Spartan

“Trump’s budget calls for a drastic rollback of programs for the poor and disabled along with a robust hike for the military and border security. The plan, which won’t become law without Congress’ approval, is laced with $3.6 trillion in cuts to domestic agencies, food stamps, Medicaid, highway funding, crop insurance and medical research, among others.”

In my mid-twenties, I worked as a caregiver in a group home for adults who had developmental disabilities. I knew of a resident, named Sally, who slumped in her wheelchair all day, because she’d lost the core control to keep her head up. I asked why we didn’t provide a chair that allowed her to recline, and the manager said that they we didn’t have the funds, but that we were trying to raise the money as fast as we could. I don’t know if Sally ever got her chair. 

Our care agency—which has a good reputation—paid most of its workers $7.50/hour. (This was when $5.15 was minimum wage.) People could earn $11/hour, but that money was available only for those who would stay overnight in a house with three sexually-aggressive men. My colleagues and I provided the most personal care imaginable, every day, including holidays, while trying to ameliorate the residents’ awareness that many of the people in their lives were actually paid to be their companions.

The work could be rewarding; it’s good to bring light to somebody’s life. During my tenure, I met the best parts of myself. But I also met the worst. I was able to change jobs before I burned out, but my older, less-educated colleagues did not have that latitude. And when somebody is stuck in a job that makes exacting demands while meting little compensation, that person can start to resent the job—to reject the fact that they earn less than a living wage to keep three or four others alive. And some of these employees become so weak that they develop a behavior that moves from indifference, to negligence, to abuse. 

This, then, is a post about not just the welfare of the people who work in group homes, but also—and most important—the people who live in them. The WHO estimates that adults with developmental disabilities are four times more likely to become victims of abuse than their non-disabled peers. Part of this abuse stems from the fact that predators prey on the vulnerable. And the truth is that there are few people more vulnerable than those who can’t move or speak well. But another factor is the wholesale depletion that goes on in the group homes as they try to address so many needs with so few resources. There is never a time when abuse is excusable, but as a reaction, it becomes more available to some, when they face the grinding demands of the impossible.

By further decimating funds for the care of our most vulnerable, Trump’s budget will threaten the country from the inside. He will divert so much to defending against invasion from the outside, that he’ll make us like Sparta, who lionized a boy who so focused on stealing a fox that he let it claw out his innards rather than return it to his enemy.

(Originally posted May 24, 2017)

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