What does it mean for a nation to be good? What does it look like when a once good nation ceases to be good?
The goodness of a society is determined by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey formulated a standard by which societies would be measured. “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”
By that measure, Wyoming is joining America in ceasing to be good.
In June, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual assessment of child well-being in the 50 states. Wyoming finished dead last in the category of kids’ health. We can credit the state legislature for its near-criminal refusal to expand Medicaid and its mindless slashing of healthcare and safety-net programs in the state’s budget.
Coupled with a Congressional delegation that unanimously supports both bludgeoning Medicaid and the most anti-Gospel budget in history, and it’s not a good time to be “in the dawn of life” in the Cowboy state. Neither is it a good time to be “in the twilight of life” or “in the shadows of life.”
The Gospel teaches we will be judged by what we do to help the least of these. State and national politicians are determined to do the least they can for the least of them, whether they be children, disabled, poor, or elderly. If you’re hurting, homeless, or hungry, you are in the crosshairs of the conservatives.
Under cover of a downturn in coal production, Wyoming legislators turned on poor and low-income families with a vengeance. First, they 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 previous budget crises 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 stop there. They slashed a program designed to assist low-income taxpayers with property taxes. 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.
They eliminated Medicaid funding for dental care for the low-income elderly. The cuts that seemed the most petty and short-sighted were those eliminating the family literacy centers, a program helping those seeking to help themselves.
They did that while refusing Medicaid expansion to provide healthcare for 18,000 low-income working families, a move that would have saved the state enough money that many of the aforementioned budget cuts wouldn’t have been necessary.
Little wonder Wyoming ranks last in meeting the needs of child healthcare. It wasn’t an accident.
Adding to the pain, Wyoming families are under assault from Washington. TrumpCare targets children by ending Medicaid as we know it while depriving 22 million families of needed healthcare. His budget slashes food stamps for working people who are paid so little that they qualify. It slashes Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Insurance. Rental assistance for a quarter of a million Americans is eliminated.
If de Tocqueville returned again with a stopover in Wyoming, he’d see an America on the verge of forfeiting its goodness, a country increasingly determined to leave behind those in the dawn of life, the twilight of life, and in the shadows of life.