Bill Moyers speaks with three families about how they slipped through the safety net due to the Reagan Administration’s budget cutbacks.
BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. By 1979 there was widespread sentiment in America that government spending was out of control. Many voters were fed up with inflation and taxes and appalled by stories of waste and fraud in government programs for the poor. Their feelings helped to elect Ronald Reagan President. He said he would balance the budget, cut taxes, and get the economy moving again. His first budget cut nearly in half the growth in Federal spending for the next two years. But neither the President nor the Congress would tackle popular spending programs which have strong constituencies, so the least popular programs have been cut the most. These are the programs on which the poorest Americans depend for help, the truly needy whom the President had said would not be hurt.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: We will continue to fulfill the obligations that spring from our national conscience. Those who through no fault of their own must depend upon the rest of us — the poverty stricken, the disabled, the elderly, all those with true need — can rest assured that the social safety net of programs they depend on are exempt from any cuts.
BILL MOYERS: It has not worked out quite that way. Larry Ham, a victim of cerebral palsy, has just been cut off the Social Security Disability rolls.
LARRY HAM: Because of this, we could lose everything — you know — and I don’t Know what we would do. You know-we’ve worked hard to put our kids in a good school, good neighborhood and everything — to go and lose it all? You know-if I was able, believe me I would go back out there. would. I would go back out there and go to work.
BILL MOYERS: Francis Dorta is trying to support three children at a low paying job. She has just been cut from the welfare rolls.
FRANCIS DORTA: Since I was cut off from Welfare, I couldn’t pay for the rent. I am supposed to go Wednesday to see the judge. And they’ll tell me whether I’m evicted or not.
BILL MOYERS: Cathy Dixon’s child is leaving home today because the government has changed some of the rules covering her home health care.
CATHY DIXON: If they tell me, “Mrs. Dixon, we will furnish you nurses,” I would bring her home in a minute. Why can’t I keep her at home? I’m just throwing her away.
BILL MOYERS: Twice as many people than a year ago are coming to this church basement for a free meal. Hunger in America is back.
ST. BENEDICT’S VOLUNTEER: You go home and think about that. When you sleep, you think about all the people hungry like this. You can’t sleep at night thinking about the people. They need help.
BILL MOYERS: These are people who have slipped through the safety net and are falling away. In the great outcry about spending, some helpless people are getting hurt. No one Knows exactly how many. This broadcast concerns only a few. Except for matters of chance, they are people like us. This is an ordinary Sunday for Larry and Loretta Ham and their four children. They are attending Mass at their parish in Brooke Park, Ohio. But this is not an ordinary time in the life of the Ham family. Larry Ham, a victim of Cerebral Palsy, has just been cut off the Social Security Disability rolls.
LARRY HAM: We get a lot of help from the Church. Thanksgiving, they sent a turkey. They sent canned food. Christmas, they sent two gift certificates for food. They’ve helped us a lot over the holidays.
BILL MOYERS: The government estimates that as much as $2 billion may go every year to people who are no longer disabled. So the Social Security Administration is trying to remove from the rolls everyone but the truly needy. Larry ham has been judged not to be truly needy.
LARRY HAM: In October I received a letter stating that I was to go see a doctor… and… submit forms -medical forms that-uh, on my disability.
BILL MOYERS: Was there any notice that you were going to receive this… examination? Did you have any advance warning?
LARRY HAM: No… I didn’t.
BILL MOYERS: Did a doctor examine you to see if your condition had improved before you received this letter… before you were cut off?
LARRY HAM: No… No.
BILL MOYERS: No one contacted you from the Social Security Administration?
LARRY HAM: Nobody.
BILL MOYERS: How did that strike you?
LARRY HAM: I really didn’t understand… I took the letter, and I was really upset because I didn’t know what I could do.
BILL MOYERS: So what did you do then?
LARRY HAM: I called a lawyer.
JAMES BROWN: The people coming in with terminations usually receive a notice telling them they have 7 to 10 days to get proof that they’re still disabled., In this 7 to 10 days, it’s virtually impossible to obtain a medical report and get it to the Administration. I have more clients coming in with no resources, the federal government’s turning them down.
BILL MOYERS: Attorney Jim Brown agreed to take Larry Ham I S case.
JAMES BROWN: And people receiving Social Security Disability are working people. They’ve spent most of their life contributing to their government and supporting their government. The only place that they thought they could turn was to the United States government. And now the United States government has turned against them. My opinion is that there has to be some proof that the person’s condition has improved if they are to be taken off of disability. The government right now is taking people off with no proof that it’s improved and sometimes with proof that their condition is deteriorating. But to take a person like Larry, who’ s unskilled, severely disabled, and unable to turn to help, and to cut him off the way they did is unconscionable.
BILL MOYERS: Larry Ham who today spends part of his time volunteering at the school his children attends, dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Last year, the Reagan Administration proposed to limit qualifications for disability benefits to medical factors alone. Education, job skills and age would not be taken into consideration. The legislation did not pass Congress. But the letter Larry Ham got told him he should be able to get a job in “sedentary occupation.”
LARRY HAM: I just kept reading the letter. I didn’t understand what it said-and it-you know, what they meant.
BILL MOYERS: At what sedentary occupation is?
LARRY HAM: Right. Right. What kind of a desk job can I do, you know?
BILL MOYERS: Have you tried to get a desk job?
LARRY HAM: No. Because I don’t have the ability. 1-you know, I know this. I have trouble with things, you know.
BILL MOYERS: Did you know just how ill Larry was when you met and married him, Loretta?
IDRE’ITA HAM: I knew of his condition, physlc~i1 condition, you know, I was quite aware of what his condition was.
BILL MOYERS: You knew that it was difficult for him to work.
LORETTA HAM: Right. Right. But, we could work together, you know. We’ve done it for 11 years, you know. We worked together, we worked hard and Lar worked hard at what he could do. You know, and I did my job on-you know on my end.
BILL MOYERS: What were you doing Larry, when you married?
LARRY HAM: I was working for a baker:!. I worked there for about five or six years.
BILL MOYERS: Doing what?
LARRY HAM: Uh-I started off in what they call the crumb room… with bread crumbs, you know-you bake… the bread gets cut up and it comes down and you brown it… bake it… make croutons… and make bread crumbs.
BILL MOYERS: And what happened?
LARRY HAM: Well, after a while, it just got so there was more work put on than could handle. And I just told them I had another job, you know. And that was it. I-I just couldn’t handle it anymore.
BILL MOYERS: Did you have another job?
LARRY HAM: no.
BILL MOYERS: So, seven years ago, Loretta Ham had to go to work. How did you feel about Loretta working? Did you want your wife working?
LARRY HAM: I never wanted Loretta to work. Since, when we first got married, we talked, you know, we talked about different things and that… and I always said, honey, you know, you take care of the kids, and I’ll take -you know, I’ll take care of us because — my mother she did — she worked very hard for us. To raise us and then — she worked cleaning schools… you know… and she worked too hard… and I never wanted Loretta to do this.
BILL MOYERS: What did you say to him about that?
LORETTA HAM: Well, you know, what can you say? You know, Lar has pride… you know, and — and he did his manly job… you know. If it meant working two jobs, this is what he felt he had to do… you know, to support his family. I was the first to go out there and be more than willing to help him work, you know, to carry the load.
BILL MOYERS: Are you working now?
LORETTA HAM: No. Things are cutting back at Ford so I am unemployed. It was kind of like we’re just stripped of everything. You know, because it was boom, boom, one, two and that was it.
JAMES BROWN: In the past couple of months, I have spent more and more nights thinking about people.
BILL MOYERS: How?
JAMES BROWN: You can go to sleep at night and you think about the person who may not have food tomorrow, whose kids don’t have shoes for school, and you do worry about them. One of the problems is the people who are the so-called cheats are the ones that are still getting it. They are the ones who know how the system works. They’re the ones that know what the doctor’s report should say, and they can find a doctor to say it. And they’re the ones that aren’t going to get subjected to what the people like Larry Ham get. The difficult part is to have somebody sit in your office and tell you how they’re suffering, and how they’re starving, and have to tell them that — well, we’ll get you a hearing in ten months, and we’ll probably win because you’re entitled. But you’re going to have to survive until then.
BILL MOYERS: Larry Ham was removed from the disability rolls without the chance to plead his case. He will have to live with no benefits until he can get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. But there is such a back-log of appeals, that Larry Ham still has not been given the date for a hearing -although he lost his benefits four months ago. In the meantime, the problem for the family is food…
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: Now with your unemployment benefits of $215.00 a week, you’ll be getting $115.00 a month for the months, February through April.
LORETTA HAM: That’s not very much.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: I know it’s not, but it’s just enough to get you by not to make things comfortable.
LORETTA HAM: Yes.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: You can come in and pick that up or we can mail it out to you. You’ll get it in a few days. What would you like to do?
LORETTA HAM: I think we should come pick it up. The fewer days we don’t have to wait, the better.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: O.K. Fine.
LORETTA HAM: But, like this month, O.K., I have not yet to receive an unemployment check, and these utilities are — you know, they desperately need to be paid. You know, like what would I do if someone comes to the door to cut the utilities off, you know. Do I tell them this form is in the mail? You know, it’s in Columbus? Are we eligible to get onto welfare… you know for assistance there? You know, you go down there and you wait a day and then you come back three days later and in the meantime, these people are knocking at your door. You know. And you’ve got four small-kids, you know, and you’re saying my papers are waiting — they’re at Welfare. They’re waiting. These people don’t want to hear this. You know, this is something we’re faced with and where do you go? This one says you just made enough money to qualify for food stamps and Welfare says you’re making way too much to qualify for welfare. You know, so what do you do in the middle?
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: I don’t have all the answers. The best thing I can do is be honest with you. Do you have food in the house for the weekend?
LORETTA HAM: We were basically running out between my mother and my sister-in-law… that’s how we’ve had our food for the past four weeks.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: If you don’t have food in the house for the weekend, I’m going to have to call to find the nearest hunger center, that’s what we call them, near you. What it is, is that this is like private works of charity, O.K.? And the various churches and that, they only want to give to their little community, you know…
WOMAN FROM HUNGER CENTER: Hello.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: Hi. This is Mrs. Smith from County Welfare. I have a client and I was given your number to call.
WOMAN FROM HUNGER CENTER: Well, what seems to be the problem?
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: The problem is that they need food for the weekend and they won’t be able to pick up a food stamp card until Monday. The client, her husband and four children.
WOMAN FROM HUNGER CENTER: Four children? Gosh, what are their ages?
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: They are like eight through twelve.
WOMAN FROM HUNGER CENTER: They need food through the weekend?
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: Right.
WOMAN FROM HUNGER CENTER: Well, I would say that it probably… I wonder if they have anything at all for supper tonight? The lady that called last week had a baby eight months old. I could hear rum crying. I said, “What did you give him for supper’,” And she said her neighbor gave him a can of carrots and that satisfied him. But she didn’t have one solitary thing in the house.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: Right… So you will call them this evening and then someone will bring some food over… thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: Is there a chance that you could lose this house?
LARRY HAM: There is a chance. But we are going to do everything we can to keep it. I mean, anything possible we are going to do because we can’t lose it… we can’t start over again. We got to do everything we can try to get help somehow. Make somebody understand that — you know, this is wrong.
BILL MOYERS:You’re not going to lose your home?
LARRY HAM: No. We’ll do it. We’re not going to lose our home. No matter what we have to do.
BILL MOYERS: How is this affecting your children. What kind of holiday season did they have?
LARRY HAM: I’m very proud, very proud of the children. They went out caroling for Christmas. They got about seven dollars apiece, and they took it to buy each other gifts. The boys went up to the corner and they carried groceries at the store. They took the money and bought each other Christmas.
BILL MOYERS: Are you angry at the government?
LORETTA HAM: Angry at the government? You’re supposed to put trust in the government. The President of the United States is-you know, if you can’t trust, you know, the top man, so you have to have confidence in what he’s doing. That this is right. He is doing it for a reason. And, this is a hard way. It definitely is a hard way to go. Sometimes things happen and you think, “Oh gosh. Why did that happen to me, you know?/” But that doesn’t make you lose faith, you know, in God. So the same thing with the President. You kind of can’t just lose trust in him. This is the man that runs our nation. This is the man that is — you know, got the whole nation in his hands. (singing in church)
BILL MOYERS: In February, Loretta Ham went back to work for the Ford Motor Company.
TELEPHONE: Good Morning, Board of Social Services.
FRANCIS DORIA: I’m calling to find out if, you know, if I could get Medicaid for my son Gabriel.
BILL MOYERS: Francis Dorta’s husband abandoned her and their three children seven years ago. She went on welfare until last August when she took a low-paying job. Although she was working, she was still eligible for some help from the government, including Medicaid coverage for her children. But on October first, she was cut off both Welfare and Medicaid. Now she has no money for the operation her son Gabriel needs.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER ON PHONE: Why were you terminated in the first place?
FRANCIS DORTA: Because I started a job.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER:And your…
BILL MOYERS: On October 1st, changes in the welfare rules caused over 600,000 working families with more than a million children to lose some… or all of their benefits.
ELIGIBILITY WORKER: O.K.
FRANCIS DORTA: Bye.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what did they say?
FRANCIS DORTA: No.
FRANCIS DORTA: Because my income, you know, is still the same as when I started working… hasn’t changed.
BILL MOYERS: So what do you do now?
FRANCIS DORTA: I don’t know. I have no idea what to do.
BILL MOYERS: What does Gabriel do now?
FRANCIS DORTA: I don’t know either.
BILL MOYERS: Gabriel suffers from an inherited condition that could develop into cancer unless he has major surgery. But Francis Dorta cannot afford medical insurance. And there’s no way for her to get it unless she quits her job and goes back on welfare. The longer Gabriel must wait, the higher the risk.
BILL MOYERS: (speaking with Gabriel Dorta) What’s your favorite way of spending it?
GABRIEL DORTA: Just save it. Not spend it I guess.
BILL MOYERS: What are you saving it. for?
GABRIEL DORTA: To buy me a bike when 1 get a job with the newspapers.
BILL MOYERS: Then you can make some money selling newspapers. Would you be better off if your mother stopped working and went back on welfare?
GABRIEL DORTA: Nab-uh. No.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
GABRIEL DORTA: Then she always… she-she don’t like welfare.
BILL MOYERS: Why doesn’t she like welfare?
GABRIEL DORTA: They don’t treat her nice.
BILL MOYERS: How did they treat her -as you could see it?
GABRIEL DORTA: They treat her like poor.
BILL MOYERS: But isn’t it hard on her, working at midnight every night until 8 o’clock in the morning?
GABRIEL DORTA: Yes. In the morning, I wake up at 6 and clean up the house me, my brother and my sister help, too.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s go over to the steps and sit down before the bus comes. Eight out of ten families on Welfare are headed by women. Only 10 percent of the absent fathers provide their families with any support. Most of the women and their children live in poverty. Do you miss your father?
GABRIEL DORTA: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: How long has it been since you’ve seen him?
GABRIEL DORTA: Within three years. He told me one night not to tell nobody that he was going away. And I told my mother the truth.
BILL MOYERS: And what did she… what did you tell her?
GABRIEL DORTA: Hmm?
BILL MOYERS: What did…
GABRIEL DORTA: I told her that he went down to Puerto Rico.
BILL MOYERS: What did she do?
GABRIEL DORTA: Hmm?
BILL MOYERS: What did…
GABRIEL DORTA: She just started crying.
BILL MOYERS: She didn’t know it was going to happen.
GABRIEL DORTA: Uh uh. No.
BILL MOYERS: Before the Administration’s cuts went into effect, a New Jersey family of four earned about $175 a month more than the average welfare family. After the cuts went into effect October 1st, the working poor family made just $18 more a month. Next year, in New Jersey, it will not pay for people like Mrs. Dorta to work. The working poor will have 4 dollars LESS per month than the average welfare family. Mrs. Dorta works the midnight shift checking audio cassettes at a factory in New Jersey. Something doesn’t quite seem right to me. You are doing your best, right? You work hard, midnight to 8 o’clock, 5 days a week. You’re trying to hold your family together: Gabriel, Robert, Mary Alice. Uh… there’s no heat in this house. You may even lose the house because you can’t pay the rent. Is there ever a time when you don’t have food ort the table for the kids?
FRANCIS DORTA: Yes… most of the time I don’t.
BILL MOYERS: You don’t?
FRANCIS DORTA: No. And then sometimes I go borrow if I find anyone you know, my friends or someone, I borrow money from them. And you know, they help me. There’s two windows missing Mr. Atardo was supposed to fix them. Both of them are in the kitchen.
BILL MOYERS: But she has not been able to earn or borrow enough to keep up with her rent. She is in court because she is about to be evicted. Connie Pascale, her Legal Aide Attorney is trying to use the poor condition of the house as a bargaining tactic.
EUGENE SERPENTELLI: Is there any other matter waiting to be heard other than McKay vs. Dorta?
BILL MOYERS: Judge Eugene Serpentell1 will talk to the lawyers behind closed doors.
CONNIE PASCALE: At this point I think we can keep you in there until the beginning part of January, then God help you find a place.
BILL MOYERS: The lawyers have come to an agreement in the judge’s chambers. Mrs. Dorta can stay in her house until January.
FRANCIS DORTA: At least that’s something. Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: What would Mrs. Dorta have done today if there had not been a legal services lawyer?
EUGENE SERPENTELLI: I think she very likely would have been dispossessed today, to put it very honestly. She probably would have given up. She may not have even appeared as you saw when we called the list… there were many people who didn’t come. Uh, some people simply feel they’ve reached the end of their line.
BILL MOYERS: The Reagan Administration wants to reduce Legal Services. What happens to the poor and the legal system if that happens in your judgment?
EUGENE SERPENTELLI: The loss of them in any significant manner is going to be devastating, both to this system and to the people.
BILL MOYERS: How many Francis Dortas do you handle a week?
CONNIE PASCALE: I would see about 5 or 6, maybe 7 people a week that have a problem with their landlord, either because they’re receiving insufficient services, because they have no money to pay.
BILL MOYERS: Has she been penalized for going back to work?
CONNIE PASCALE: Oh, she’s definitely been penalized for going to work. It’s a strange situation. But the people that are penalized most are the people that are working here. In fact, this is a great incentive not to work at all ..
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
CONNIE PASCALE: If I were… if I were on Welfare and I looked at what would happen if I started to earn-sufficient money at an entry level job, which is what she’s at… if I was earning 3 or… $3.35, whatever the minimum wage is, I would have second thoughts about taking that job. Because if I do, I’ll lose my public assistance; I will lose a lot of my food stamp benefits; I’ll lose my Medicaid benefits. And if my child is sick or I’m sick, I’ll be face-in the same position that Mrs. Dorta would be in. I wouldn’t pay my rent; couldn’t pay my utilities. It would be a very great disincentive to anyone-who knew what was going on — . to go to work in this climate. So I think it’s crazy if what Reagan and the Administration is trying to do is promote people getting off of public assistance -what they’re doing is just the opposite.
BILL MOYERS: Yet, a lot of middle class taxpayers are fed up with what they think is cheating on Welfare.
CONNIE PASCALE: I’ve talked to more and more people who are-middle class people who are opposed to people on Welfare, thought they were cheating. But when they’ve been laid off and come to me, they said, “I had no idea. I never understood. I never realized until it happened to me how degrading it is, how demeaning it is, how oppressive it is to be without work and be forced to rely on public assistance.” And most people I know, if they could get off welfare in a second, they’d do it. But the alternative is just not there. And you have to live.
BILL MOYERS: Is Mrs. Dorta cheating?
CONNIE PASCALE: No, she’s not… no , she’s not.
BILL MOYERS: Middle class taxpayers have their favorite anecdotes about Welfare “cheats.” The woman who picks up her welfare check in a Cadillac; the man buying steak with food stamps. But those same taxpayers may not know that in 1981, the government lost $95 billion in revenues because some taxpayers under-reported their incomes. They cheated the government out of seven times the total Welfare budget. Playing games with income tax returns is far away from the world of Mary Alice, Robert and Gabriel Dorta. They have their own games to play. And their own dreams about the future.
BILL MOYERS: What would you like to make out of yourself?
GABRIEL DORTA: Like what?
BILL MOYERS: How would you like to earn your living?
GABRIEL DORTA: In the middle.
BILL MOYERS: In the middle?
GABRIEL DORTA: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
GABRIEL DORTA: Like, not that rich — I’ll just be in the middle. Like I’ll just take care.
BILL MOYERS: Take care of what?
GABRIEL DORTA: Take care of myself.
BILL MOYERS: So you don’t want to be rich… you just want to make your way.
GABRIEL DORTA: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What do you dream about when you dream? I used to be a 13 year old boy. I remember my dream. What do you dream about?
GABRIEL DORTA: I always dream of taking pictures of my mother, and then I always go down to the store with my bike, go and buy some more film.
BILL MOYERS: That’s your dream?
GABRIEL DORTA: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: The new Welfare rules finally forced Francis Dorta to choose between her job and her son’s health. She made the choice almost any mother would make. Last January she quit her job to go back on welfare. She now receives a basic grant of $414 a month, food stamps worth $169, and the all-important Medicaid benefits. Gabriel Dorta’s operation on April 14 was successful.
BILL MOYERS: Visiting nurse Kay Heyer has come to take care of Carrie Dixon for the last time. Her 13-year-old patient has had two strokes and been in a coma for 8 months.
KAY HEYER: Where’d you put the clothes you want me to put on her?
BILL MOYERS: Because Carrie Dixon’s mother Cathy is on welfare, the child’s medicines and nurses have been paid for by the government. But last December some of the Medicaid rules were changed. Cathy Dixon had to pick up more of the costs. Amidst fears there would also be cuts in the money for visiting nurses, she reluctantly began to look for a place that would care for her daughter. So today Cathy Dixon is dressing Carrie for the last time at home.
KAY HEYER: You want to put the socks on? Leave the pants until right before she goes, huh? Because we might have to put a different diaper on her when they take them in the ambulance anyhow so she would be… (indistinct).
CATHY DIXON: Carrie, we’re putting your socks on, baby.
KAY HEYER: Flashy Socks
CATHY DIXON: Flashy girl.
KAY HEYER: Alright
CATHY DIXON: Feel better?
KAY HEYER: Get up on the pillow. I know that they bundle them up real good when they take them in the ambulance anyhow so she would be
CATHY DIXON: Then there’s no reason for me to put her pants on… (indistinct). Carrie, do you hear me, baby? Do you know what’s going on?
BILL MOYERS: What is going on is the hardest decision Cathy Dixon says she has ever had to make. She is putting Carrie in an institution. Father Steve Gliko is a friend of the family. He will drive the other Dixon children from Milwaukee to Madison, where Carrie is to stay. After Carrie’s first stroke, her mother hoped against hope her child would remain well.
CATHY DIXON: She had some beautiful years, too. She did what any other kid did. Ride bikes. She ran… (indistinct) . She even learned — she learned how to swim. And she did just what anybody else did. I worry. You know me. I worry myself to death. ”Where is Carrie? Wonder what happened to her?” You know. I’m on guard, you know. God taken care of her. She came right back. I’m back!
CATHY DIXON: And them… in August, Carrie didn’t feel too good. She was lying in bed one morning and someone keeps calling me, saying: “Momma, something wrong with Carrie.” And I said, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” And I went in there and she had got numb just on one side. Just like a split, you know. Straight down her head to her toes on the right side. All the way numb. So, I called the doctor and he told me to bring her in. So I did. When she first came in, they said, “It’s all over. She’ll never be able to move the rest of her life.” You mow. It’s death. Just might as well forget it. I didn’t forget it. At night when I come in to take care of her, I rub’ the side of her head and she put her head to my hand like that. I know she knows I’m there. So I know it’s going to hurt me, you know, when she leaves. Carrie being missing that, you know? I know they all will take real good care of her. If I knew that I would have the nurses come here to work for, me. And I knew that I would have the most medicine. You know, the most important (indistinct) kind of thing, then I would keep her. I would never let her go.
BILL MOYERS: But let her go, she must. The bed that has opened for Carrie in Madison may be used for someone else if her mother hesitates. Fear of losing the nurses with nowhere else to turn brings Cathy Dixon to her decision. Carrie must leave home.
BILL MOYERS: From a nursing viewpoint, could Carrie have been satisfactorily cared for at home?
KAY HEYER: I definitely feel that she could because Mrs. Dixon was a nurse’s aide before this happened to Carrie and so she has a general knowledge of what is involved in taking care of a person that is in bed all the time. If she had had some support, if she could have had, you mow, an assurance of some support with nurses coming in to help her, that definitely Carrie could have stayed at home.
BILL MOYERS: What about the argument a lot of middle class American taxpayers are making that the economy is in trouble; a lot of people are cheating these programs and they were being ripped off by the cheaters; and that somebody like Ronald Reagan had to come along and clean up the mess?
KAY HEYER: I don’t see a lot of cheaters from the majority of people who are in need, are genuinely in need. And to cut the whole, punish the whole group because of the wrong doing of the few isn’t going to settle the problems in this country. It’s going to make enemies out of our own people eventually. Because more and more of us are going to fall into this category. I think is — the way things are going anyway.
BILL MOYERS: What about your own retarded child, how do you care for her?
BILL MOYERS: Kay Heyer understands Cathy Dixon’s loss as if it were her own. For she is the mother of a profoundly retarded child. What about the emotional cost of that?
KAY HEYER: I think that you have to look at it in one of two ways. You have to look at it, this is my own opinion of course, that (indistinct) I know the person is going to be a burden to you for the rest of your life or this person is to you a very remarkable gift in your family and if you, if you believe that which I do and I’m certain that Cathy does. After being here for a couple of months, then it changes your outlook on the care that is needed to give this person and that’s more of a privilege than it is a responsibility most of the time.
BILL MOYERS: So there’s a real possibility that the program which enables your daughter to get special help and you to work while she’s getting that help could be cut and you’d have to stop working.
KAY HEYER: Very definitely.
BILL MOYERS: It sound like a vicious (indistinct). Catch 22.
KAY HEYER: Yeah. It’s sort of you know like you’re supposed to take care of your own and be independent. And dig in and all that. And that’s what the Administration’s saying. On the other hand, they’re taking away all the supports from people that help you to do this.
BILL MOYERS: I can understand why certain bonds of sympathy developed between you and Cathy.
KAY HEYER: Yeah. When Carrie left here it was a trailll18.tic day for me too. Very definitely.
BILL MOYERS: So, Mrs. Dixon brings her daughter to the Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled. Here, all of Carrie’s costs will be covered by Medicaid.
CATHY DIXON: I don’t think I can take it.
NURSE: You’ll be alright. It’s all the excitement and everything. (crying)
TOM PLAKUT (VOLUNTEER): “Welcome once again everybody to Saint Benedict’s and I welcome our special sponsor groups, most especially from the Knights of Columbus group in back of me helping serve milk and coffee, and our regular sponsor group who hasn’t been in here since October.”
BILL MOYERS: Most Americans might be startled to see what is going on in St. Benedict’s Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hunger… we think… is a thing of the past… vanquished by food stamps. But most of us never see what Father Steve Gliko and his volunteers see. Six nights a week they feed anyone_ who shows up here. The volunteers are working… with no federal money — to keep their guest from starving. (wild track) Could we have people get spots on the serving line? Can we set up on the serving line? We’d like to begin the meal.
VOLUNTEER 2: (Prayer) “Lord, bless this food, bless the people who brought the food and let us be humble in our context with your people as we serve them. We ask all of this in your name, amen.”
BILL MOYERS: Some of the people who come to St. Benedict’s have been coming here for years… the poor we have always had with us. But this year, because of the cutbacks in food stamps and rising unemployment, there are people here who are new. Tonight, the church will feed almost twice as many of the needy as it did this time last year. And many of these newly needy, are families with children. (singing in background)
BILL MOYERS: Tell me your name.
MICHAEL SHIRK: Michael Shirk.
BILL MOYERS: How old are you Michael?
MICHAEL SHIRK: Eight.
BILL MOYERS: Is this your brother?
MICHAEL SHIRK: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What’s your name?
GLYNN SHIRK: Glynn.
BILL MOYERS: How do you get here everyday?
MICHAEL SHIRK: Just walk.
BILL MOYERS: You walk. How far?
MICHAEL SHIRK: -Fifteenth and Orchard.
BILL MOYERS: How long does it take you?
MICHAEL SHIRK: Sometimes about 30 minutes.
BILL MOYERS: About 30 minutes.
MICHAEL SHIRK: Yup ï
BILL MOYERS: What does you father do?
MICHAEL SHIRK: When.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of work does he do?
MICHAEL SHIRK: He cleans up the house sometimes and looks for cans.
BILL MOYERS: Does he have a job? He doesn’t.
MICHAEL SHIRK: He’s trying to find one.
BILL MOYERS: And what happens when you run out of food stamps.
MICHAEL SHIRK: After we ran out of the food, we come down here and then after a while, we go and borrow some money.
BILL MOYERS: What does it say about -what do you say about our society and about the hope these kids have, the chance these kids have.
FATHER GLIKO: I don’t know, th2x kind of question when it’s asked my guts do a flip flop. If you will. I begin to cry inside, because the situation of our country is being most acutely felt by our young people. These two kids should not be here.
BILL MOYERS: But if you weren’t doing it, where would they go?
FATHER GLIKO: Where would they go if we weren’t doing it? that’s a good question, that’s why we are doing what we are doing.
BILL MOYERS: Could you give me some idea of why you come here and what this place means to you?
SHEILA RHOTON: Because we are always out of food.
BILL MOYERS: Because of what?
SHEILA RHOTON: We are always out of food.
BILL MOYERS: So you come down here every night of the week?
SHEILA RHOTON: Quite a bit, and I go to church here.
BILL MOYERS: You do?
SHEILA RHOTON: He’s trying to!
BILL MOYERS: You might make a convert of him yet.
SHEILA RHOTON: I’m trying!
BILL MOYERS: Do you have enough to eat the rest of the time? If it weren’t for this place would you have enough to eat?
SHEILA RHOTON: No. It’s getting bad.
FATHER GLIKO: We provide a personal experience for the haves to touch and be touched by the have-nots. And that personal experience does something. We find out that the poor’ are human beings, they’re just like us.
BILL MOYERS: President Reagan would… be very proud of you because you’re trying to run a voluntary program here with no government money. And I think in a sense you’re proving what the President said, that we can invent ways to… solve our social problems without government intervention.
FATHER GLIKO: What the President says in a way is true. And as you mentioned j we are living proof of what he states. Yet, I think on his part, it is a bit presumptuous to think that… local governments and local charities and local churches are able to meet all of the needs. It’s impossible. It’s a lot more real to say that it’s unfair to put any poor person in the precarious situation of having to depend upon the generous whims of the wealthy.
BILL MOYERS: President Reagan said, ”We really are taking care of the truly needy.” What’s your response to that?
FATHER GLIKO: Simply the fact that the American citizen who can say that is blind!
BILL MOYERS: Do you think we want to be blind to the poor?
FATHER GLIKO: Yes, and I think at times it is a conscious choice.
BILL MOYERS: With what consequences?
FATHER GLIKO: Maintaining in some way or another the ideal of being a perfect society… r think is a big reason. Another reason is that if you really saw the poor, it might spark us, motivate us, to do something about their situations.
BILL MOYERS: How long have you been out of work?
MAN #1: I’ve been out of work now about two months.
BILL MOYERS: What were you doing?
MAN #1: I’m a cook.
MAN #1: I was just laid off, just laying the people off.
BILL MOYERS: Lots of people in Milwaukee out of work.
MAN #1: Yeah, lots of people out. Young people that make it so bad, see.
BILL MOYERS: Have any income coming in?
MAN #2: Uh, I’m working for an advertising company right now. Just day to day, delivering circulars, and donating plasma. That’s about all I’m doing right now.
BILL MOYERS: You get paid for donating plasma.?
MAN #2: Yeah… eight dollars, twice a week.
MAN #3: Reagan is taking every… (indistinct) from the poor and giving everything to the rich.
BILL MOYERS: Have you tried to get a job?
MAN #3: Sure I have ..CETA.
BILL MOYERS: And what happened to CETA?
MAN #3: What happened to that? Folded.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say to the middle class American taxpayers, like what Reagan’s doing? They’re saying a lot of people have been cheating on the system, been ripping the system off, we’ve been spending money beyond our means and… he had to cut back these programs.
JAYSON GRAHAM: Well, you see… I have no disagreement with that except for one thing. They’re asking the wrong people to sacrifice.
BILL MOYERS: JAYSON GRAHAM has been a volunteer at St. Benedict’s for four years.
JAYSON GRAHAM: And the economy is controlled by a select few. And nobody’s asking them to give up anything. It’s not… if anything else, these tax cuts and everything else, by giving them more. Because the tax cuts were designed to give the middle class a break, true enough. But the only ones that can really realize any… any real profit off it are the rich and the superrich.
BILL MOYERS: And these people?
JAYSON GRAHAM: These people? Well… they’re caught at the bottom of the ladder so to speak.
BILL MOYERS: They’ve fallen through the netting.
JAYSON GRAHAM: Right. They’re too small. They really don’t count.
BILL MOYERS: So many of the people whom I saw tonight were looked numb.
FATHER GLIKO: That to me is you experiencing the destitution of poverty. It’s when the human spirit becomes numb, when it finds that its voice no longer is heard -when that spirit becomes powerless, that’s destitution.
BILL MOYERS: But what happens to a person who goes hungry, who hurts, who doesn’t have a job, who’s drinking too much, whose aid is cut off day in and day out. The don’t go out and lie down in Potters Field and die. What happens?
FATHER GLIKO: Some do go out into the Potters Field and die.
BILL MOYERS: And the rest?
FATHER GLIKO: They’re dead -in our consciousness.
BILL MOYERS: When you pray for the people who come here, what do you pray?
FATHER GLIKO: I pray for justice and equity and∑ all the gifts that our country has been blessed with. And we really have been blessed. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud to live in a basic democratic society and I want to see that work.
BILL MOYERS: There’s no question but that federal programs which help the poor are riddled with waste and fraud. So are programs that help the middle class. So are subsidies to corporations. So are the billions being spent on the military-industrial complex. But the President and Congress have chosen not to offend the rich, the powerful and the organized. It is easier to take on the weak. Social programs were cut almost thirty billion dollars this year. The new budget proposes more cuts of twenty-six billion dollars. The burden falls most heavily on the poor, and some of the truly needy are truly hurting. They have been asked to sacrifice because the economy is in trouble and because some people are cheating the system. But for all the fraud and waste, for all their inefficiencies, these programs are a life-support system for the poor. For many, we are pulling the plug. I’m Bill Moyers for CBS REPORTS.
This transcript was entered on June 24, 2015.