The Billings Outpost

Legislature needs to show bigger heart for poor



“Think of the children starving in Europe,” said my Canadian mother-in-law to my preschool sister-in-law, Lynnie, a guilt-filled encouragement to get her to clean her plate.

In our home, the children were starving in India, where my dad was stationed during World War II. (Where were the children starving in your family?)  Already a rebel at six, I would wonder how we could ship the stuff I was pushing around my plate to those needy Indians.

In the 1950s and ’60s, America was a land of plenty. Children starving in the good old U S of A? Not anyone we knew. Maybe there were hungry kids in Appalachia.

A returning vet could go to college on the GI Bill and then get a good paying job with health insurance and a retirement plan. No college? No problem. There were plenty of great jobs for anyone willing to work hard, again with benefits. Food in abundance, a veritable cornucopia of everything from strawberries to Wonder Bread, filled the grocery.

Not so in Montana, any more. And not so in Billings. There are so many hungry children here in our town that we’re asked to sponsor a child by supplying a weekend backpack full of food. 

Meanwhile, ultra-conservative legislators use the term able-bodied and insist that our neighbors with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program prove that they’re working. In Montana, more than 129,000 people, or 1 in 8 of your neighbors, gets SNAP, with 69 percent in families with children. Another 29 percent are elderly or disabled.

Hate to burst your bubble, but current SNAP beneficiaries already have to provide income info as well as other data. And this isn’t a simple form. The application is now 16 pages long and all info has to be documented. The top page, not included in the count, encourages the applicant to ask for help with the complex pages.

At the onset of the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Dirty ’30s, Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp., an international conglomerate that includes FOX News, immediately began promoting the Tea Party. On Feb. 27, 2009, the first protest occurred, ostensibly including President G.W. Bush’s bailout of the banks in October 2008, but really against Obama’s attempt at relief for ordinary Americans buried in the avalanche.

However, the Tea Party didn’t just attack the Obama package, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but also went after but all federal entitlement programs.

Moderate Republicans across the country helped write and pass those entitlements in the 1960s and ’70s, that “safety net” hailed by Mitt Romney in 2012. Since Obama’s election, moderate Republicans have also been in the Tea Party’s sites. That ultraconservative tide has also hit Montana.

“I was a moderate Republican,” Toni Rosell, (now deceased) Yellowstone County’s first woman elected to the Montana Legislature, once told me. “I supported the ERA.”

John Bohlinger, another moderate Republican, switched parties to become our lieutenant governor in the Schweitzer administration.

At this writing, Gov. Steve Bullock is the finger in the dyke holding back a tide of Tea Party extremism. A glance at the state budget as of April 7, shows cuts, yet again, in Human Services, including a modest cut in mental health and addiction treatment.

The crowd in Helena just passed a law that mandates treatment of some kind for public intoxication. If you mandate it, don’t you have to fund it? As of now, there’s a waiting list for Montana’s one public treatment center. Other treatment is attached to the Department of Corrections.

Other craziness: lots of money for CHIP, the children’s health program, but no Medicaid for the working adults who support them; adoration for stay-at-home moms, but enough SNAP for only three weeks’ worth of groceries for single moms with preschoolers. I’ve never seen a single mom with a baby or a preschooler buying luxury items. They more often have a case of Ramen noodles to make the food go farther. And while more people need SNAP, federal money for the food program has been cut.  

Jesus said, to the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack. Go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matt 19:21). We are to love people and use money, rather than the other way around. Instead of “Do no harm,” a passive declaration, it’s “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” There is much every Montanan can do.

The Montana Legislature, Republican controlled, is coming to a close, but it isn’t too late to call your representatives at (406) 444-4800 and voice your opinion.

And when you vote next time, whatever your party choice, look for the sane center, those who are able to compromise and get things done. Let’s return to that pioneer spirit where neighbor helps neighbor, the Big Sky with a Big Heart.

Sharie Pyke is a writer in Billings.


Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:37

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