Sunday, July 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
During bad economic times, government spending on unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid will rise, as more Americans lose their jobs and need assistance.
To spend more dollars for that assistance is good fiscal policy. To cut back on that aid would produce short-term savings, but it would be bad for America in the long run.
Most Americans who have lost their jobs are eager to get back to work. But the number of jobs that match their skills is insufficient. They may need extended unemployment insurance, food stamps and health care benefits to tide them over.
Does providing such assistance encourage people to relax on the dole? The conservative Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, recently spoke in favor of expanding Medicaid benefits to Ohioans in poverty. He said: “As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy.”
Kasich is right. Almost all Americans want to be productive, self-sufficient citizens, giving back to society in the form of their labor.
The gains from their productive labor will more than repay the dollars spent helping them. And if we don’t help, those millions temporarily unemployed will have to cut back even more on their spending for food, clothing, and other essentials. That won’t be good for our economy.
If we expand Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act to cover health care for up to 20 million more Americans currently ineligible, we’ll give them the security to keep working at low-income jobs that don’t provide health benefits, or to find work when they’re laid off from a job in their later years. This gainful employment of millions directly benefits our economy.
Should we scrutinize entitlement spending for potential waste, fraud or abuse? Of course. Effecting savings by ensuring wise and lawful expenditure is always a good idea. And we need to find long-term solutions for possible Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid fiscal shortfalls.
Some argue that the market economy will move to remedy any insufficiency in government programs. But our unemployment rate is now 7.6 percent and more than 46 million people live in poverty. Sometimes the market works its wisdom. But we need government to step in when it fails.
Ours is the wealthiest nation on earth. Surely we can afford to help those temporarily in need, and those long-term in poverty. The wealthiest country can afford to spend more on current entitlement programs, and on expanded health care.
Should we need to reallocate more dollars to do this, we could cut back our huge annual defense expenditures — a projected 38 percent of total worldwide military spending in 2013. And we could end unnecessary warfare. We could bring America’s fighting men and women and those billions of dollars we’re spending overseas, back home.
Most Americans can easily answer the question posed by Cain (Genesis 4:9): “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course we are. Millions of worthy, productive Americans need our help. It’s a good investment, and it’s the right thing to do.
Fred Andrle is a former executive producer and host of a daily public affairs radio talk show on WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.