“We’re talking about ‘us'”: Charleston Gazette op-ed

7 Mar

An op-ed column that I wrote appeared in Saturday’s Charleston Gazette.  Here’s the full text (which is online here).

“Hardship not limited to the lazy”

by Barry Hudock

Sometimes the debate about funding for welfare and other social service programs tends to sound like a lot of hand-wringing about what to do about “those people,” the ones who screwed up so bad or are so lazy, they need “our” help.

When I read the stats presented in a brand new study on food hardship, I was frustrated, but not surprised. More than 22 percent of West Virginians reported in 2010 not having enough money to buy food that they or their family needed at some point during the prior 12 months. That ranks the state at 11th place in food hardship rates — not good, but in good company.

Here in the southern part of the state, things are worse. The state’s most severe food hardship is in the Third Congressional District, with a rate of 24.4 percent. One out of every four people here finds it a challenge to afford enough food for their families. The district ranks in the top 12 percent throughout the nation in food hardship rates. Again, not a good place to be, but clearly we’re not alone.

The national food hardship study was published Wednesday by the Food Research and Action Center, which used information provided by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The new data documents what we see every day at Christian Help of Mingo County — just how much people are struggling in our communities. It’s not something that happens to “other” people, or just the “lazy” ones. It happens to a lot of us.

Like many organizations, we provide a food pantry to help meet the needs where government assistance leaves off. We also provide a well-stocked clothing store that’s free to people in need. We give free rides to medical appointments and grocery stores, and financial help for emergency situations. As a result, we have a strong sense of the need that’s out there, and I can say that demand for our service was huge during 2010.

The struggle to balance budgets is big news these days, and there’s no doubt it’s a challenge. I do not envy those who must make decisions about what and how much to cut. But I’m deeply concerned about potential cuts to low-income assistance programs proposed by Congress for the FY 2011 budget. I hope our elected officials will protect programs that help low-income families.

We can’t balance the budget on the backs of those struggling to survive, because we’re not talking about a small, marginalized group of lazy outsiders. We’re talking about many who are hard-working, well-meaning people who sometimes find themselves needing help they’d rather not need. We’re talking about “us.”

Hudock is executive director of Christian Help of Mingo County.

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