Floor Speech by State Senator Dennis Kucinich on General Assistance

 

 “I rise on the behalf of those who would like a job!  The fabled tired, poor, huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the tempest-tossed whose members sanction no political action committee, no legislative breakfasts, and no lobby, same the singular lobby of our own hearts, our own conscience, our own Judeo-Christian charity.

I rise not as a missionary to the inner city.  I am of the inner city poor.  I am by the inner city poor.  I am for the inner city poor and I am a Senator for the inner city poor, those General Assistance recipients who are the poor, euphemistically referred to today as ‘these people.’

Because despite the suit and tie, I come from ‘these people’ who begged for food at the backdoors of restaurants.  I come from ‘these people’ who would not choose to stay in poverty if hey understood they had a choice, if they had a chance to reach up, if a hand reached out.

            I come from ‘these people’ who have known the sheriff’s deputy showing up with the eviction papers and whose humble belongings were thrown out on a sidewalk as a makeshift flea market for rag pickers and street browsers.

            I come from ‘these people whose home was a car..…

            And in standing up in this Senate, I stand on behalf of al these people and on behalf of their children.  They are the reason I am in this Senate.  They are the reason I moved this amendment, which would change the system, which has limited poor people’s options. Change it from welfare to work for all!  Justice for all.  Justice for all!!

            So in recognition of the fact that there are many good-hearted people who want welfare reform, I come before you this afternoon with a program in the form of an amendment which will enable work, not welfare, for every able bodied person.  This amendment I offer puts humanity into so-called welfare reform.  It gives people an opportunity to reclaim their dignity during a period of misfortune.

            This amendment will enable at least 40,000 people who are not on welfare to get public works jobs at a total cost of 443,000,000 a year, much less than we are paying for welfare today.  I know that to some people this opportunity to earn nearly $200 a month will make a difference in their lives.  It is really a small amount of money, which no one could be expected to live on.  But it would provide a bridge across economic oblivion.

            We know from the grim accounts of massive job loss in our inner cities that the private sector has failed to provide opportunities for the employment of people on welfare.  Further proof is that in the un-amended legislation the private sector offers jobs to less than 10 percent of welfare recipients.  It is clear the private sector cannot and will not provide entry-level opportunities for the employment of many skilled workers, let alone people with low skills.  It then becomes a moral responsibility for state government to provide minimum wage public works jobs for those who need public assistance and who are able to work.  It is our civic duty.  It is our moral duty.

             Absent this amendment, which will provide work for people now on welfare, House Bill 249 represents a new low for representative democracy in a free society, an attack on those who are utterly defenseless.

            Oh yes, we have come a long way from the days when the poor people were put on public works programs to help them get back on their feet.  We’ve come back from the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Raw Deal of Governor George Victor Voinovich.  We’ve come from the War on Poverty under President Lyndon Baines Johnson to the War on the Poor, executed by myopic federal and sate administrators.  Daily bread has been replaced by daily bull.  I ask you, my fellow Senators who among us would give our brothers or our sisters a stone when they ask instead for daily bread?

            We appear in this great State of Ohio to be in a moment in time when we are turning back the clock to a sad, depressed period of American history when “poor houses” dotted the land – except today we call them homeless shelters.  When the poor were given a lump of coal to warm themselves, except today our “tender mercies” would give them a one-time utility bill assist, if they have a house.

            This so-called welfare reform bill as proposed by Governor George Victor Voinovich ignores reality.  This bill relies on the crudest kind of stereotypes to advance a program which in the name of eliminating poverty – seeks to eliminate the poor.

            I note that this Senate chamber is today ringed with state troopers and detectives who are obviously here to offer protection to those members who fear that the hordes of poor people will quickly descend on Columbus by car, by bus and by plane, no doubt, to threaten the safety of those who would cast them aside as human detritus.

            Be at peace.  The poor are not here to answer with violence, which some of you will inflict on them by offering them no alternatives, no solace, no hope.  It may be that you will find consolation in the protection of our wonderful state patrol who sit among us in this chamber, but you may not escape the spiritual consequences of this legislation.  Wherever you will go there will be faces which will look back at you and ask the question you can never really answer – WHY?!?”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May 1995