When did we lose our compassion for the disadvantaged?

No need to raise taxes—all we have to do is reign in government excesses and waste and voilà, the budget will be in balance and the air will be pure and clean.

It is a simple statement and any one of us can name a dozen or so wasteful so-called wasteful spending practices.

The concept I am going to talk about here is the welfare queen, a term that entered the public consciousness with Ronald Reagan. During the 1976 campaign, Reagan would tell the story of a woman from the South Side of Chicago who was arrested for welfare fraud:

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

The right says, “Welfare should be short a short term fix rather than a permanent solution. People need to take care of themselves.” This is biblical:

The parable of the ten virgins:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise.  When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extraolive oil with them.  But the wise ones took flasks of olive oil with their lamps. When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’  ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There won’t be enough for you and for us. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’  But while they had gone to buy it, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut.

[Jesus was talking about being ready for His second coming—you must always be ready or you may miss out. Parables are useful teaching devices, but they have limitations.  There are any number of places one can find where Jesus talked about going the second mile, about caring for the poor – about leaving gleanings in the fields for the poor.]

Are there people who are second and third generation welfare recipients? I don’t know.  I care, in some ways, but not because of how much they take, but from the culture of defeat in which they live. I hope they can someday, someway see their way out of this.

But in other ways, I do not care because in any public program, there will always be people who game the system.

There are stories of professionals—attorneys, doctors, accountants, engineers—who, with  massive student loans, run up credit cards buying everything imaginable, making the payments for a period of time and then filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to wipe out everything. This was not common—most are responsible, but it was a problem and now, that hole is mostly plugged: except in extreme circumstances, student loans are no longer dischargeable in a bankruptcy.

The answer is not to stop student loans or bankruptcy, but to plug the hole.

Same thing with “Welfare Fraud.” Don’t eliminate assistance to people: plug the hole. Note that Reagan was talking about someone who was caught and prosecuted, plugging the hole.

The assistance programs are the safety net. If you lose your job, if your company shuts down, you may need help.  Unemployment, Food Stamps, WIC, Rent assistance to name a few. These are paid for with our taxes and when one has a need for them, the recipients should not be made to feel as though they are mooching because they need the help. 

I hear this constantly from the right: half of the country does not pay taxes, they receive free benefits.  They are moochers and should be treated as such. Oklahoma receives $1.35 from the federal government for every dollar paid in federal taxes by Oklahomans (the only Red State not in this category is Texas). Are red states moochers? A lot of this is defense spending.  Do Republicans never want to cut defense spending because we do not spend enough—more than the next 21 countries combines and six times the second—or because of what the economic impact on their states would be with a cut?

To me, it is more important to ensure those that really need the help get it than making sure there is not one cheater getting unwarranted benefits. Did someone in the 5,000 bring along their own fish? If so, did they eat of the fishes and loaves as they were passed around? Abuse! It would have been better had Jesus not passed around the food because of those taking advantage of the program. I doubt he cared if someone took advantage of his generosity.

This issue of helping others is not about whether or not they have a right to receive.  It is about doing the right thing. This used to matter.

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