This morning, before she headed off to work, my wife and I had a brief conversation about the State of the Nation. My lovely wife, a tireless advocate for public assistance, mentioned to me another assault on America’s poor. This time, though, it’s in a time of national crisis. Hurricane Katrina killed thousands and uprooted millions. The government’s response to this crisis (especially that of the Executive Branch), and their proposed solutions, are sorely disappointing.
In today’s news, though conspicuously out of the headlines:
“Congress is working to extend Medicaid coverage for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but Bush administration officials are working against the measure, promising instead health care for evacuees and federal help for the states.” (source: NPR.org, 9/22/05)
Don’t be fooled, folks. This is more of the same. In his speech last week in New Orleans, Bush Jr. proposed the creation of the “Gulf Opportunity Zone” (I suppose that Opportunity is all you have when you’ve lost everything).
Bush goes on to describe what the GOZ entails (EMPHASIS MINE): “Within this zone, we should provide immediate INCENTIVES FOR JOB-CREATING INVESTMENT, TAX RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, incentives to COMPANIES THAT CREATE JOBS, and LOANS AND LOAN GUARANTEES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again. It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity; it is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty; and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.” (source: White House press release archives, 9/15/05)
Excuse me? Am I missing something? Where’s the RELIEF? Where are the government grants, housing vouchers, a federal jobs program? If the administration gets its way, the so-called relief package for Katrina victims is coming in the form of tax relief and business incentives, not aid to the people on the ground whose lives were ripped apart. This explains why the Bush administration is working against Medicaid (maybe the last shred of public welfare remaining in this country) and other issues. They don’t believe in helping the poor, even when a disaster like this strikes. We can only hope that congress can prove more visionary.
These victims need HELP. They need food, water and shelter. They need jobs. They need financial assistance (real financial assistance) to reclaim what they’ve lost. They don’t need incentives to start businesses. They need to rebuild their lives. More incentives for entrepreneurs only help those with the MEANS to start a business, something families below the poverty line rarely have. The blind devotion to entrepreneurship as a cure-all for America’s woes is nothing more than a narrow, unrealistic and selfish belief in social Darwinism: the belief that if a person isn’t smart enough or capable enough to take advantage of America’s opportunities, then they don’t
amount to anything, they aren’t deserving of assistance. This is the same crowd who always says “We believe in giving people a HAND UP, not a HAND OUT.” The victims of Katrina NEED a hand out, folks. And our government isn’t doing enough.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Give Direct Aid. My wife and I have offered our RV as a donation to FEMA, who is running a program to provide trailers and motorhomes to people displaced by the hurricane. This program is hardly a long-term solution, but at least it’s some concrete form of assistance, considering the dreadful initial response.
Maybe the Administration is doing this because they see it as an Opportunity to keep the poor in trailer parks, while those of us who can afford it enjoy the housing bubble and get to decide between white or stainless steel appliances in our kitchen. “A concrete patio, or should we go with ceramic tile, honey? I’m not sure. Oh hell, let’s do both.”
This summer, my wife and I experienced a severe property loss. Our rental home was flooded by the city sewer system. Everything had to come out of the house and be replaced: all the floors, the drywall, the cabinets and appliances. Restoring the house will cost upwards of $30,000. But yesterday, we received a settlement check from the city which will pay for about 60% of the damage. Why? Because we had the means and the knowledge to pursue a claim. Even if the city hadn’t responded to our claim, we would have had recourse with our insurance company, but again, we had the means to recover our own losses. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that ours was a SECOND HOME.
Many of the homes in the most ravaged parts of the south have been in families for generations, and therefore have no mortgages, and for many, NO INSURANCE. If it weren’t required by a financing bank, and you had to choose between insurance and food for your kids, you’d opt out of insurance, too.
We suffered a loss, but it was minimized by the fact that we have the means to recover it.
It’s truly a shame that our President isn’t willing (or isn’t able) to use the Opportunity presented by Katrina to develop a vision of America as a better place. Look at a government with vision: in 1933 (I believe you all remember what was going on leading up to that time?), as emergency measures, federal money was given direct to individuals as relief through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. They didn’t stop there. The federal government directly hired people for work projects directly funded by the federal government: the CCC, the WPA, and the Civil Works Administration,
among others. This was called the New Deal.
The New Deal projects were direct responses to a national emergency. They worked by putting people back to work, (not asking them to figure it out for themselves, as the Bush White House is asking).
I didn’t think the Bush Administration was capable of doing it, but they’re using this National Disaster as an excuse to attack Medicaid, the last line of defense in health care for people who can’t afford it. They seem to want to create a society in which anyone without the means is out of luck.
How can that be good for America?