Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Will This Shutdown Stay Unbroken?

I certainly hope not. My memories of working for the New York City Department of Social Services in the 1970’s may provide some clues.

As an investigator in Spanish Harlem, I’d knock on recipients’ doors. “I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.” (‘Welfare Dept’, we were told, had negative connotations).

“Say what?”

“I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.”

“Say what?”

“I’m from the Welfare Department.”

“Oh. Why didn’t you say so?”

I’d hear the deadbolt lock open. Then the metal police bar would be removed. Next came the other two locks. Lastly a door would crack open and a brown or black face would warily poke her head out and welcome me in.

Months later, I was transferred to Queens where I worked in a neighborhood that was predominantly white of various ethnic origins. I’d knock on the door with the same introduction. Someone on the other side of the door would eventually stage whisper, “Go around the back. I don’t want my neighbors to know I’m on Welfare.”

Little did it matter that many of her neighbors were also receiving help since they were too ashamed too talk to each other to know that. As I’d be warily let into the home, the person would often say, “We’re not like the others. We’re getting this help because we really need it.”

Who was I to judge? As Bob Dylan so eloquently sang, They’re only pawns in the game. Ten years year later, Reagan exploited that indoctrination with talk of welfare queens and images of underclass people- usually black-in various squalid situations. Those images are haunting us still. The fact that 83% of SNAP [formerly known as Food Stamps] recipients are full-time low-wage workers or that the majority of people receiving TANF [formerly known as Welfare] are white often doesn't enter the public consciousness.

In our still racially divided society, I suspect that the Tea Party exploits these haunting images as they rail against government money being spent for health care or basic necessities to aid low-income people in our country. Their hope is that if people perceive of the majority receiving aid as the Other, they won’t have empathy enough to support the programs.

Hopefully, this strategy is not going to work this time. Too many white people have been uninsured due to pre-existing conditions and/or not having jobs that provide health insurance and/or not being able to afford the premiums of private policies. This time the majority isn’t going to buy it. That’s why Pres. Obama was re-elected and why the Affordable Health Care Act aka Obamacare is here to stay. Get used to it, Tea Party. They'll probably accuse me of playing the race card as they do whenever people try to deal with the knotty subjects of race and class.

Stay healthy everybody until our government comes to its senses. I’m counting on the good sense of the centrist majority to prevail.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shut the Government Down? They Don't Know Beans (Another Recipe)

They’ve done it - descended to such a low level of selfishness that they have shut the government down rather than allow the Affordable Health Care Act ( aka Obamacare) to proceed. The Tea Party representatives are telling us that this is a dangerous law. Regardless of what they think of the law, it’s been the law since 2009 and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012.

During several of our travels, we have met Canadians and talked with them about their health care system. Canadians from British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario have told us that they are very satisfied with their health care, thank you very much. While the specter of Canadian health care and health care rationing was dangled before us Americans, these Canadians assured us that they received all the care they needed. Mary and Edgar (not their real names) were both over 80 years old and had just had hip and knee replacement surgeries respectively. When I asked Mary if they had any trouble getting the surgery, she said, “No, we just showed them our cards and walked right into the hospital.”

My husband and I lived in Israel in the early 1970’s. Forty years ago, Israel was still a new country striving to establish itself. Nevertheless, they managed to have a national health care system that provided basic care to all of its citizens. Those who were more affluent could purchase private insurance if they wanted to do so. Everyone else was able to access the basics. Sometimes it involved waiting to see a specialist but that’s certainly preferable to having a large portion of the population uninsured.

It’s impossible for me to understand why some people are so adamant insisting that the government not provide basic food and health care to their neighbors in need. If a selfish refusal to pay higher taxes isn’t the motive, I’d like to know what it is. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the upper 1% of our population has the largest percentage of wealth – 23% - since the 1920’s. It certainly sounds like selfishness to me.

In the meantime, many of our neighbors have become food insecure and unable to access health care. Many don’t have a bean. Since beans are an inexpensive form of protein, I’ll provide my recipe for 5-Minute Bean Salad. It takes about five minutes to make and serves four to eight people depending on whether it’s a main dish or a side salad.

                                                              Five-Minute Bean Salad

One 14.5 oz can of black beans drained
One 14.5 oz can of garbanzo beans drained
2 tomatoes chopped
½ green pepper chopped
green olives
cilantro leaves
feta cheese (optional)

olive oil, lemon juice, oregano for the dressing

Put the first seven ingredients in a bowl and mix them up.

Sprinkle the dressing ingredients over the top.
Refrigerate until cold.


It’s good with pita and hummus.