Mason County News
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In My Opinion
Defining Assistance Payments...
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 • Posted February 21, 2013

The readers of the Mason County News aren't just passive observers. As the Letters to the Editor reflect, they are also well-informed contributors to the public discourse. They are willing to sound off on almost all topics, and we're pleased to be able to provide a forum for that exchange of ideas.

One of the most au courant topics during the last few months has been government assistance. Many of the writers have railed against the government dole and the many that are feeding at the trough. However, it's important to note that the definition of "handout" varies depending upon the viewpoint of the author. What one sees as a handout, another sees as a right.

The most obvious example would be the Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare programs. The failure in that logic is that we, all of us, have been paying into those programs for years. When I turned 50, I started receiving statements from the Social Security Administration alerting me to the annuity possibilities should I decide to retire in the next decade. Those payments are based upon the amount of money that I've paid into the system during my lifetime. When I do start drawing out funds, the payments will be based upon the money that I've actually paid into the account. To draw Social Security, one must have a number, and one must have an account with some balance, either one's own, or to be a survivor of someone who had an account.

The most frequent target of discussion, other than the aforementioned, are the public assistance programs known collectively as Welfare. These myriad assistance programs seek to make sure that all members of society have food, clothing and shelter. I'll be the first to admit that there are people who have devised clever methods of "working the system," collecting benefits with no attempt to become contributing members of society. One should note that there are an even greater number of families, with both parents working minimum wage jobs, provide a meaningful contribution to the community; but, still needing a little extra help in order to meet their daily needs.

I've also heard people complaining about agricultural assistance programs. In the last few decades, many of the price supports from the government have been discontinued, allowing market forces to dictate the prices received for peanuts, wool, mohair, corn and cotton. There are still programs that help to stabilize those markets, and there are programs to assist with conservation efforts, crop/range expansion, reforestation and wildlife/ecosystem restoration. The importance of the programs depend upon ones understanding of how fragile a balance most agricultural producers maintain as they struggle to go from year to year providing meat and produce for American tables. Without most of those programs, most farmers and ranchers would be hard pressed to continue from one generation to another.

Such programs don't stop at the farm, ranch or local home. There are also assistance programs for businesses, and those are often in the millions and billions of dollars, but much less discussed. Oil and gas companies receive tax abatements or reductions to offset the risk of exploration and development. Those programs continue for producers in the shale oil fields, even though their risks factors are greatly reduced with current technology.

In Texas, the Governor has a program that offers cash incentives, in addition to tax abatements and other "carrots" to lure companies to our state to do business. The thought is that having those companies locate in Texas will provide employment, and future tax benefits, thus offsetting the initial costs borne by taxpayers to lure them here to our home.

When we start talking about eliminating "hand outs," we need to realize that there are many different levels of diners at the trough. Randomly eliminating one or two levels will impact the others in ways that are complicated and almost impossible to predict without further study.

Government is in our lives at so many levels. Before we start calling for it to retreat, we may want to rationally determine just how much we ourselves receive and decide if we could continue to exist with our current level of comfort should that happen.

It’s all just my opinion.

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