A hole in the social safety net

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Most of us are familiar with safety nets. Most often, they are used in the circus acts that feature tightrope walkers high above the ground.

Although the excitement of their act would be greater if there were no safety net, I think most of us would agree that the net serves a positive purpose. Working with no safety net in the tightrope walking business is too risky and the safety net needs to be completely reliable.

Our country has social safety nets that are just as necessary.

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Life is unpredictable and it is only right for our prosperous and blessed country to try and prevent the unnecessary crashing of its citizens. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on these programs and it would be wonderful if we knew that those who truly deserved the help were the ones getting it. If that were the case, I don’t think many Americans would be yelling their heads off at town hall meetings.

Too often, however, we have seen those who have worked hard in their lives and contributed into the system and, then, through no fault of their own, become unable to contribute. They are in need and they call upon this social safety net for help. They either fail to get the help they need or they have to jump through a dozen hoops before they get their help. That irritates the “stew” out of us.

Especially when we see those who know how to game the system and, when they have contributed little or nothing, seem to have an easy time of getting help.

I have a friend. His name is Gerald. Actually, that’s not his name. He is an upright fellow who would not want his troubles broadcast. And just so you won’t hurt your brain trying to figure him out, he doesn’t live around here. He’s just a friend and there are lots like him.

Gerald grew up on the farm in a family that worked hard. He was blessed with good health and was taught as a boy the value of taking care of your own business. In others words, he never expected anyone to pay his way. As Merle Haggard sang, “He ain’t never been on welfare; that’s one place he won’t be.”

School did not hole too much fascination in his life, but he graduated from high school. He then went to work in the farming community. He drove tractors and plowed, planted, harvested and, basically could do it all. After many years of farming, he had the opportunity to go to work with a company that built ponds. He drove all the heavy machinery that is involved in the pond building business.

Another good opportunity came his way. His county needed someone to drive their road scrapers and other kinds of machinery. Gerald could drive it all, work on it all, and the county was good to him and for him. For the first time, he had benefits like health insurance. He worked hard and paid his own way.

His legs were important. Driving big machines, like bulldozers and road scrapers, one needs two legs. The only problem Gerald had was that one of his legs seemed to have a vein problem. He went to the doctor and they decided to clean out the main vein in his left leg. No problem was expected.

I’m sure you are with me on this. There was a problem and Gerald almost died from the procedure. Plus, the cleaning of the vein did not go well and he would go through almost a year of pain dealing with that leg. It finally got so bad, that he went to a specialist at Emory University hospital. The specialist took a look at the leg and was appalled. The previous surgery had been “botched” the specialist told him.

To make the long story shorter, Gerald was advised that his left leg would have to be amputated. Imagine that thought, friends. Whatever was going through Gerald’s mind, however, was put aside and he accepted what had to happen and has been dealing with it ever since. That was almost a year ago.

For the first time in his life, the first time, Gerald was going to have to depend on family, friends, churches to see him through. At least until he could apply for disability. His only way of living had been driving heavy equipment machines and that was definitely out of the question. You understand that, don’t you?

At least he lived in a country with very generous safety nets. The county would understand and continue his insurance. There was no question of his need for disability. Anyone could see that. I said anyone could see that!

Need I go on? First of all, the county hung in there for a while, but then, due to budget cuts, dropped him. Then, after filling out his disability claim very quickly, the bureaucracy took over. It’s funny. Actually, it’s not. Gerald has 60 days to do his filing, but Uncle Sam takes his time. Then, refuses his claim!

Most people say that’s not unusual. They say that Uncle Sam always refuses the first claim. Most times, he refuses the appeal. Then, if you’re smart, you get a lawyer who knows how to get you a hearing before a judge. The judge listens to the lawyer and probably agrees and, bingo!, your claim is approved.

Folks, this is a man who has paid into this system all his life. He has worked hard and never asked a quarter from anyone. He’s proud and it’s a good pride.

He loses a part of his body that most of us take for granted. Just dealing with that is enough. But instead of falling into a safety net that protects him, he has to beg and plead with a system that is as slow as molasses out of the refrigerator. He’s still waiting.

Sometimes I think our government is like a three-ring circus with all the rings full of clowns, but that would be unfair to the circus. At least Barnum and Bailey know how to put up a successful safety net.