You will always have the poor among you


I was impressed with the eloquence of Teresa A. Stillo Swenson's spirited takedown of Mia Love's attitude toward the poor in this letter to the Trib. One line of her letter especially caught my eye:

"Love’s proposals are not only radical but also unrealistic, uncompassionate and naïve. Perhaps (Mia) should recall the biblical verse John 12:8, which says that "you will always have the poor among you." The point of government programs is not to eliminate poverty but to show compassion for the poor. Poverty is perpetuated when we fail to take responsibility for helping the poor. Eliminating poverty is not the point."

Some might call this radical. Eliminating poverty is not the point? So, just for my own enlightenment, I did a little research to answer the question: How much of government help goes to folks who ought to get off their backsides and get to work? The source is here on the Federal Government's website. Here's what I discovered.

Let's start with Medicaid. Currently, 86% of Medicaid spending goes to the disabled, children, and the indigent elderly (for things like hospice and long-term care facilities).

Continuing on, here are some other places your tax dollars are being spent:

  • Food stamps will cost the government $113 billion this year. Sounds like a lot - but it's 3.0% of the total budget.

  • Unemployment is being attacked as a big budget buster, and it's gone up since the Great Recession. It's expected to drop by half by 2016 as Americans go back to work - but even today, it's only 2.9% of the total budget.

  • The Earned Income Tax Credit, a Republican idea to help the working poor make ends meet, costs $52 billion a year, or 1.4% of the budget. Note these are folks who are, by definition, working.

  • Housing assistance for needy families, by definition providing a place to live for children, costs $59 billion a year, or 1.6% of total spending.

  • Hospital and medical care for veterans: $52.3 billion a year, or 1.4% of spending.

I could go on, but there are two points to be made: The assistance provided by the government goes to a lot of different things. Lump them all together, and it sounds like a lot of money, but when you break things down - it's hard to find areas where massive cuts will not result in massive suffering. Mia Love says the poor need to go to work and quit being dependent on the government. Which poor? The disabled vet who sacrificed a lifetime of health for their country? Are we to go back to sending our children into the coal mines to earn their bread? Should we kick the old folks in nursing homes out in the street and make them go work as greeters at Wal-Mart? Maybe Mia thinks we should force the unemployed to lose their homes and live with their families at the homeless shelter until they get a job?

Teresa's words were emotional on the subject of the poor, but the cold, hard data support her emotion. She is right. We obviously need to encourage self-sufficiency, and with Bill Clinton's welfare reforms, we do. But the poor who cannot fend for themselves will always be with us, and we will be judged by God as a society on how we care for the poor, just as the Nephites were.

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