A regular argument I hear against "liberal" social programs like food stamps and public health insurance is that people need to take responsibility for their own needs, and that depending on help from others just makes people lazy.
Bob Kerrey disagreed with that notion this weekend. Of accepting the help of government health care in saving his life, he said, "It didn't make me lazy; it made me grateful."
But let's put social programs in local, South Dakota terms. KELO reports that 86,837 South Dakotans are on food stamps right now. There are 800 thousand-some South Dakotans. Look across nine checkout lanes at Hy-Vee, and odds are you and I are helping the mom and dad and kids in one of those lanes pay for their supper. Are those neighbors just lazy?
Or go to church, count nine pews. One whole pew could be eating tonight thanks to our assistance. Is that whole pew filled with lazy people, neighbors who just aren't as ambitious and virtuous as you?
It's easy to villainize people receiving food stamps or other government assistance. KELO's food stamps report doesn't help: reporter Courtney Zieller doesn't talk to anyone who's on food stamps. The folks needing assistance remain the silent, unseen other, allowing us to maintain the too-frequent assumption that if folks are down and out, they must have done something wrong. They must not be as good as we are. They must deserve their suffering.
86,837... 1 in 9 South Dakotans on food stamps: that's a lot of people to judge as lazy. Half of those recipients are kids. More than 40,000 kids—equal to the enrollment in every Class B school and all but the dozen largest Class A schools. Are those kids and their parents all lazy no-goodniks?
Or they just neighbors, working as hard as any of us, as vulnerable to the vagaries of recession, disease, and accidents as the rest of us?
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