April 2018

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

P.S. 13 Throwing money at it

I"m taking an online course to learn more about the experiences of and resources for those living in poverty in my community. The midterm required me to learn about and visit organizations that poor people often need to access.

I struggled with this midterm. Because I am disabled (imbalance, vision problems, and fatigue), getting information and getting to places was especially difficult. Last Wednesday, my morning meeting was cancelled, so I didn’t go in to work in the morning and could visit the local food bank and the Welfare Office. I also needed to make some doctors’ appointments for current medical issues related to my tumors, something that's hard to do when I'm at work, so there was a lot to get done.

Because of my disabilities, I can only drive to familiar locations with dependable disabled parking, so I decided to take the bus to the food bank and the Welfare Office. When I went to the bus stop, a twenty minute walk, the bus stop had moved since this summer when I last took this bus, and as I tried to hurry over broken sidewalks to the new location, the bus passed me by. I waited a half hour for the next bus and took it to the Welfare Office since the food bank had already closed for the day. Unfortunately, I had not scrolled down the web page far enough to see that the office is open every weekday except Wednesday. My only day to go, of course, was Wednesday. Therefore, I had used my morning and paid my 75 cents to ride the bus to the office, walk to the office, and then return to the bus stop to wait for the next bus. When I got home, I lay down to rest before heading to work.

The experience was frustrating, and I thought about how much more difficult this would have been if I were living in poverty and had children with me. Finding information about the office, the food bank, and the bus schedule would have required a separate trip to a library to use a computer. I would almost certainly need to take time off from an inflexible work schedule. I would be managing children as I tried to move to and from the bus stop. The fatigue would be worse, but I would have difficulty taking a nap after my failed trip because I would be caring for children. My children and I would be hungry, and probably cold and wet since the Northwest is now in the rainy season. I would almost certainly be in a wheelchair, instead of walking with a cane, because of my need to have more energy and balance for the children and because my level of fatigue would be even higher. I would have more health problems since I would be spending so much time in a wheelchair.

Additionally, often in exploring resources, I slipped into information about people with disabilities. Since I am concerned about my own health, I found it interesting—and anxiety-producing—to think about myself in addition to the fictional characters I was imagining. I’ve also provided some college scholarships at a school where I used to teach, and these students often call for help. Last year’s four Somali freshmen girls all called in the last two weeks, so as I researched colleges I was also trying to learn about supporting these real students and other students in need.

Today, on this day after the mid-term elections, in the midst of these weeks of media reports on what Americans think, I am constantly surprised by the number of people who still talk about "not throwing money at the problem." Some problems need funding to address, and supporting people, including children, living in poverty and providing a decent education so that the American myth of mobility might still have some truth to it are both causes that need to be supported through public funding. That's not "throwing money." That's just funding.

I am also surprised by the number of people with cars and homes who kvetch about how high their taxes are. I do not think that Americans are bad people, so there must be another reason. I recently read that Americans overestimate economic mobility in this country and underestimate the degree of inequity. This is not about goodness or badness but about awareness--or a lack of awareness.

Though I am generally somewhat cynical about the relationships between elections and big money, I have been stunned to see how many candidates have spent millions of their own money to run. Why do so many people running have their own millions? What might our social services and public education systems do if we threw that money their way?


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