Jason lived upstairs from me in HUD subsidized housing. He was paying $11 dollars rent on an apartment that had a fair market value of about $900. His monthly income from Welfare was about $412. The way it works in HUD housing is that they figure your income, subtract out-of-pocket medical expenses, and divide by three: that’s your rent. Jason was sleeping on the floor because he couldn’t afford any furniture. Prior to moving into subsidized housing, he had been sleeping on a friend’s couch, i.e., Jason was homeless. He’d applied for Social Security Disability and been rejected so he was on Welfare. Jason was eating mostly pasta, which is a diet designed to give you diabetes, particularly if you are already disabled.
So what we have here is a person who is unable to earn an income due to physical disability and therefore is on Welfare. Now, here’s the kicker: Jason’s dad was in Washington on the staff of a congressman. As such, Jason’s dad had worked on drafting parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, Jason had one sibling, a sister, who had a graduate degree and was fully employed.
So here’s the question: when did it become all right for healthy, wealthy employed people to abandon their own? When did it become acceptable for able workers to make their neighbors pay for their relatives—because that is assuredly what is happening. The money that government subsidies pay out is drawn in from everybody who is working and paying taxes. If you are not supporting your disabled relative then your neighbor is.
The causes of this breakdown in familial responsibility are many. They include the churches sitting half empty: worshipping God is no longer fundamental; the U.S. Supreme Court said so. God said you should take care of the poor and the sick but who’s listening anymore? The United States Constitution is another big reason why families are no longer responsible for the own. The Constitution has made this country the most ego-centric one in the world: it gives enormous power to the individual, the self, the ego. We have become a nation of selfish people because our form of government supports it: one person can go to court and defy the entire community. Madalyn Murray O’Hair almost singlehandedly stopped all of America’s children from being exposed to daily prayer and bible readings in the classroom.
Transportation and communication have contributed to the breakdown of the family. Interstate highways and unlimited long distance telephone calling have given us the illusion that we are connected with family when, in reality, we aren’t. My sisters were married and had families; I was single and alone, so I was the one who drove three hundred miles down the Interstate and Turnpike to visit them. In thirty years, they never entered my home and by the end of those thirty years, we didn’t know each other. They were completely oblivious to the challenges I faced; they imagined my life to be like theirs. If you’re not gathered around the dinner table once a week then you’re not family: you’re occasional visitors. Easy transportation and communication give us the illusion that we’re connected, but we’re not. If your family doesn’t live close enough to get to you in half an hour in an emergency, then you’re on your own.
Family members are separated and no longer responsible for each other, so everybody turns to the government, i.e., their neighbors, for sustenance. My three sisters each are healthy enough to work full time and therefore wealthy enough to own a car. They all have partners with whom they own homes. Meanwhile, I am receiving Social Security Disability, a HUD subsidy, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps and HEAP, and traveling by subsidized paratransit. You’re paying for my support instead of my relatives sharing their wealth.
The law says that once a person has reached the age of majority then their relatives are no longer financially responsible for them. That’s most certainly not the law of God; that’s the law of the United States. Because we are all wrapped up in our insular worlds—committed to self-actualizing, for Pete’s sake—we have lost the elementary values of caring and sharing. Other countries have families, clans, tribes and communities: we have independence—and it’s costing us a hell of a lot.
You know what the biggest cost is? Administration. First you have to pay for the system that collects your money: the Internal Revenue Service and all its minions. Relatively speaking, that’s not a terribly large expense. Where it gets really, really enormous is in spending your money. Very little of your money goes to direct services for needy people. Most of your taxes go to pay for—hell, the entire U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars, folks. Social Security Disability—how many employees? What salaries? How much in benefits? Medicare? Medicaid? HUD, HEAP, Food Stamps? Someday you and I will sit down and have a little chat about how many paper pushers come into my home every year and make me answer redundant questions in order to qualify for continued support. Then we’ll talk some more about the Onondaga County Dept. of Social Services Fraud Unit, like how much they cost and how little they recover.
If the money went directly from your pocket to mine and we cut out the millions of people who are employed in processing, the cost to you of caring for people like me would be minimal. I have an idea about how we might do that, but meanwhile I’d like to ask you what you want to do about families not caring for their own.
What do you say to change in the secular laws so that families cannot dump their disabled members on their neighbors?
I lived at St. David’s Court, a HUD subsidized property exclusively for people who are disabled. Twenty-three people lived there and half of them were in wheelchairs. Only one tenant was visited by her family members every week. A handful saw their families once a month. Another handful only saw their relatives on holidays, when their relatives felt guilty. Some of us hadn’t seen any of our relatives in years.
Families abandon their disabled members and leave them to government services. Do you think that’s wrong? Do you think we should do something about it? What?