From my vantage point as the Executive Director of an urban nonprofit there are a number of different realities that exist for the people we serve and some that are newly emerging.
One reality is that a person with all the social supports that they are eligible for and is still by every definition, poor. I call this the “true need” reality. They cannot make enough to support themselves even at their most capable.
Another reality is that a person may have had a home, a career, and a family at one point and because of a health condition or a health crisis; they essentially loose it all, fall below the poverty level and need the basic life sustaining social support. I call this the “game over” reality.
However there is yet another reality that has emerged.. It’s the reality of a person who has a health condition, is medically stable enough to work, and yet is too poor to get off the life sustaining social support they receive. I call this the “stuck in the middle” reality.
These are people who work but are well aware that they must stay below their income potential for fear tipping the economic scales too much that it causes them to lose the basic life sustaining support that has helped them stabilize. People in this “stuck in the middle” reality are in constant fear that they will lose their supports and slip back into either of the two realities.
This reality has increased in visibility and the thinking among the ranks is shifting. With so many affected by the housing market crash, recessions, and natural disasters average Americans are facing their own economic fragility and uncertainty from a completely new perspective.
I think we will see American’s who are stuck in the middle understand the true benefit of Healthcare Reform. Healthcare reform has essentially eliminated the possibility of the “game over” reality for many Americans. In conversations that I have with people dangerously close to poverty, this reality is coming into sharper focus; they now realize how important healthcare reform is regardless of the “website problems”.
Pre-healthcare reform many of them did not advocate against cuts in social safety net programs or found them “hard to support” now more Americans see the value of them and see the programs as necessary to keep and the promise of opportunity America is known for.
Now post-healthcare reform, Americans don’t have to lose it all in the event they are ill. We are witnessing a national shift in perspective about what it means to have a health safety net as Obamacare rolls forward.
As I hear opponents of healthcare reform talk about the problems with reforms like these, I think it’s a matter of time before Americans realize that the days of blindly accepting the rhetoric that people in need are in need because they are lazy, dumb, deserve it, or somehow different then those who don’t need, are over. The new reality is that people are people and life happens and those who are in need carry the brunt of judgment about their need even at the very desks of those that are there to provide assistance. I think now that there are different faces of poverty, there is an opportunity to make meaningful changes to the way we as a nation think about safety net programs and more importantly how we provide assistance.
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