I don’t know what’s wrong with Michigan. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
The War on Poverty is said to be the war that former president Lyndon B. Johnson actually wanted to fight. On March 16, 1964, in an address to Congress, Johnson delivered his proposal for what he called “A Nationwide War on the Sources of Poverty”. His lofty goal was not just to put a bandaid over the consequences of poverty, but to attack it at its very core; he wanted to eliminate the causes of poverty. Johnson believed in opportunity, not handouts. He believed, as I do, that nearly every person in the United States would work for their living, and work hard, if only the opportunity to do so were there. People don’t want to be poor. People don’t want to rely on strangers or the state for their own well-being. People want to earn their own way to a better life. Sometimes, they just need a little help getting there.
We’ve lost sight of the value of humanity; lost sight of what it means to live in “the greatest country on Earth”. Somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that “it’s not my job” to reach out to my fellow man. It’s not my job to help create opportunities. It’s not my job to help build a better world. It’s not my job to work with other humans to increase the standard of living for us all. But it is my job to watch you, and judge you, and make sure that you don’t end up with a better life than mine.
We play a dangerous game of reactionary politics where rules are built around the small number of assholes who take advantage of the goodness in others and of the opportunities created by a government that has the welfare of all of its citizens in mind through programs designed to help people start businesses, to pick them up if those businesses fail, to keep education and innovation thriving so that the world benefits from great minds that, without a social safety net, may never produce. We use a small number of people who take advantage and hold them up as the norm.
They are not the norm. I am. You probably are, too.
The truest measure of a great nation is not in how it treats the most successful, but in the opportunities it presents to the least successful within it. We are not a great nation.
And Michigan is not a great state. As of October 1, 2011, people are being kicked off of cash assistance if they’ve been on it for 48 months or more. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That seems like an awful long time to be receiving cash assistance from the state. But who are these people that are coming off of assistance? And instead of just taking them off of assistance, we should be asking why they still need assistance in the first place. Why, after four years, has this family not found a better life? Is it their fault, or is it that the state provides a bandaid when stitches are needed? Was job training provided? Budgeting classes? Are there any jobs that this person is qualified to do? Are they working full-time and still qualifying for assistance because their job doesn’t pay them enough to actually live on?
Are we asking any questions at all?
Michigan is also rolling out a new requirement to receive assistance – asset testing. If you own your home, but lost your job and need food assistance in order to survive while looking for a new job, well, it sucks to be you because you’ll have to get rid of your home first. Don’t you have relatives or friends you can move in with? Have a decent car because you saved money for a few years and bought it with cash before your company outsourced your job? If it’s worth more than $15,000 you’re going to have to get rid of it before we can help you. No, we don’t care that it’s your only way to get to work at the company paying you minimum wage that doesn’t cover your bills which is why you need assistance in the first place.
Assets are a big part of what helps to break the cycle of poverty. So, why are we trying to take these assets away? The term “cutting your nose off to spite your face” comes to mind.