens next?”

There is no next. And what will these people turn to when there’s no food, no money to pay the bills?

A sudden epiphany and realization that they just haven’t figured out the American dream that’s been there all along? Not quite, higher crime rates, more people in prison, children neglected and abandoned, and more poverty and suffering. This is not a solution, just more of a problem.

I think perhaps we should reflect on the words of Emma Lazarus and think about what’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We need to come together as Americans, we need to help those in need, not push them down and kick them. We’ve been through difficult economic times. We’ve endured, prospered, and even fell back down again.

It’s time to remember who we are as a country and what kind of people we wish to be.

Ryan Swanek is a resident of Council Bluffs. A version of this article also appeared at RHRealityCheck.org.


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