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Local government the only hope for the poor, Dec. 29, 2005

I enjoyed Philip Infantino’s column in today’s News-Herald. It hit the nail on the head. One person emailed me earlier today that it was &uot;the best column I’ve ever read in a newspaper.&uot;

After receiving that, I figured I ought to read it, too.

Other columnists in the News-Herald had been asking a similar question about what will become of those displaced by the upscale downtown juggernaut.

I agree with Infantino that the Fairgrounds project is a step in the right direction, but I don’t think it will be of much help to many, like the gentleman the columnist encountered in the drug store.

But I don’t know that anything can help him in today’s political and economic climate. The gap between the rich and poor has been expanding exponentially, fueled by massive tax cuts for the wealth and exporting of any blue-collar job that pays a remotely decent wage overseas. The gap is growing and the middle is simply disappearing.

Further, the budget just passed by Congress will set the poor even further behind. Columnist E.J. Dionne pointed out several examples in which when it came down to a choice between cutting giveaways for corporate special interests and needs for the poor, the poor came out on the short end of the stick every time.

The Medicaid cuts include increased co-payments and premiums on low-income Americans, and the budget assumes savings because fewer poor people will visit the doctor. As Kevin Freking of the Associated Press reported: &uot;The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that such increases would lead many poor people to forgo health care or not to enroll in Medicaid at all — contributing to some of the $4.8 billion in Medicaid savings envisioned over the next five years.&uot;

&uot;Ah, say their defenders, but these cuts will be good for poor people. According to the New York Times, Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Tex.), an architect of the Medicaid proposals, said the higher co-payments were needed to &uot;encourage personal responsibility&uot; among low-income people. Spoken like a congressman who never has to worry about his taxpayer-provided health coverage.

And that is just one instance among many of corporate interests being shielded from cuts, while child support enforcement and foster care programs were sliced. Shortly before the bill went to the House floor, Republican leaders, at the insistence of a group of GOP lawmakers from Ohio, dropped a $1.9 billion cut that would have changed Medicare payments to oxygen equipment manufacturers. The main beneficiary of this change was Invacare Corp. of Elyria, Ohio.&uot;

Mercifully, the congressional assault on the poor was stalled momentarily by what Dionne described as a &uot;clever procedural maneuver&uot; by Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. It will have to go back to the House for one more vote.

The bottom line is that no help is going to come from Washington to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Richmond never does anything. The only hope for those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder is local government. I hope Suffolk city officials will continue to address the problem in 2006.