EarthWorms Castings

Jean Ponzi

by Jean Ponzi

Conserving HUMAN Resources

This is typically an “environmental” column, because my vocation, my profession, my purpose in life is overwhelmingly focused around environmental issues, perspective and actions.

However, from recent, intense and involuntarily expanded hands-on experience – and with a national election rapidly looming – I feel compelled to hold forth in this month’s space on a human-centric note.

Specifically: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These are three of our major national safety nets, keeping big groups of our society’s Human Resources from totally disintegrating.

I have not always been savvy about what I now consider to be national-security programs. At the tender age of 58, I have not yet personally tapped into them, but I have stumbled deeply through safety-net personal experience on behalf of elders for whom I now serve as significant advocate and support person.

Consider: regular middle-class ordinary folks, who have paid their taxes all their working lives, who bought insurance and paid off their house and did everything they were expected to do – without extravagance or greed. Yes, they could have bought private long-term care insurance and socked into 401ks – but would they have lost these investments like so many did recently, and could their insurance coverage “change” in the eddies of market forces? I say it’s reasonable for a good-conscience society that prides itself on standard-of-living to pool some resources and make them available to keep such folk modestly afloat when they can no longer paddle their own canoes.

There is nothing extreme here. No excessive demands on society, no one is lounging on the dole. But if support like Medicare did not exist, how would elderly relatives be able to keep paying their bills (using Social Security income – mighty close to the Federal Poverty Level, but still enough to keep folks going), or pay their doctor (not X-Treme Specialists, just good ole’ basic General Practitioners) or afford the supports to keep them functioning (like a wheelchair and a walker) when their own human vehicles start creaking past a reasonable point of repair. Medicare and Social Security may need reform and rehab – what structure doesn’t over time? – but I say those who would dismantle and “privatize” these safety nets are looking strictly to private gain – and I want to follow the money to learn exactly which private wallets are enfolding such self-righteously trumpeting “plans.”

And consider: if the government’s whole-society buying-power was stripped from these societal benefits, and folks who can barely hear on the phone (let alone “register online” or navigate today’s complex and goofy corporate voice-mail systems), how exactly would such individuals – who I really do believe are worthy of some basic compassion and a leg-up – figure out how to evaluate and purchase their own “choice” of benefits from a free-market system, which will probably ultimately price them out of its market within the next election cycle. How much of a benefit is this “choice” at a time in life when genuine supports are what regular folks are likely most in need of.

Medicaid, by the way, is the last resort for folks who have no means of support. It is not given lightly. You have to be impoverished, literally – with income under $999 a month – to be supported by this system. It’s arduous to apply for, and you have to be re-certified every year. It is not a free lunch – and you cannot bounce back up from it into more plush circumstances. But if folks need it, this support is there. And when you need it, the operative concept is NEED.

I get truly ticked when these social safety nets are referred to (usually by very well-heeled political type guys) as society-wrecking “entitlement programs.” If I’ve been paying my taxes faithfully, and right along contributing my bit to society, at a point I will appreciate reaping some benefits from my lifetime of contributions. I’d call this line of thinking a reasonable exchange, not a derogatory “entitlement.”

In my view, keeping even late-life members of society – who may still have some wisdom and humor and experience to contribute to our overall well-being – afloat on a social safety net is a worthwhile investment.

And even though my lessons in this area have been dauntingly, often frustratingly hard-won, I’m grateful to have some personal knowledge of the much-debated, often distorted, exceptionally useful, compassionate and maintenance-worthy services our society as a whole can provide, for some of our most vulnerable (and still valuable) kindred in the Circle of Life.

And I feel strongly to pipe up, about the environment and also now about systems that conserve our society’s precious Human Resources.

Think about it. Get the facts. Talk about it. Don’t be fooled by speeches. And VOTE.

Jean Ponzi holds forth on conventionally Green topics Mondays 7-8 p.m. on “Earthworms” on FM-88 KDHX and Sundays 1-2 p.m. on “Growing Green St. Louis” on the Big 550-KTRS AM.