January 31, 2014 3:04 p.m. | By: Gail Schechter | Special to Pioneer Press
Fifty years after President Johnson declared a war on poverty, one of the most despised terms in present-day political discourse is “welfare.”
Politicians compete to decry income, food, and housing assistance as a “public quarantine” that takes the poor out of “the hustle and bustle of life,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Budget Committee, said last week. Not to be outdone, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), suggested renaming welfare a “transitional living fund.”
And locally, a Wilmette village trustee declared that the town’s decades-old $45,000-per-year Housing Assistance Program, which currently allows 21 very low-income elderly and permanently disabled residents to stay in the community, is “Wilmette’s version of welfare.”
Although the program costs less than 0.14 percent of the budget of one of the 100 most affluent towns in the nation, the village board declared it “unsustainable” and recommended that it be turned into a private charity.
The implication is that government subsidies for the poor create parasites, people who give nothing back to society.
But who are the biggest recipients of government largesse?
Housing subsidies in the form of the mortgage interest tax deductions for homeowners, tax breaks to developers, and suburban road-building projects and highway expansions are characterized as “investments.” But these subsidies — and zoning density restrictions — isolate people into racially and economically segregated ghettos, while contributing to urban sprawl.
Deflecting attention away from these dole-outs, conservatives criticize rental subsidies as “unsustainable” cash drains.
However, thanks to this “welfare,” a local business owner is able to stay in Wilmette because her son, who is permanently disabled, is able to live close by and enjoy a full community life.
“[I]f you’ve met my son — he’s made you smile. These are the threads of a life woven into our Wilmette community that we wouldn’t want to lose,” she testified to the Village.
Is this not the best kind of investment?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his second inaugural address of 1937, said that “to master economic epidemics,” we must “refuse to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.” He continued: “In our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.”
Anti-poverty programs since have done more to benefit all the people of this nation than trickle-down economics ever have.
Roosevelt saw that it is ultimately unsustainable for a society not to ensure that all members are adequately housed, clad and nourished. Then as now, what we cannot afford is to add more to the abundance of those who have much, at the expense of those who need support.