Like my colleague Mike the Mad Biologist, I’m horrified by a story out of Indiana in which parents of disabled children who are no longer receiving state aid due to the state budget crisis, were told that they could drop the kids off at homeless shelters if they were unable to care for them at home:
However, that’s exactly what Becky Holladay of Battle Ground, Ind., said a bureau worker told her when she called to ask about the waiver she’s seeking for her 22-year-old son, Cameron Dunn, who has epilepsy, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“We are people and they are people,” she told members of the General Assembly’s Commission on Developmental Disabilities on Tuesday. “They have lives that are worth something.”
The commission’s chairwoman, Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, said she’s heard similar stories from other witnesses who were told they could abandon their children.
Mike goes on to pass on several other stories of parents being told to either take their children out of subsidized facilities or leave them at a shelter. This is just one more horrifying episode in the saga of state budget crises being played out on the backs of the disabled, on poor children, on the most vulnerable people in the US – going back to 2008, we’ve seen the elimination of home health aides for the severely disabled in Arizona, cutting of child health care for poor kids, and on and on and on.
Where Mike and I disagree is on the root cause of this. He blames this on deficit reductionism, the unwillingness to borrow in order to secure our basic future. This is an argument made by a lot of people, and in some times and places, one I might make as well. But this isn’t one of them – I would argue what this demonstrates are insanely misplaced priorities, not the reasonable disinclination to borrow.
The reality is that in order to believe that running deficits in a crisis is a good idea, you have to believe that what will follow is a period of growth that allows you to pay off those debts fairly painlessly. The problem is that every single period of economic growth the US has had in the last century has been accompanied by expanded energy consumption – we simply have no evidence that one can have economic expansion and energy conservation at the same time. The realities of both climate change and resource depletion, however, mean that we can’t afford a period of energy expansionism – and there’s some question considerable about whether we even have the resource base to produce one.
Framing the problem correctly is important here – even if we borrowed a ton more money, there’s no real evidence that Americans would spent it on the poor and vulnerable – they are always our favorite targets, because the underlying assumptions of American society is that you have to “grow the economy” in order to enjoy luxuries like feeding the hungry and taking care of disabled kids. That is, of course, insane – we still have the money to be doing road work, but not to make sure that elderly people get medication that keeps them alive? We still have money to stimulate the economy by building runways for people who fly, but not money to keep disabled kids in group homes? We still have money to run a war in Afghanistan and a “not quite a war anymore” in Iraq, but we don’t have enough money to pay for lunches for poor kids? We have state money to provide tax breaks to businesses that might consider maybe locating ten jobs in our state, but nothing to provide home health aides for parapalegics? Bullshit.
This isn’t about deficit reductionism, it is about misplaced priorities – about fundamentally false notions about what government is for, what its highest aims should be, and most of all, what kind of people we are. The deficits question is a sideshow.