Hard Freeze

at 11:35 PM

December's cold snap has wreaked havoc in my garden. The salvia's especially hard-hit, except for one bush. Half is shriveled and lifeless. The other half, nestled next to the house and under the eaves, is thriving.

As I survey the damage, my thoughts turn to the current debate on poverty. Are we as a nation doing too much -- creating a culture of dependency? Or too little -- abandoning those who need help? Are the poor lazy and deficient, or held back by circumstances beyond their control?

My salvia provides some answers. The difference between its withered and thriving halves has nothing to do with hard work or character, simply that one part benefitted from a little extra shelter and warmth while another was literally left out in the cold.

Just as it's clear that protection from extreme hardship helped the plant, evidence is compelling that, by and large, anti-poverty programs work. Food stamps save millions of Americans from hunger. Unemployment benefits keep families afloat. Medicaid improves health. Not only do such programs provide an immediate lifeline, they also improve long-term outcomes, especially for children, who can suffer life-long effects from the toxic stress of poverty.

Yet unemployment benefits have run out for 1.6 million Americans. Further cuts to food stamps loom. Nearly half the states have refused to expand Medicaid. In some quarters, the war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor.

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"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," goes the saying. There's some truth that adversity fosters resilience: My salvia will regenerate, and most people will somehow muddle through our brutal recession. But too much adversity permanently stunts growth, even kills.

Just a little shelter and a little warmth during hard freezes, hard times - what a difference it makes when we bring everyone in under the eaves.
      
With a Perspective, I'm Lorrie Goldin.

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Lorrie Goldin is a psychotherapist practicing in San Raphael and Berkeley.

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