By Rep. Darrio Melton
Each year when the Legislature starts discussing the budget, the first items on the chopping block are always social services for our neediest neighbors. While legislators have turned a blind eye to $60,000 pay raises for staff and trips to Vegas in the state airplane, they’ve been quick to set their sights on these programs that they consider “wasteful spending.”
It’s no secret that our budget is in trouble–but we absolutely must balance it wisely. When we look at these programs, it’s important not to forget how heavily they’re subsidized by federal dollars. For every dollar spent on Medicaid in Alabama, 30 cents comes from the state government. That’s the equivalent of getting Medicaid on sale at 70 percent off.
The bigger picture that sets me back is the complete lack of understanding on the part of some of my fellow lawmakers. We have created a system in Alabama where, particularly in rural communities, our educational system is one of the worst in the country, decent-paying jobs are nearly impossible to come by, and hard work at minimum wage just doesn’t cut it. At least one of these things has to improve if we expect our social service programs to become obsolete.
Many lawmakers in Montgomery have a mentality that families in poverty simply aren’t trying hard enough, and that simply couldn’t be further from the truth. Under this misconception, they bring bills to make it so food stamp recipients can’t have cars and must perform a certain number of community service hours–neither of which will actually help people get good-paying jobs and get back on their feet. They seem to be of the belief that they can legislate people out of poverty by telling families who have fallen on hard times how they need to spend their time and money.
I think it’s time for Mountain Brook politicians to stop pretending they know what’s best for struggling families. Instead, listen to families who need these programs and hear what they have to say. Most of them will tell you they’re ready to work hard; they just need a hand up, not a hand out. They’ll tell you they need better schools for their kids, so they can have more opportunities for success.
They’ll tell you they need industry and infrastructure to come to all corners of Alabama, especially the Black Belt, so jobs are available. They’ll tell you they need an increase in the minimum wage so they can put food on the table and a roof over their heads. They’ll tell you they need Medicaid funding so a common cold doesn’t become a devastating illness.
But this isn’t what Montgomery politicians want to hear because these policies don’t sell well to the Trump electorate. So Republican politicians will continue to turn a blind eye to the problems facing too many Alabamians because these problems are neither easy nor convenient. But we can certainly count on them to reaffirm their Second Amendment Rights, again, because that’ll surely be what turns this state around.
Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.