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From the Kitchen Table


It's Magic

by Peg Luksik
 

The woman was a single mother with two small children. Her husband had decided that he didn't want to be a father anymore and had left for parts unknown. She worked two part time jobs and made just enough to avoid the welfare system.

Autumn arrived. The tank on her oil furnace needed to be filled for the winter. She filled out all the paperwork for energy assistance. When her application was processed, she got a call from her case worker telling her that she did not qualify. She made too much money to get help.

The woman was dumbfounded. She asked what the income limit was. The case worker quoted the number from the government chart. The woman was over the limit by $1.00. There would be no help provided, unless of course she wanted to quit her jobs, go a month with no income, and then re-apply.

Welcome to the wonderful world of government entitlement programs.

When the government talks about these programs, it always couches them in terms of how the evil rich owe their surplus income to the poor. The proponents talk about millionaires who greedily hoard their fortunes while their neighbors go without the necessities of life. The rhetoric is always emotional and the stories are always moving.

Until you actually begin working in the programs.

Then you find that they have "income guidelines" that determine who gets help and who doesn't. It does not matter where the income is obtained. The only thing that matters is that the applicant meet the standard.

It's like a government version of "Let's Make a Deal", where the contestant who gets the closest to the price without going over it wins. In the program, people will bid one dollar lower, or higher, than their competitor in an effort not to cross the price line.

The government is more exact because pennies count. So a person who makes $9,999.99 may qualify, while a person who makes $10,000 will be judged ineligible. Who would have thought that the difference between rich and poor in America is one penny?

That penny must be magic.

The inevitable result of that magic penny is to deter people from trying to move up the economic scale. A mom, faced with the choice between going onto the welfare rolls to have heat in her house or continuing to work several jobs but watching her children freeze, is going to choose welfare every time.

It wasn't always this way. When help was provided by churches and local benevolent organizations, decisions were made on a case-by-case basis. The person needing help entered into a relationship with those providing it, and effort was generally rewarded. Additional assistance was offered when necessary, in amounts that were appropriate to enhance the person's efforts at achieving independence.

We are hearing mountains of rhetoric as this year's campaign season winds down about the importance and necessity of maintaining all the government entitlement programs. One wonders if the people doing the speaking have ever stood in the shoes of our young mother who just found out that the help those programs give to anyone who is actually trying to build a life is based on a magical penny.


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