I came to Nebraska Appleseed knowing that many of the policies I would advocate would be under attack. I was right, and the common complaints were all present. If a benefits program wasn’t too expensive, it was creating incentives for illegal activity. It is easy for groups to attract support simply by shouting others down, but the quiet, untiring work of Appleseed and public interest groups gives a voice to those most in need of being heard.
The needy are easy scapegoats for the majority, especially in difficult economic times. The temptation will always exist, when the budget gap needs to be closed, to cut public benefits because the majority of people do not see immediate rewards from Medicaid or even early childhood services, and extending a hand to immigrant populations is perceived as a drain on the pocketbooks of potential voters.
But at Appleseed, I have been delighted to find that the attorneys and staff see beyond the short term needs of the majority and those in power. If no one spoke up for those in need, their needs would continually go unmet, and their long-term chances for prosperity would be virtually eliminated. By giving those vulnerable to Nebraska’s leaders’ reactions to political pressure a voice and a seat at the table, Appleseed guards against the caprices of the majority.
In my time at Appleseed I was lucky enough to work on pressing issues involving Medicaid benefits and termination of parental rights. In all my projects I was shocked to find just how easy it would be to operate or amend the law in such a way that prevents those in need from changing their circumstances. If the government decides to operate these laws in such a way, it is absolutely imperative that they do so only after hearing from those affected. If Appleseed were not there, whom would Nebraska’s leaders hear on behalf of the working poor, immigrants, and families in need of health care?
Appleseed is not able to protect against all of the failures of government and the private sector to provide opportunities for long-term prosperity. Even slowing the progress of deprivation by providing a dissenting voice is something, and I am happy to have helped Appleseed do that this summer.