By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
No matter what your political affiliation, or your philosophy on life, one hard reality coming down the bend is that there is about to be a significant drop in the dollars now committed to helping poor families in this country. The budget proposed for the next fiscal year at the federal level, will so impact the composition of the safety net, that some will wonder if there is any safety net at all.
And yet there is an amazing silence going on around this issue.
There are those that think because they do not receive subsidy this argument will not affect them. I would beg to differ. My good friend, the late Washington Booker, once told me in a discussion on this issue, years ago, “Do you really think that if they take all the food stamps away from folks that depend on them to eat, they are just going to sit back and watch you unload your groceries?” The answer to that is a resounding no. If without warning you take away subsidies that people have depended on for 50 years, they are not all of a sudden going to find life sustaining work. Most of the people who have been living like this long term, do not have life sustaining skills. The reality is that many of these folks will be forced to rely even more on a life of crime to meet the basic needs of life, and a black middle class community that is already on the verge of collapse, will be the second community, after those losing their benefits, to feel the impact.
There is a warning to be found here. If you are a benefit recipient and are amongst the subgroup that is not making any effort to develop life sustaining skills, this may be your last chance to seek skill improvement while still receiving subsidy for your family. It may also be a good time to sit down with your school age children and talk to them about the changing face of subsidy and the fact that it is very likely that, right or wrong, there will not be as much federal help for struggling families as there is now, and begin a conversation with them on improving their skill sets and making more of an effort to prepare for a sustainable life past childhood.
For city and other local officials, now is the time to start assessing the potential impacts of cuts in poverty programs and to begin a discussion of what steps the city can take to mitigate these cuts. For example, here in Birmingham I think that we can and we must identify funds for increased investments in job training, mentoring and career shadowing programs. I like a recent initiative where the city sponsored a number of young people in learning the coding business and is planning to work with these young people to help them get established in the potentially lucrative coding industry.
For members of our judicial community, this may be a good time to look at how to use the opportunity created by a court intervention to impose conditions on early offenders that increase the chance that the early intervention will be the only needed intervention. I think some of the steps we can take in this arena would include bail conditions that specify that defendants must participate in job training, structured education programs and also in some cases be subject to electronic monitoring. Failure to do any of the required actions would result in the bond being revoked and the defendant being required to sit in jail until their court date. As a citizen of the city I think it would be a good investment to provide the resources to insure a speedy trial for defendants that fall into this category such that no one can claim their civil rights were violated by being held in jail indefinitely without being convicted of a crime.
It may be two years or even a little more before all of these cuts work their way through the system, but they are coming. The folks and communities who do best in the face of this new challenge will be those who plan the best for their arrival.
Or at least that’s the way I see it.
Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 27 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can go to Facebook.com/holliswormsby or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.