What's Wrong With This Picture?

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The photograph is on page one of section A of the newspaper. It shows a group of people in what appears to be a large room. Prominent are a woman in a wheelchair, with a black Labrador retriever lying at her feet, and a fellow in a folding chair next to her. They are identified in the text under the photo as being from St. Louis, at a rally in Jefferson City, the state capital. They are protesting cuts to programs that help disabled adults.

The headline reads: "Budget’s wrenching choice: The faces or the numbers." But is that really the choice? The protest rally is being held in the state capitol rotunda, for the benefit of legislators. The protest was triggered by the governor’s temerity in recommending cuts to welfare programs. One such program provides benefits for disabled Missourians whose income is too high to entitle them to Medicaid. This program cost Missouri (meaning you-know-who) 204 million last year; the premiums paid in amounted to 2.4 million. Missouri leads the nation in the number of people in this program: eighteen thousand.

But wouldn’t you think that the question, raised in the state capitol, before legislators, by people complaining about changes in the law, should be: Is it lawful, or not? Shouldn’t the law, not sentiment, rule in the state capitol?

Well, of course, it will be maintained that the program is lawful. But the "laws" that distribute welfare are little more than the carefully recorded whims and fancies of those who manage to get themselves elected. If this constitutes the "law," then we are all at the mercy of those groups most able to capture the emotions of the "law" makers. Speaking of the proposed cuts, one of those at the rally declared, "If it were not for this program I would continue to be desolate." Is the purpose of law to relieve feelings of desolation? Another declared that since discovering the program, she’s been able to "quit leaning on friends." Of course, the program enables her to learn on strangers. Is that the sort of thing the law should concern itself with? The law, in the naïve belief of some of us, is to guarantee justice, not the relief of desolation, or the satisfaction of putting one’s hands in the pockets of strangers instead of friends.

Additionally, the very "laws" intended to assist the handicapped may trigger other problems. For example: the program that the protestors wish to see preserved provides benefits for people who are permanently and totally disabled, between the ages of 16 and 64, and working! The day that you turn 65, you lose benefits. Should you be so "permanently and totally disabled" that you cannot work, you get no benefits from this program to assist the disabled! I cannot help but wonder if some of these people manage to "work" because somebody gives them a make-work job, and then finds some state program of aid to those who hire the handicapped. And, of course, there are income limits. Should Bill Gates, were he a Missourian, become permanently and totally disabled (but able to work!) he would not be eligible for this program — although he could collect Medicare, of course! Thus, under this program, someone who is totally disabled and unable to work, with an income of X minus a dollar, is subsidizing someone totally disabled and able to work, with an income of X plus a dollar!

It’s absurd, but how could it be otherwise? If you are going to give money to poor people with handicaps, you must define "handicap" and "poor." That means drawing lines, so that people in nearly virtually identical circumstances may find themselves on opposite sides of the line: one receiving benefits at the expense of the other. And the "others" don’t have rallies.

There are more than five and a half million people living in Missouri. Eighteen thousand of them benefit from this program, at the expense of all the others. It is understandable that the beneficiaries would like to see the program continued. It is not so understandable, however, that the government officials in Missouri should assume that the millions who finance this boondoggle do so willingly, or even knowingly. There were "disability advocates" at the rally, for the purpose of showing the legislators the "faces behind the numbers." They showed the solons a few dozen faces; the millions who are forced to finance the program — many of them no better off than the beneficiaries — remained faceless. Are our legislators such ninnies that they can be swayed by this display of sentimentality? Are they such economic illiterates that they can support a program that brings in 2.4 million, and spends 204 million? Are they so unmindful of their role as representatives of ALL the people that they will plunder the millions for the sake of the thousands? Do they actually believe that the purpose of the law is to satisfy the demands of the most strident special interest groups?

Yes, I guess so. We’ll see.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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