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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Getting the point

Mo God, can it be -- a liberal who has finally gotten it?

THIS is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.

I was born and raised in Perry County, which borders Breathitt on the south, and I've seen that "soul-crushing dependency" up close and personal. The hill people I knew resisted government handouts longer than most, but got sucked in like everyone else when they finally succumbed. Every time I went back for a visit, I saw more shiny mobile homes clinging to a hillside, which mean a few more people had started getting those checks.

People do respond to the incentives they are presented with, and there are often unintended consequences -- but, surely, at this late date, not unforeseen consequences.