Caught in the middle
By Holly Martin
I’m a member of a group that does community service projects. A few years ago, a member of our group who works at a school identified a family in great need. There were eight children and many of them came to school in the same clothes day after day. They didn’t have coats and winter was here. She was fairly certain food in the evenings and on weekends was in limited supply. She knew they needed help. The mother did not work and the father was gone.
After talking with the mother, we soon found they lived in a trailer with a huge hole in the floor and a door that didn’t latch and did little to stop the wind. Our group bought blankets, coats and clothes. We put together food packages. A couple of the women’s husbands repaired the hole in the floor and installed a new door.
And the family was grateful. I do not know the circumstances of how this family came to be where they were, but the fact was they were there. They needed help. And the thought of little children cold and hungry was not something my heart could bear. It wasn’t their fault they were in that situation. We helped how we could.
Then in the spring we learned the mother was pregnant again. I didn’t even know how to respond. I was so angry that I shut my heart down. How could someone in that situation knowingly bring another child into that kind of heartache?
That family moved and I don’t know what happened to them, but I’ve thought about them often. To me the story perfectly describes the struggle we are dealing with in America today. Conservatives aren’t heartless and uncaring. They understand that some folks fall on hard times and need a little boost.
The boost isn’t the problem. It’s the extended boost. It’s the boost for people who don’t really need it. It’s them not helping themselves after others have helped them.
And yes, I know there are many other things that could and should have been done: foster care, nutrition assistance through food stamps and the WIC program. But set that all aside because that’s not why I’ve told this story. I’ve told it to point out the great struggle many Americans have today with assistance programs.
We, as a country, are willing to give people a second chance. But where do those chances stop? This is the debate that has now stalled the farm bill. The extreme right has drawn the line in the sand and seems unwilling to compromise. I get that. I understand. The left says we have people in need and we need to take care of our fellow Americans. I understand that too.
We know there’s fraud in the nutrition assistance program. There are many people who are getting assistance who shouldn’t be. And perhaps the assistance goes on too long and enables a habit of depending on the government for survival. But there is a real need for it. So how do you get it to the point that it was intended for: to help those that needed it get back on their feet?
To me, that’s the million dollar question. Or four billion, as the case may be.
The problem is that America’s farmers are caught in the middle. The uncertainty of not having a farm bill leads to uncertainty for the agriculture industry, which leads to uncertainty for our rural communities and hometown businesses—the same people who respond when they see their neighbors are in need.
I don’t know what is right.
I do know that a compromise needs to be found and soon.
Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.