Monday, April 29, 2013

Austerity Down on the Reservation

Paul Krugman writes a lot about the morality play that is austerity economics.  According to this script, we are in an economic depression because we have all sinned and lived beyond our means and must be punished in order to bring us back to economic and spiritual health.  As Krugman points out repeatedly, the people responsible for causing the financial crash (gambling addicts in the financial industry) are making out like bandits these days while the punishment is being meted out to people who had nothing to do with finance.

A case in point is our Margaret Watson, an Episcopal priest living with her husband Joel out on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.  The Sequester hit the reservation very hard ending almost all government assistance to some of the poorest people in the USA.  Margaret feeds a lot of these folks out of her own kitchen and her own pocket.  On top of all that, both she and her husband face health problems of their own.

In frustration and despair, Margaret wrote this letter to her Senators:

 My name is Margaret. I am the Episcopal priest serving the Cheyenne River Reservation. It is a difficult job, at best, but I have never felt more fully alive than when serving the good people of South Dakota.
 Here is my concern: The "Sequester" cuts have cut to the bone here on the Reservation. Our Social Services workers will be working without a direct office supervisor, and will be expected to absorb the work load of their supervisor when she is laid off beginning May 1. They already each have over 150 clients. I have heard one serves more than 260 clients --adding more is going to make a difficult job impossible. But more importantly, the clients themselves have been cut off --they have received no monies since the beginning of March. They are coming to my door asking for heating fuel, food, clothes, diapers. Children are at risk.  
There are no Tribal programs that can assist these folks, they are mostly disabled, elderly with grandchildren in the home, or are desperate for work. Last night, after a funeral, I delivered left over food to people's homes. Funeral food to a family of six of baloney sandwiches, biscuits, two apples, two oranges and some chocolate cake. I cannot afford to feed all the people who come to my door asking for help. I have emptied my own freezer, my own cupboard in order to help these desperate folks. I would like to invite you and any one else who is interested to come and stay here for ten days. Just ten days.  
I would like you to open my door and hear the stories, see the faces, see the desperation and despair. I would like you to feed the people from my freezer --and when it is empty explain to them why it is they have to go hungry and cold. I would like you to attend the funeral I would probably do sometime in that 10 days and see the faithfulness, the generosity, the generational grief. I would like you to come with me on home visits and see the extreme poverty out of which that faithfulness and generosity and grief springs. In the last six months, I have done 40 funerals --six infants, two teen suicides, and many, many folks under the age 40. And food, shelter and heat are not the only problems here --the Indian Health Services were also part of the Sequester cuts. And the cuts are affecting the Head Start programs.  
 Have you all become so twisted up in your political lives that you have forgotten the people you have been called to serve? I think so. Look, it's really easy --have no cap on Social Security payments --everyone pays, all the way up. Including you. Don't make me pay 25% and more on taxes while the ultra-rich pay 15%. Don't give yourself healthcare benefits and raises and then deny them to others. Don't punish the children and the elderly and the poor and the disabled by cutting the programs that at least keep them alive at poverty levels. Oh, and by the way, don't sacrifice the environment for monetary gain --that will kill us all.  
 I'll say it again: Don't exempt yourselves from the burden the poor must bear every day. I can only say I am shocked and depressed by my own government. Do better than this. The people you are supposed to serve deserve better.  
 Shocked and depressed,
 The Rev. Margaret Watson

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