It’s true. Jesus did say, “You will always have the poor with you.” And the legislature wants to make darned sure this happens…but they have missed his point!
Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center reports the latest effort of the legislature to assure the poor will not only always be with us but that they will continue to be poorer. This week the House rejected a bill to provide meager unemployment benefits. The reality of seven straight quarters of decline in new business formation and the loss of 15,200 Wyoming jobs wasn’t persuasive. Somebody’s elected representatives still turned down 38 million dollars in federal unemployment funds in favor of stereotyping those who are without work.
That is 38 million dollars that will remain in Washington for who knows what instead of circulating in Wyoming through the wallets of landlords, grocers, clothiers, service providers and others who could have used those dollars to create jobs here.
This follows the defeat of another bill that would have limited the ability of payday loan sharks from exploiting the poor. It seems clear someone has a stake in making certain the poor will always be with us.
Fifteen years ago, President Clinton and Congress “reformed” the welfare laws. Wyoming took full advantage tossing more than 90% of the old AFDC population off the “welfare” rolls and into the deep end of the employment seeking pool. People often ask what happened to those people. Most of them who were able went to work. Welfare reform created a forced labor supply for employers who paid substandard wages with no benefits such as health insurance.
As Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Evansville) said on the floor, “I think the compassionate thing to do is make it difficult for people who don’t have a job so they go out there and hustle to find one.” That attitude assures wages remain low and also requires the taxpayers to pick up the tab.
This assured labor supply makes it possible to pay even lower wages. Low income workers continue to be eligible for other public benefits such as food stamps, child care and Medicaid. Taxpayers are required to subsidize employers who get off with “compassionately” paying low wages. You see, the reason poverty continues to exist is that someone always has a stake in its perpetuation…and it’s not the poor.
Can you now understand a little better why a majority of someone’s elected representatives would reject federal funds to help unemployed workers survive this recession? It also explains why the legislature is so reluctant to put limits on how much usury they will tolerate from those who loan money to workers whose paychecks won’t quite stretch to the end of a month. But it doesn’t explain the handwringing about the Medicaid budget. If the legislature acts with one hand to make certain the poor are always with us and uses the other hand to point a finger at Medicaid’s budget as a culprit, what we have is a failure of one hand to communicate honestly with the other.Oh by the way, when Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you,” it was not an invitation to exploit them, but a judgment against those who do. The Bible Jesus read included a promise from God. “There should be no poor among you… if only you fully obey the LORD your God. If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:4-11)