Are entitlements pushing U.S. toward bankruptcy?

Yes: Federal leaders in denial as they head toward fiscal cliff; No: The people we help today will be productive taxpayers tomorrow

By R. Bruce Josten and Fred Andrle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published: Sunday, July 28 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

No: The people we help today will be productive taxpayers tomorrow

COLUMBUS, Ohio — During bad economic times, government spending on such programs as unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid will rise, as more Americans lose their jobs and need immediate economic assistance.

To spend more dollars for that assistance is good fiscal policy. To cut back on that aid, as some are advocating, would produce short-term savings, but it would be a bad investment for America in the long run.

Most Americans who have lost their jobs are eager to get back to work. But they're looking for work in a market where the number of jobs that match their skills is insufficient. They may need extended unemployment insurance, food stamps and health-care benefits to tide them over. Providing that assistance will give them the time and energy they need to successfully find employment in an improving economy where, slowly, more jobs are being created.

Does providing such assistance encourage people to relax on the dole? The conservative Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, recently spoke in favor of expanding Medicaid benefits to Ohioans in poverty. He said: "As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody's poor, somehow they are lazy."

Kasich is right. Almost all Americans want to be productive, self-sufficient citizens, giving back to society in the form of their labor.

If we spend more money helping them now, that's a good investment, because these Americans will eventually re-enter the labor force and produce billions of additional dollars for our economy.

The economic gains from their productive labor will more than repay the dollars spent helping them. And if we don't help now, those millions temporarily unemployed will have to cut back even more on their monthly spending for food, clothing, and other essentials. That won't be good for our economy.

If we expand Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act to cover health care for up to 20 million more Americans currently ineligible, we'll give them the security to keep working at low-income jobs that don't provide health benefits, or to find work when they're laid off from a job in their later years. This gainful employment of millions directly benefits our economy.

Should we scrutinize entitlement program spending for potential waste, fraud, or abuse? Of course. Effecting savings by ensuring wise and lawful expenditure is always a good idea.

Some argue that the market economy will move to remedy any insufficiency in government programs. But our unemployment rate is now 7.6 percent and more than 46 million people live in poverty. Sometimes the market works its wisdom. But we need government to step in when it fails.

The United States of America is the wealthiest nation on earth. Surely we can afford to help those temporarily in need, and those long-term in poverty.

Should we need to reallocate more dollars to do this, we could cut back our huge annual defense expenditures — a projected 38 percent of total worldwide military spending in 2013. And we could end unnecessary warfare. We could bring America's fighting men and women and those billions of dollars we're spending overseas, back home.

In addition to the fiscal wisdom of investing in our fellow Americans, do we not have a moral obligation to help them when they're in need?

Millions of worthy, productive American men and women need our help. Let's give it to them. It's a good investment, and it's the right thing to do.

Fred Andrle is a former executive producer and host of a daily public affairs radio talk show on WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.

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