Devil Take the Hindmost As Public Policy: What Deficit Reduction Really Looks Like

File this under 'heartless in the heartland.' One of the things that is so awful about the current deficit reduction fetish (well, other than at submaximal employment, increasing deficits are not a problem, so we're keeping millions of people needlessly unemployed) is that budget cuts always fall on the most vulnerable, such as people with cerebral palsy who need a great deal of help to retain some level of dignity. The unlovely ones who make us feel uncomfortable lack champions, and suffer for it. Which brings me to this horrific story, by way of Susie Madrak, from Pennsylvania:

A month ago, Jessica Gridley did something her parents thought they'd never see: She stood up at a conference in State College and addressed a room full of strangers.

She talked too fast, and for only a couple of minutes. But her bravery floored Mark and Melanie Gridley.

Three years ago, Jessica couldn't walk into a Fashion Bug without anxiety overwhelming her.

She is 25, and has a form of schizophrenia as well as bipolar disorder. She was asked to tell her story to a statewide conference for the Clubhouse Coalition, a psychiatric rehabilitation program that helps mentally ill people learn social and workplace skills that can help them find success in their communities.

For the last three years, Jessica has traveled by Paratransit each day to the Cornerstone Clubhouse in Phoenixville, where her favorite activity is answering the phone.

That's going to end July 15.

The state Medical Assistance Transportation Program has determined that although it is proper for Medicare to reimburse the cost of Jessica's daily services at Clubhouse, it will no longer pay the cost of her traveling there.

She is one of thousands of mentally ill people who are trying to understand why their routines must change.

..."They're funding the program, but cutting off the transportation. We are floored," said Lu Mauro, a director of a Clubhouse in Sellersville, and an advisory board member of the state Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

She and others I spoke to predict the decision will save money in the short term and cost more in the end - and that doesn't even begin to account for the human toll.

"You're going to find them in hospitals," Mauro predicted. "You're going to find them in prisons."

The Phoenixville Clubhouse learned in a June 13 letter from Chester County that rides will no longer be reimbursed. Patrick Bokovitz, the county's community-development director, said last week that during the year that ended June 30, 124 mentally ill people rode Rover Community Transportation to day programs such as Clubhouse, making 1,700 round trips.

The county didn't have much warning of the state's decision and cannot offer the rides itself. "It's something we are not in a position to do," he said...

He said the June 8 announcement not to reimburse travel expenses for psychiatric rehab was merely a clarification of existing policy.

Medicare "was never supposed to be used for that," he said.

But it had been, for about a decade, Mauro said. She said the state stands to save between $2.5 million and $3 million a year, and the clarification of the rules will strand as many as 2,000 mentally ill people.

But they're just crazy people, so who gives a damn, right? Because it's not like there are any consequences to this cruelty:

Jessica has lived in Phoenixville for the last year at Liberty House, which is equipped to support the mentally ill. She travels four miles by van to and from the day program. Her parents say they can't drive her - they live 20 miles away in Coatesville.

At the Clubhouse Coalition last month, Jessica told how she liked being considered a member of a team, not a patient. She liked how each day was highly structured.

Diagnosed at 17 when growing up in Syracuse, she has come into her own at the Clubhouse, her mother says, after years of painful struggle.

"She is without question the hardest-working, most persevering young woman I've ever known," her mother said.

"Baby steps are huge successes when someone is struggling with mental illness."

At this point, some people typically say, "I don't want to cut that, just the waste." That's a pathetic excuse--you must possess a willful ignorance rivaling that of flat-earthers to not know that cuts always fall on the needy first. The wastrels (such as they are) always manage to protect themselves--they're certainly not making their case on merit.

These various forms of self-justification that enable the destruction of some modicum of personal dignity are infuriating. Anger, disgust, contempt are the appropriate emotions.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear the phrase 'budget cuts.' That's just a synonym for cruelty. And in a wealthy nation, utterly unnecessary.

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It's because the wastrels can use the waste to buy lobbyists and bribe politicians to keep the waste flowing.

Honestly, many of our social problems can be summarized in "Money rules all." How much money you have determines everything from whether your children get a good education to whether you can afford a good lawyer to how much your voice counts in the eyes of our elected representatives. If you proposed a system where, say, people with freckles got more input into government, a better chance at legal judgments favoring them, etc., people would be outraged. But substitute freckles for money, and "that's just the way things are".

Compassionate conservatives are like unicorns - pretty but fictional.

Mr. Neil Craig
A permanent deficit and permanently expanding debt sounds like - tax breaks for the oil companies, tax shelters for the rich and running a permanent war for the profit of military industrial complex.

By Edward MacGuire (not verified) on 07 Jul 2011 #permalink

Nc, it sounds like something the extreme right was fine with until they had a president from the wrong party and race came along. It's telling that the only changes being pushed are ones that hurt the poorest and most vulnerable among us.