Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” adding, “and you can help them any time you want.”
Wyoming legislators are not interested in Jesus’ invitation to “help them any time you want.” They are doing what they can to make certain the poor always will be with us.
It is troubling that those elected to serve the people can look right past those most in need.
Truthfully, they don’t look right past the poor. Sadly, they target them. In times of sacrifice it’s the poor who have to step up.
Look at the numbers. This is what the Legislature left in its wake following its recent budget session.
The majority left 20,000 Wyoming working people without health insurance. By expanding Medicaid as Gov. Matt Mead recommended, the Legislature could have provided health insurance for these folks and saved more than $33 million dollars.
Mr. Mead proposed a budget that would have rendered unnecessary the cuts to programs for low-income families. Those harmful cuts could have been avoided.
“Are we willing to cut nearly $33 million from literacy, tourism, local government, senior centers and early childhood development just so we don’t have to expand Medicaid?” Mr. Mead asked in his State of the State Address.
“You betcha,” said his party’s legislative leadership.
Then they noticed programs serving the poor and went after them with a vengeance.
Legislators deprived 6,000 citizens of a refund of sales and use taxes paid by the lowest income families.
Low-income families have received this refund annually since 1976. Not even in the darkest days of the 1980s budget crisis did anyone attack this meager benefit, which annually averages just $625 per household and is provided to those making less than $17,500. Most of these folks live off little more than a Social Security check.
Legislators didn’t even have the courage to notify the elderly and poor who were expecting a check that one wasn’t coming this year. They passed that unhappy task to the Wyoming Department of Health, which administers the program.
Legislators didn’t stop there.
They slashed a program designed to assist low-income taxpayers with property taxes. Next they targeted the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.
LIEAP funds have long been available to help low-income families pay high utility bills and the costs of weatherizing their dwellings, usually among the least well built or maintained.
Don’t tell me they weren’t “hunting down” the poor. Legislators went after them relentlessly.
They eliminated Medicaid funding for dental care for the low-income elderly. The cuts that seemed the most petty were those eliminating the family literacy centers. These cuts meant the loss of nearly three-dozen jobs and a program that helped those seeking to help themselves.
After doing all of this and more to Wyoming’s poor people, the Speaker of the House, Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said, “The people of Wyoming were our first priority in every decision that was made.”
It’s easy to understand the politics behind these choices. It is not so easy to comprehend the absence of moral decency.
It’s simply not possible that those legislators targeting the poor don’t know they exist. Our communities are small. Everyone knows.
Legislators cut benefits while refusing to increase minimum wages, knowing that Wyoming has a higher than average number of people working multiple low-wage jobs with no benefits.
They know that a high percentage of these workers are single mothers who, as a result of legislative choices, live far below the poverty level.
Legislators know about the lack of safe, affordable housing. During their campaigns, they knock on some of their doors.
While asking for votes, they should peek through the doorway, where they’ll occasionally find a teenager caring for a younger brother and sister because mom has to work but cannot afford child care. Look into the cupboards and they would see why there is uncertainty about whether their kids may eat today.
Legislators rely on them to clean their rooms and their toilets, serve their food and care for their children.
Yeah, legislators know. They simply don’t give a damn.