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Op/Ed: Mainers know who are unwilling to help themselves

By Timothy J. Lajoie

This past May I attended the Republican Convention as the chairman of the Lewiston Republican delegation. I heard Governor Paul LePage give a speech where he reiterated his commitment to Maine’s elderly, disabled, and children—the most vulnerable among us. It was heartening to hear that, since my grandmother is 92 and my mother is 67.

Surely, after working their entire lives to raise families, they have earned the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they will be cared for in their sunset years. I cannot think of anything more cruel than to abandon them—after a lifetime of contributing to society—when they need us most.

The next day, however, imagine my shock when the local media outlets accused the governor of telling those who receive state assistance that they need to “get off the couch and get a job.” To be fair to the media, he did say that. He just never directed the statement at folks like my mother or my grandmother or the disabled or children. He directed it at those able to make a contribution, as my mother and grandmother have, but who have chosen not to.

It’s time to have a responsible conversation about welfare in this state—a conversation that does not employ the usual scare tactics or inflammatory rhetoric about wanting to throw the needy into the street if you want to cut entitlement spending, attach more stringent requirements for qualifying for it or putting time limits on receiving it. Republicans are trying to have that conversation, while Democrats are trying to scare Mainers.

As a Republican let me say emphatically that I have no intention of putting the elderly, disabled or children out on the street. I have no intention of denying basic needs to community members who are unable to provide for themselves. All Republicans I know share my sentiments. But let me also say this: the Democrats know this. Yet that has not stopped them from saying exactly the opposite.

I do not know of any Mainer who wants to deny aid to those unable to help themselves.  All Mainers know people they care about who fall into this category. Age, infirmity or disability truly prevents these people from working—and Mainers agree that the community has a moral responsibility to lend them a hand.

These neighbors of ours do not want to be dependent on other people for their needs but unfortunately they are, through no fault of their own. Mainers have always been willing—at great financial sacrifice—to help them.

But what of those Mainers who are unwilling to help themselves? We’ve seen them. They are young, able-bodied and live active lifestyles. We see them at the supermarket paying for their groceries with their state-issued EBT card, then taking out a wad of cash to pay for cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets.

Somehow they have the money to fund their vices, whether it’s tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, or gambling, yet they cannot afford to buy food for themselves or their families. They can afford computer game consoles, expensive cell phones and 50-inch TVs, but they cannot afford their groceries or rent payments.

Most Mainers also know someone who falls into this category. I meet them every day as I go door to door campaigning in the neighborhoods of the district I am hoping to represent in Augusta. I can tell you categorically that my neighbors are tired of “helping” these folks—helping them fuel their vices, fund their luxuries and support their irresponsible priorities. They believe that sometimes “helping” these people means cutting them off and forcing them to be self-reliant.

The political fear mongering used in the welfare debate raging in this state disgusts me. It insults Mainers. Mainers know the difference between the “unable” and the “unwilling.”  So does the governor.

Democrats would have us believe that no one receiving state aid is “unwilling.” To Democrats, they are all “unable.”  Mainers know this is false, but more on that later.

If you ask fellow generous Mainers—and I have—how they feel about a portion of their taxes going to support programs that aid the elderly, the infirm or the disabled, they will tell you to a person that they have no problem with it.

If you ask these individuals—and I have—how they feel about a portion of their taxes providing aid to productive people who are currently out of work and actively seeking employment, the response is the same. Mainers have a depth of compassion and understanding for that demographic. Mainers are willing to open their hearts—and their wallets—for these folks.

I do, however, know many Mainers who are tired of helping those unwilling to help themselves. All Mainers also know someone who falls into this category. I meet them every day in my personal profession and as I go about my personal business in the community. Who are the people who fall into this category, you ask?

There is the 20-something male who manages to get a disability because he has “anger management issues,” but can play on his video game all day or hang with his friends watching TV. There is the 20-something young woman who collects a disability check because she has a “personality disorder,” yet manages to be a regular on the local club scene.

Or, for my final example, there is the college-educated heroin user who collects a state check because he is a “drug addict” and cannot work, but somehow manages to entertain his favorite hobbies all day long.

In each of these cases, the individual seems to be able to overcome their “challenges” if it suits them. Since the state has no expectation that they overcome these “challenges” so they can enter the work force, there is no incentive to do so. Why should they when the checks keep coming? They are not unable to work if they can engage in their favorite activities. Mainers see it as unwilling—and rightfully so.

If you ask the average Mainer—and I have asked some—how they feel about their tax money going to support these types of individuals, the response is much different. There is anger, resentment and disgust. Why are they angry, resentful and disgusted?

I have found there are a variety of reasons. The primary reason is they do not like supporting laziness, irresponsibility and the natural consequences of poor choices. Further, they are sick and tired of government officials in Augusta and Washington telling them that laziness, irresponsibility and poor choices are the same as “elderly, disabled and children.”

Mainers know the difference between those who are on hard times through no fault of their and those who create their own hard times because they are irresponsible—and they know their government knows the difference too. Mainers want government to motivate the irresponsible; motivate them to support themselves, learn responsibility and improve their life choices.

There are two ethical questions here. The first has already been answered: we Mainers believe we have a fundamental responsibility in humanity to help those who cannot help themselves. Mainers have embraced it.

The second question is: “What is our responsibility to those who are able to help themselves but do not?”

We have a responsibility to see that they do not pick the pockets of those who work hard.  We have a responsibility to say, “Get off the couch and get a job,” as Governor LePage eloquently put it. We have a responsibility to take away every dollar we give them so we can give it to someone who really needs it—like my 92-year-old grandmother.

Sometimes the “compassionate” thing to do is withdraw the free ride. Sometimes the “compassionate” thing to do is force someone who refuses to help himself to do so.

My father called it “tough love.” There is a time for that, and the Mainers I have talked to believe that time is here.

Tim Lajoie is a Republican candidate for House District 74 in Lewiston.


6 Responses to “Op/Ed: Mainers know who are unwilling to help themselves”

  • Patrick:

    Get a job ???, What jobs ???. There are no jobs or industries remaining, after the politicians from both political parties have regulated them into oblivion, or handed them over the corporate mega-monopolies. Money, industry, jobs, and opportunity all come from having access to natural resources, yet our government is hell bent on taking away every persons natural rights to access to every conceivable type of natural resources. Sustainability means absolutely nothing when they have regulated away all of our access to the life sustaining resources that we need for our sustinence.
    All forms of foreign aid must be drasticly cut and/or completely eliminated, before one penny of assistance or aid is cut from the American people. Also, any and all cuts to the budget should come from the top executive and upper administration levels, and not be forced down the line to impose further hardships upon those already in a dire situation thru no fault of their own.
    Now you have complained that people are spending some of what little money they do have on alcohol, or tobacco, yet the government continues to exponentialy raise the taxes, fees, and surcharges on those products as a source of increased revenue, even though all studies show that it is the poorest of the population that are predisposed to such activities and/or addictions. These people whether they smoke or drink is really not the governments or your business to decide. I don’t care if they are receiving assistance or not. they were smokers or drinkers before they became unemployed or fell on hard times, (again , most thru no fault of their own ), and i for one am grateful that they do have some form of social activityor stress relief such as smoking, drinking, snack foods, etc., because if they did not have these few remaining outlets of stress relief the consequences for our nation would literally become catastrophic, as well as financialy devastating to a nation that has become greatly dependent upon money from those reprehensible taxes, fees, and surcharges. The government had better stop regulating every aspect of our lives, and trying to control and manipulate society to their idea of how society should be. Think about what happened the last time a government or nation tried to engineer a better society, ( I.E. …. Nazi Germany).

    • Keith:

      I couldn’t care less if those folks who are “living on the state” want to smoke or drink. You’re missing the point. The point is that if those folks have the money to spend on alcohol or tobacco, then they have they money to provide themselves and their families with the basic necessities of life. They make the *choice* not to do so.

  • Sandra-Anne Cronin:

    As a Mainer struggling to make ends meet and panicking over how I am going to heat my home this winter, when I could barely afford it last year by keeping my heat at 63 degrees. Those that seek a “free ride” does anger me.

    I am a strong believer in a hand-up and not a hand out. Yes, there are those with disabilities whether age, mental, or physical, that enable their ability to work a full time job. But, there are many that simply play the system. And a few, that would like to work the few hours they are able, but the system will not let them threating to cutoff all assistance.

    The system needs to change. Development of work programs that required qualified Welfare participants to be involved in needs to be developed. I know there are those of you that think this is slave labor, this notion has been touted before, with that same reaction. A proper program needs to be set-up to develop opportunities in education, training and job skills, self worth and pride.

    In this current economy such a program could benefit the Maine economy by helping business be more productive, while creating jobs in maintaining the program and workshop environments. These types of programs have been implemented in the past on a small scale, in various state programs throughout the country and have been successful.

    The positive opportunities in Social Services, Daycare, Business, Retail, Manufacturing, Farming, Handcraft and the Arts are endless. To teach and train, to develop skills and the opportunities to grow in self worth and confidence in ones abilities and develop the pride of being a self sustaining productive individual is who we are as human beings.
    -Just my opinion-

    • Bonnie:

      Very well said Sandra! One of my favorite sayings is “Give a man a fish, it will feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, and it will feed him for a lifetime.”

  • Bonnie:

    I think that your anger toward democrats should be left out of this article because there are just as many democrats that are just as sick of it as you are and your bitterness towards democrats makes you just sound petty. You would be taken much more seriously if you didn’t tell people that I as a democrat want to take care of these lazy people because it isn’t true. I don’t think it is a democrat or republican thing to take care of. I believe it will take people coming together to do something about it. Stop the petty name calling, stop blaming the democrats, get people together to join forces together. That my friend is the democrat AND republican thing that is destroying this counrty.

    • Phil:

      Bonnie, I agree with your point. But I know Mr. Lajoie. He is referring to those ‘politician’ Democrats in Augusta who verbalize the usual scare tactics about “throwing the elderly, disabled, and children” into the street when someone-anyone-talks about cutting welfare. Anger is not one his traits and I didn’t see any name-calling in this editorial. As an Independent, I think he is dead on with his assessment and called it like it is. Do all “Democrats” (i.e. voters) want to continue with this runaway welfare society? Absolutely not. Do all “Democrats” (i.e. politicians) want to continue with this runaway welfare society? I think a good argument is made that they do. That’s why Lajoie is calling on all–Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens–to have a real conversation about it. I bet if you contacted him, you’d find he agrees with you. But this article is calling out legislators, not voters, on the Democratic side–enough with the rhetoric, let’s have a real conversation because we can’t afford this anymore.

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