When I testified recently before the Legislature in opposition to the proposed cuts to MaineCare, I was assigned No. 70 of the more than 400 people who testified.
Just before they called my number, the hearing clerk announced that they would be taking out of turn a person who needed special accommodation. As the hearing clerk adjusted the microphone at a lowered handicap accessible podium, a young woman in a wheelchair motored herself to the front. She was severely physically handicapped — but not mentally. She could hardly lift her head to speak into the already lowered microphone. She held her handwritten notes between her twisted fingers and limp arms.
After identifying herself she explained how her MaineCare benefits helped her to remain in her home, how caregivers came in to help her get out of bed in the morning and to help her use the toilet, bathe and dress. Sitting next to her I listened and watched intently. We were all seeing and hearing firsthand how changes in the budget would result in real changes in the lives of real people.
On the way home from the hearing I called our city hall to ask if the Walmart shopping center in Waterville was still receiving a tax break under a TIF (Tax Increment Financing Agreement). I was told that under the TIF it was still receiving a $450,000 annual tax break. I was also told it had been receiving the tax break for the past 15 years and it was good for another five years at $450,000 per.
When it comes to balancing the budget shouldn’t we also look at lost revenue sources? We don’t have to only cut basic safety-net benefits. We could also consider cutting excessive tax breaks. We don’t have to take away what little some people have so that those who already have a lot can have a lot more. It doesn’t always have to only be about money; social justice should fit in there.
Why don’t we tell Walmart, just like we tell the young woman in the wheelchair who can’t get out of bed in the morning on her own, that we can no longer afford their $450,000 per year tax break; that they’ll just have to get by without it; that they don’t really need it anyway, that they’re just milking the system, etc., etc.
Why do we only make the young woman in a wheelchair come to the podium and beg for help? Why don’t we make (or ask) the big international corporations and other corporate welfare folks to come to the podium and explain (or beg) for their welfare benefit? After all, according to Forbes Magazine, the Wal-Mart family alone is worth $93 billion. This $450,000 per year tax break is only a drop in the bucket for them; they’ll never miss it or need it.
Who’s milking the system? Why the double standard?
There may very well be instances of abuse in the personal welfare system and that abuse should be eliminated. But welfare abuse should be eliminated at all levels; municipal, state and federal; corporate, as well as personal.
Because no matter how you cut it, the real bottom line — for Republicans, Democrats, independents and tea party members alike — is that we have 95 percent of the wealth in the hands of 5 percent of the richest of the rich and their corporations.
And the rest of us are just fighting over the crumbs that fall from their table.
John E. Nale is an elder law attorney and president of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.