Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poverty in America: Another Story

We've posted a couple of very personal accounts lately concerning our welfare system. One was written by a young woman who has witnessed welfare abuse in her family and at her job and was rightly repelled by it. Another was submitted by a young single mother who's struggling to support a child and make it through college. I'd like to post one more from yet another young woman whose life situation differs from both of the previous writers. What we get from these three stories taken together, I think, is a pretty good look at the problems with, and the need for, a government safety net:
I know there are people out there that try to cheat the system (I live next door to the neighborhood drug dealer; trust me, I know), but there are also a lot of people who genuinely need government help. My family is in that category. I know from experience that people who form this view tend to become judgmental of everyone getting government help. Some people never get a chance to defend themselves, and being presented with a chance to do so, I can't help but explain my family's situation from the beginning. Here's my story:

I come from a long line of hard workers. My parents were married the fall after my mother graduated high school in 1988. She was 18 and my father was 20. They started college but both dropped out when I was born in 1990. My father went to work full-time for RESCAR and my mother worked full-time at a department store. My town is small (pop. of 405 as of 2009) and most people who grow up there marry young and don't go to college. My parents were average. They soon became prominent members of the community. Both served on the borough Council, and my father became fire chief.

When I was two years old my little brother was born, and shortly after my health became a problem. My mother quit her job in order to take of my brother while carting me back in forth to Danville, PA for surgery and doctor appointments. My father worked overtime in order to make up for the lost income from my mother. In 1994, my sister joined the family, making us a family of five on one income with a mass amount of bills to pay. My parents had horrible health insurance and the bills from my doctors began to pile up. My mother took up babysitting jobs (nine children in addition to us at once....I'm sure that wouldn't be allowed today) so that we could keep the house heated. We were on food stamps for a while, but my father hated it. Soon he refused to use them.

In 1998 my family's whole world was turned upside down. My father was climbing out of a train car when he slipped off a chemical-soaked ladder and fell to the bottom. For a year his employers sent him to chiropractors. Then, one night in early '99, my father was rushed to the hospital in excruciating pain. It turns out that the fall had broken his back and the chiropractic therapy had made it worse. He went into surgery in Pittsburgh to get rods placed in his spine. After many complications and 6 surgeries later, my father was left with severe pain and limitations for the rest of his life.

My mother picked up a full-time job and a part-time job on top of that. At nine years old I was left to take care of a father confined to a hospital bed for 6 months, a seven year old brother, and a five year old sister. My grandmother would stop by when we were at school to make sure my father ate and sometimes left meals for us. My father received workers compensation for two years while he healed from his surgeries.

Then came the lawsuits. Worker's comp. began sending people out to snoop around my neighborhood and interview neighbors. My grandparents had helped my mother in buying a hot tub for my father's physical therapy so that he wouldn't have to endure the long rides to Pittsburgh every week. They also bought a pool table for him for his birthday to try to bring him out of his depression (he loves playing). The people in my neighborhood began to ridicule my family. RESCAR tried to fire my father so they would no longer have to support my family. He hired a lawyer and finally settled, getting little money. We began to receive government benefits that year.

I knew people were still talking, but I didn't feel the full brunt of it until last year. I was home from college and my dog got loose. I yelled to a woman up the street to grab his collar, and she grabbed her arm and screamed, "He bit me!" When I laughed and explained he didn't bite; she snapped at me, "I know, I'm just faking it like your father." The doctors still refuse to release my father for work. He can't sit or stand for more than 30 minutes. He is in constant pain. For years he suffered from depression. Often I hear him mutter to himself about being worthless. He is no longer the "bread winner" and feels as if he has let everyone down. Their words cut deeper than they themselves will ever know.

To wrap up this long, long story, I have an access card. It's for medical purposes only. I go to college for free. My FAFSA placed my EFC at $0.00, so I receive thousands in grants, but make no mistake, it's not entirely government. I am the recipient of the national Spina Bifida Association $20,000 scholarship awarded for my involvement in advocacy for my own disability. I also hold a vast amount of academic scholarships, and even a Junior Borough Council Members of PA scholarship. I worked hard for that money. It was no hand out, and I am very blessed.

My mother has held the same full-time job since my father was injured. Because of that, my family now has health insurance, although we still have to use our access cards to get by. My brother graduated high school and works as a full-time auto mechanic, so there is now a second income once again in my household. I'll never forget the times my parents had to sell the hot tub or vehicles for coal to heat the house. My family still struggles sometimes to make ends meet, but we have each other. Right now, that's all that matters. So, not everyone [who receives assistance] is looking for a free handout.
There are some in our society who do everything in their power to get by, but because of the vicissitudes of life still need someone to help. There are others who are in difficult straits because of bad choices they've made in their lives, but who are trying to climb out of their predicament. And there are still others who are perfectly content to game the system in any way they can and exploit it for as long as they can.

Everyone wants to help the first group. Many want to help the second, and no one wants to help the third. Unfortunately, it's very difficult for a government bureaucracy to distinguish between them.

The War in Waziristan

The war against Islamist terrorists goes on largely out of sight. One aspect of it that does now and then seep into media reports is the war on Taliban forces in northwestern Pakistan. This conflict is waged using UAVs armed with satellite guided munitions and according to this report at Strategy Page, is taking a fearsome toll on the Taliban.

One of the troubling aspects of these attacks, however, has been the deaths of civilians. The article discusses why this is and what measures the military is using to minimize civilian casualties:
While there are more attacks, fewer civilians have been killed. It's difficult to tell who is an innocent civilian in these circumstances, but since the Taliban have rarely claimed, and identified civilian deaths from these attacks, there are apparently very few civilians killed.

There are several reasons for this. One is better intel, but there's a new weapon in use. The CIA controlled UAVs are now using a smaller missile; the Griffin. This enables targets to be destroyed with less risk to nearby civilians.

In the last three years, the UAV campaign in Pakistan has killed about a thousand people. Some 30 percent of the dead were civilians, largely because the terrorists use human shields, and try to surround themselves with women and children. Many of these civilians were wives and children of the Islamic radicals.

As the CIA intelligence got better, and the locals more insistent on not being human shields, more and more of the civilians were close kin of the terrorists, and at least aware of the danger they were in because of their husband's line of work.

Civilian deaths are minimized by trying to catch the terrorists while traveling, or otherwise away from civilians. Journalists visiting the sites of these attacks later, find few locals claiming lots of civilian casualties.
There's much else of interest in the Strategy Page report. Check it out.