Beware the Bearers of Fear
Fear is all around us. I hear our leaders say, we need to open up more tax breaks for business for fear of losing industry to other states. I hear that we need to cut government spending to education and health care for fear of people not taking responsibility for their own lives. I hear fear in the budget that Governor Pataki has proposed.
For example, the Governor fears that some needy families will have too much aid. He proposes cuts to families receiving welfare if there is some one in the family who is disabled and receiving SSI. This cut would slash $2,000 from households already desperately poor.
The Governor fears families receiving public assistance are not in sufficient crisis. He proposes to change welfare statute so that people can be sanctioned more easily. Yet, I work with students every day who are sanctioned mistakenly and repeatedly. My fear is there are great numbers of people sanctioned erroneously without legal advocacy and recourse. But fear does not drive me.
Fear is not a value. Fear should not be the over-arching theme in putting together budgets or framing important policies. For students receiving welfare we have a law in NY that counts work study and internships towards the work hours people receiving welfare must perform. Also, New York's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) allows low-income and poor students to go to college . Both of these are enormously successful and need to be expanded. Everything about TAP and the work study law embody hope. The message I get from the Governor and other executives, city and federal, come to think of it, is the fear that there is not enough.
To the extant that policy makers are only speaking out of fear or pandering to the fear provokers, they will resist moving towards innovation and change. When we resist innovation and change we can almost guarantee there is not enough.
The New York State Assembly has rejected the Governor's welfare proposals. I applaud their stand. Fearful times are upon us and we need more leaders to talk values not fear.
Values and open mindedness can bring us together, upstate and down, business and community, Governor and Legislature. I urge our political leaders to take the fear out of the budget process and let us open New York to new visions.