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Report, TV coverage inaccurate

Now that our congressional representatives have averted the risk of a government default, I hope that we will all take some time to reflect on the direction in which our country is headed. The toxic nature of the debate leading up to the last-minute deal is certainly alarming, but more alarming, at least in my opinion, is the fact that we seem to have lost our moral compass as a nation.
We no longer seem to be a nation that looks out for and helps its most vulnerable citizens. Rather, we seem to be placing blame at the feet of those citizens for our current financial situation and cutting aid to the poor at a time when they need it most and when more and more citizens are struggling to make ends meet.
I have seen clear evidence of this at both the national and local level, and am writing to express concern about this trend and hope that we can re-connect with the values that have made this country what it is.
A recent Heritage Foundation report titled, “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” uses ownership of material items like those in the report’s title to suggest that families considered to be living in poverty (as defined by the US Census Bureau) are not really poor. This report paints a very broad brush over those living in poverty and tries to make the case that because poor families can afford “luxury” items like a refrigerator, they do not really need government assistance.
Likewise, WWLP (Channel 22) recently used that same broad brush when their I-Team did an investigative report into people receiving government support through the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). This report focused on some of the material possessions of those going into the office to infer that those receiving assistance are either not truly in need or are misusing the funds given to them by the state.
I think most people would agree that welfare fraud is clearly a serious issue and those perpetrating it should be prosecuted. However, I have serious concerns about the way that these two reports seem to categorize those living in poverty and receiving government assistance as living high on the hog and/or abusing the system for their own personal gain.
In 1961, the author Oscar Lewis coined the term “culture of poverty” to describe certain personal attributes that he felt were common to those living in poverty. Lewis believed that the poor were similar in terms of their personal makeup and therefore, if you’ve seen one poor person, you’ve seen them all. This notion is still widely-held today and serves as the backdrop for the Heritage Foundation report and the recent 22 News story. When combined with these reports, the culture of poverty concept helps reinforce the notion that all poor people are taking us taxpayers for a ride and that government needs to stop funding their extravagant lifestyle.
I have the pleasure of serving on the Board of Directors for Springfield Partners for Community Action. Our organization seeks to improve the overall quality of life in the community by helping those in need to become economically self-sufficient. The individuals we work with on a daily basis are as diverse as any other segment of society, so we know that the concept of a culture of poverty is just plain wrong and does a disservice to all those seeking to improve their lives.
Which brings me back to my concern having watched our representatives in Washington come up with a plan that increases the debt limit by slashing programs for those most in need. This action can be justified if seen through the lens of the culture of poverty evidenced in the Heritage Foundation and 22 News reports. However, when put up against the experience of organizations like ours that deal with poverty on a daily basis, it really seems like we have lost our sense of community and concern for our fellow man.
We are better than this.
Dan Pouliot,
Board Member
Springfield Partners for Community Action
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