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Compassion, Welfare, and Poverty

By Bbenavides Sep 14, 2012 1083 Words
Welfare: handouts to the lazy, or a helping hand to those facing hard times? The debate continues, even in the face of sweeping welfare reform, which, for all of its sound and fury, has not helped or changed much. What's wrong with welfare and how can we fix it? This is not a simple question, and there is no simple answer. However, one thing remains eminently clear. Welfare desperately needs to change. But where are we now? Are we headed backward or forward? Does anybody even care?

In “The Compassion Gap in American Poverty Policy” by Fred Block, Anna C, Korteweg, and Kerry Woodward, with Zach Schiller and Imrul Mazid (2006) it is discuss that “Every 30 to 40 years, Americans seem to discover that millions of our citizens are living in horrible and degrading poverty.”(pg. 1) The authors question the fact as to why it is that poverty becomes so invisible during these periods of detection. They state that societies recognize the needs for the poor as well as the moral obligation to hand out help, but yet turn their back on these same people in need. Their theory is that the compassion gap results from two key dynamics. “First powerful groups in American society insist that public help for the poor actually hurts them by making them weak and dependant. Second the consequence of reduced help is that the assertions of welfare critics turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.” (pg. 1)They establish that those living in poverty seem to vanish from public eye as society fails to recognize the pain which is inflicted by poverty. The authors discuss that people in need get reprimanded and receive little or no public assistance. They are perceived to be in the situation they are in because of their own failures. They state that the “Compassion Gap is a deep divide between society’s moral commitments and how we actually treat those in poverty.” (pg. 1)

It is not a pretty sight. Welfare in Laredo, a case that deeply touched many is that of Rachelle Grimmer who had moved to Laredo from Ohio. She lived with her two children Ramie and Timothy who were twelve and ten years of age in a tiny trailer the size of one standard bedroom. Grimmer would always roam the streets after midnight and beg closing crews at restaurants for food they planned to throw away. Her children were home taught by her as they did not attend school due to the fact that they were limited in clothing and transportation. They would bathe outside the family's tiny trailer house with the garden hose. Timothy wore the same camouflage shorts day after day. Grimmer didn't have a job, and the state had denied the family food stamps and emergency help despite repeated requests. This woman sold her old truck which was her means of transportation, in order to temporarily feed her children. Ms. Grimmer came to the end of her rope, after being turned down for public assistance repeatedly. She took her own life and that of her two children in the same human resource center where she had been denied assistance. In her desperation for help she took a case worker hostage who would later be traded for the office manager. Grimmer would later release him. Worst yet, were negotiations with Ms. Grimmer to surrender. The evening of the incident, our mayor was on top of a roof top raising funds for toys which would be given to children for Christmas. I question why the mayor did not abandon his post and prioritize the circumstances. Where was the compassion? Why was it that the welfare employees, who are qualified, licensed, and education, fail her? It didn’t take a genius to figure out the true need this woman had. One visit by a case worker to her place of residency would have been enough evidence of her circumstances’.

This case has not been clearly publicly exposed. However, in my opinion it is irrelevant because the obvious is well exposed by society members who witnessed the sequence of events. Ms. Grimmer was one of many cases, which falls through the cracks and goes uncared for. Ms. Grimmer could not tolerate the pain of witnessing her children starve. Her impotence to provide for her children led her to the catastrophe of taking the lives of her children as well as her own. There were claims in the media that Ms. Grimmer was mentally incapacitated. However neighbors who witnessed her struggle for survival spoke out to the community after the incident. They clearly stated she was in total competency, came across as well educated, and was a well mannered person.

For centuries, nations, cities, and individual families have dealt with the problem of poverty; how to remedy current situations and how to prevent future ones. For most of history, there have been no government controlled poverty assistance programs. The poor simply relied on the goodness of their families or, if they did not have a family, on the generosity of the public at large. Welfare faces as many problems as it did years ago. There is no universal agreement as to how to approach the welfare problem, because there is no universal agreement as to whether welfare recipients are victims or criminals. Many would like to say that the welfare problem has been solved, that we can now put it in the back of our minds. However, if critics are right about the direction that welfare is headed in, in five years we will have homelessness, crime, and starvation as we have never seen before. Few are heartless enough to be able to put starving children in the back of their minds. So where is the balance between middle America and welfare America? Is it our responsibility to let working Americans take home as much of their money as possible, or is it our responsibility to protect the jobless from destitution? If raising taxes a little bit now could save us a lot later, once welfare recipients became educated, taxpaying citizens, then should we aim for quick cash, or invest funds in our country’s future? Will we ever find an agreeable balance? If we do eradicate our welfare rolls, can a capitalist society function without an underclass? These are the answers that will, in time, become clear, and will probably lead to even more questions. However, perhaps the most pertinent question is the one asked in the introduction. Does anybody really care?

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