So Mitt Romney thinks the poor have a safety net? That certainly isn’t my experience. A sieve maybe with really big holes to fall through, but hardly a safety net. I wonder what he means. Is he talking about aid to orphaned or abandoned children, Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, SSI for the disabled, food stamps, Medicaid for those living in poverty, shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens for the hungry, or free clinics, to name a few? Who are these “poor” anyway? Is he referring to welfare queens, lazy bums, drug addicts, and criminals? It could be that he “misspoke,” as he claimed later. That’s possible. His mind could have fallen behind his mouth in his attempt to focus on the middle class and creating jobs. It could have been a Freudian slip or just plain ignorance. He is after all born in privilege. He parlayed that advantage into earning untold millions, so that now he is a very wealthy man. Maybe he simply hasn’t associated with the poor, so he has only stereotypes to guide him. I wonder. I wonder about many people and their attitudes toward the poor. After all Jesus did say, “The poor you have with you always, but you will not always have me.”
I am blessed to be the pastor of a Presbyterian church that has some extraordinarily generous members who regularly contribute thousands of dollars to a pastor’s fund that I get to administer. We give $10,000 to $20,000 a year in direct aid to people in our community who need help with utility bills, medicine, food, lodging, medical and dental care, and any number of other urgent needs. Two other churches in our community have similar resources available to help people who are in crisis. The church I serve and the other two also provide a hot, free and nutritious meal once a month to anyone in the community who wants to come. We all offer free transportation to our churches for anyone who can’t get there on their own. This means that in three weeks out of every month, the people in our community can eat for free as guests of one of these three churches. We pay for it out of contributions from members and a $500 contribution from our Presbytery.
I mention this, not to point to our good work, but to let anyone reading this know that I deal with the poor Mitt Romney mentions nearly every day. This is what I know about them. Many of them work. They work at nursing homes, as aides at the hospital, for the city and county, for fast food establishments, construction companies, oil field service companies, and any other of a host of jobs. They come to the churches when they have unexpected medical bills, lose their jobs, have a vehicle break down, or have some other crisis that their meager income can’t accommodate. We help them because that’s the kind of community I live in, and that’s what the disciples of Jesus do.
Other people who come to our Friendship Meals are the mentally and physically disabled. Some have mental illness, while others were born with disabilities. They are quite simply unemployable except at the most menial jobs, and those would put them in the category of the working poor. The elderly come, and they live on such meager pensions or Social Security allowances that they have a very difficult time making ends meet. We also have the lonely come. All in all, it is a community of people on the fringes of society, who are Mitt Romney’s poor in microcosm.
I’m not sure people understand what it means to be poor unless they’ve been there themselves. There is such desperation in people who don’t know if they’ll eat that day, or they can’t get needed medical care, or who simply can’t pay their bills. Some try to “game” the system, but we quickly eliminate them from getting help, at least for a while. The people I see and help are barely getting by. Anyone who thinks the poor are living well should experience the people I and the other churches help. They have very little and feel extremely vulnerable. They need so much more help than we can fill by paying a utility bill or getting them some groceries. The safety net is a fiction. At best it allows people to get by in the best of times. It makes no provision for crisis. Mitt Romney’s poor are human beings, and I find it reprehensible that they are being used as a political football. I think our Lord would be appalled.