After a Lifetime of Work

My friend desperately needs a divorce, but she lives on $500 a month and can’t afford to move out. Disabled by back surgeries and an auto accident, she receives social security disability, which is her only source of income. She worked throughout her life, beginning at age sixteen, but the jobs paid poorly. As comparison, her husband, who worked in a factory jobs, earned more and receives $1300 a month. Her house payments are $500 a month. Even if she was able to convince her husband to move out, that would give her nothing more for food stamps, utilities, home repair, and medical co-pays.

Fortunately she is on Arizona’s version of Medicaid, but when she sees a specialist, which is necessary given her injuries, she must pay $40 toward the bill each time. Consequently, she remains in a dangerous situation, in terms of her health and her husband. Occasionally, as she is speaking, her face flushes and tears swell up. She asks herself why, after a lifetime of work, she is in her circumstance.

Gender bias and the cruelty of our social safety net shaped her situation. These are forces stronger than her will power no matter how hard she tries.

We sit together in my living room pondering her fate. The dog wags her tail next to us and rests her head on the window sill. Late afternoon light etches our faces. I feel powerless as my friend’s companion. I am able to help her in emergencies but by myself, I am unable to change our system. The best thing I can do for her now is to work hard on the election. If Romey and Ryan have their way, even her food stamps and Medicaid will be drastically cut.

I contemplate her situation if Obama doesn’t win reelection. Yesterday, I heard a supporter of Ryan say that a safety net was not a government responsibility but should be provided by private charity. Private charity would have to be massive if such a change would be made, and the reason why we have a government safety net is because private charity was totally inadequate. Systems of charity use the most attractive cases to appeal to donors, and many people are bypassed because they do not appear to be socially worthy. Yet, in the proposed cuts, even the most vulnerable and attractive, the nation’s children, disabled, and the elderly, would tragically lose benefits.

The country really does stand in a cross roads. Thousands more will die if Medicaid and food aid are cut. Senator Bernie Sanders estimates that 45,000 people are already dying because they do not have health care. We lost three thousand in the September 11 attacks. Imagine that figure multiplied over and over. If medical care and food stamps are cut drastically, children will again have swollen bellies and rickety legs.

I hold my friend’s hand. What can I say to comfort her? There is nothing. She is fully aware of her situation.

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