A sure way to start a riot on Facebook is to post a political comment. Nobody agrees on anything political with the exception of the national debt: that it has reached critical mass and that we have to stop spending money we don’t have. Ideas vary widely as to where cuts should be made: the military budget, tax advantages, entitlement programs. Some of the cuts will come after the elections, but some of them are happening right now, and some of them are happening right here in Emory, Texas. The media pundits throw around lots of impersonal words when addressing this issue, but it’s harder to talk about when there’s a face attached to the cut.
David and I go to the Senior Center for lunch every day, and it’s provided me with material for a couple of previous posts. (here and here) The Center is a Title III “Special Program for the Aging” that provides homebound and on-site meals for people over 60. The facilities are far from luxurious, and the Center operates on a shoestring, but it provides social interaction for people whose lives have shrunk to a small and lonely shell. It’s a place to gather and play games, tell stories, and feel like a part of something. I was talking with the manager the other day about some of the latest economy measures.
“How are you doing today,” I said when she came around to say hello after the lunch line died down.
“I’m okay. It’s just hectic. Things are about to change around here.”
“Really? What’s going on?” I said.
I worried that she might be leaving us. She’s been with the Center for 5 years, but most of her helpers only stay for a few months. It’s hard work with low pay unless you count the appreciation of the clients, and hugs and smiles won’t pay the electric bill.
“We’re changing providers again. This will be the 6th time since I’ve been here,” she said.
The meal is catered by a restaurant on a contract basis. Like the helpers, providers soon discover that the work is hard and the pay is low, and the program directors always want it for even less. As a result, we get a new chef every now and then.
“They’ve also cut the GoBus from every day to three days a week. The ones who ride the bus have to take frozen meals for the other two days so they’ll have food, but they don’t get the social interaction.”
That explained why I hadn’t seen “Jane” as often lately. Jane is a widow who is not in good health and lives alone. Her eyes have deteriorated to the point where she can’t read, and even watching TV is hard for her. She refuses to go into assisted living, because she doesn’t want to give up what little she has left. She goes to church if someone picks her up, and she comes to the Center. Otherwise she sits home alone. Now she’ll be doing that two more days a week.
“I can’t even add the GoBus people to the delivery route,” the manager continued. “I already have 7 people on the waiting list.”
By federal regulations, the meals have to be delivered within a certain time frame, and the one driver is already stretched to meet his deadline. There’s no money to add another driver.
I don’t know much about the Food Stamp program, but some of our seniors are on it. I didn’t even know the name had been changed to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) until I read Christian Piatt’s blog this week. Some people think the program provides sumptuous cuisine for people who are too lazy to work. Piatt says the average benefit is $4 a day per person and challenges his readers to eat on that amount of money for a week.
Before I could process all she had told me, the phone rang and she went back to work. I’ve thought about that conversation a lot since then. This is what entitlement cuts look like up close and personal. What are some other programs that might be cut?
There was a lot of excitement earlier this month when NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory landed Curiosity on the surface of Mars. According to Wikipedia, the objectives of the mission are to investigate the habitability of the planet, to study its climate and geology, and to collect data for a possibly manned mission to Mars. The cost of this project is estimated at $2.5 billion. That would buy a lot of gas for the GoBus.
There’s also been a lot of controversy about the lavish spending on some Department of Justice conferences. Particular attention has been focused on one instance where the DOJ paid $16 each for muffins. A reader commented on Piatt’s blog that he is on food stamps and, because of a quirk in the rules, he only got $16 a month. Several of our seniors also get $16 a month in SNAP benefits, and when our local office closes, they will have to make a 50 mile round trip to get them.
Everybody agrees that we can’t continue to spend money we don’t have, so what do we do? Do we continue to try to send men to Mars when we can’t pick up our seniors for lunch? Do we continue to spend more on muffins than we do on providing food for the hungry? Or do we heed Jesus’ words and provide for the least of these?