As I have watched this past week's news headlines I am no more shocked today than I was before. It seems that whatever is politically popular is what is covered by the talking heads on local and national television shows. From the NSA, immigration, Benghazi, Syria, Obamacare, to will Hillary run or won't she, it seems that the real issues are relegated to the back burner. What matters around the kitchen tables is the economy, jobs and the cost of just making ends meet.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed was in this area recently talking about how important it is for the state to "provide training for those on public assistance so they can become self supporting." That sounds very noble, but maybe if we tightened the requirements for receiving welfare and Medicaid in the first place, there would be fewer needing "training." I realize that sounds harsh, but the time has come for each of us to let the elected officials in Albany and Washington know that the taxpayer is over-burdened and can simply pay no more.
It is more than industry and business that is leaving New York state, it is also the homeowner - you know the ones who pay property taxes that provide the services and infrastructure for those who don't. These three tax-paying entities are spiraling downward. What will happen to the welfare and Medicaid recipients when the taxes are no longer enough to support them?
You can say that Cuomo's latest attempt to attract businesses through his "New York Open for Business" program accompanied by the tax free zones for businesses will bring the state back to economic well being, but both of these have been challenged by economists and critics who claim this will not enhance the overall financial situation for the middle class.
According to a federal report (issued just two weeks ago), New York's economy grew at a slower pace than the national rate in 2012, and ranked 37th among all states for gross domestic product (DiNapoli has not denied the accuracy of this report). Further, we are still seeing a state unemployment rate higher than the national average.
Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been making the rounds trying to lure New York businesses to Texas - and why wouldn't they go?! Our tax rate is one of the highest in the union! We have more people on public assistance than any other state, and we continue to lose taxpaying residents at a faster than average clip. Our elected officials are out front and center touting tax free zones and casinos when the taxpayer is seeing their taxes, along with the number of welfare recipients, go up.
We have seen the battle rage between the New York Business Council and the local power plant here in Chautauqua County, NRG! This is preposterous! Hydro fracturing has been hotly debated and yet while proven to be safe, it is still being held up in the governor's office. We need jobs in this area of the state! We need to continue to work with employers who are willing to work toward being a good community citizen and a contributor to the overall tax base.
If NRG goes, so goes the north end of the county - and on that you can bet. We have seen a downsizing of Carriage House, and a closing of Petri Bakery. Albeit there is talk of a new industry coming into the area, we need to make sure we treat them right. If a tax-free zone can be created for some, why not reduce the taxes for all industries? The businesses that operate in the Tax Free Zones will most likely NOT employ the average blue collar, middle-class worker - the promise of a manufacturing facility most likely will. We need these types of operations if we are to reduce our unemployment rate and the number of individuals on public assistance. Maybe through the creation of manufacturing jobs, Representative Reed's desire for providing training for welfare recipients will be met - let's train them to work!
The drain on our local economy continues to be affected by a lack of jobs, and too many single parent or unmarried parents raising children and receiving welfare and Medicaid benefits while unemployed. Our public assistance program MUST be reformed.
In our county we have seen a drop in the number of enrolled welfare recipients who are actively working in the Welfare to Work Program - a drop of 20 percent over the last five years. According to the United States Department of Commerce, in state the average welfare recipient receives benefits equivalent to those earning $13.13 per hour. An individual on welfare can earn $1,000 per month and still be eligible for welfare benefits. Further, food stamps and unemployment benefits are not included in these figures - they are in addition to these figures! In New York 15.4 percent receive food stamps. This is unacceptable.
If we are to see economic progress, we need to provide an environment where work is rewarded, not discouraged. As long as we continue to provide rewards for doing nothing, we will never be able to pull our state out of its enabling habit. Our current welfare system harms the very individuals they intended to help by continuing to foster a reliance on the government; it has robbed them of their pride, their creative spirit and their own self worth.
While I have sympathy for those suffering around the world, the refugees of Syria, and those worried that the NSA is listening to their telephone conversations, I am concerned about my own little corner of the world as well - we need to fix the economy here at home before we send another dime to a foreign country or involve our troops in another war. Let's stop the downward spirals.
Have a great day.
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org