WE'D LIKE to add a few stories to the president's stock of anecdotes. These are true stories about the kind of people who were hit hardest by last year's cuts in social programs and who stand to be hit again by the further cuts the administration is now proposing.
First, there is the woman in Tennessee with an ailing daughter and two other children to support. She takes whatever work she can find at the minimum wage. Her earnings average about $35 a week before payroll deductions. One week, because she was lucky enough to find extra work at a fast-food outlet, she earned a bit more. Under the welfare rules put into effect last year, the state then cut off her $35-a-week welfare check and took away the Medicaid card that enabled her to get treatment for her daughter. Buying private medical insurance would cost more than her total earnings. To keep Medicaid coverage, she must now be sure to work no more than 20 hours a week, although her welfare grant will still be sharply reduced.
Then there is the family of seven living in western Maryland. The father has chronic bronchitis but he works whenever he can at jobs rarely paying more than the minimum wage. The family lives in public housing and depends heavily on its monthly food stamp allotment to help feed the five children. Both benefits were cut last year.
Finally, there is the young woman in Mississippi who supports her son by working nights while going to school full-time during the day. Her son has health problems. Last December both her $10 a week welfare check and her Medicaid coverage were terminated. Her job does not provide health coverage and buying such coverage would take most of her take-home pay. "It's not easy to work and go to school and be a good mother," she testified at hearings held jointly by three House subcommittees, "but I have some goals in life that I want to achieve."
These families--and countless others like them --have several things in common. All are doing what the president--and most of the public--wants them to do: they are trying to help themselves to the extent that their circumstances allow. All suffered substantial losses in their already low incomes as a result of last year's budget cuts in welfare, food stamps, public housing and other social programs. All will suffer more if congress goes along with the administration's new request for further cuts--such as the 40 percent average reduction in food stamps for working families--that are targeted on the working poor. Most of these families would now be better off if they quit work entirely and lived on welfare.
Is this what we are trying to achieve? response is to attempt to tackle those tensions at the same time. This seems to us essentially what the administration has set out to do, in El Salvador and in the region as a whole