Glenn Beck is coming to Wilmington. "This town hasn't taken any money from the government," he said, promoting the event. "They don't want any money from the government. And they are pulling together."
To be clear, the story of a community coming together during economic hardship is compelling, and it can illustrate the need for charity. But Beck's tale is nothing more than an effort to further attack programs that help those in need.
In fact, Glenn Beck's policy prescriptions would have disastrous consequences for the residents of Wilmington.
In 2008, DHL announced that it would eliminate 7,000 jobs in Wilmington. Mayor David Raizk has said the DHL closure was a "catastrophic event for the entire region."
In the past two years, Wilmington's use of food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, and the National School Lunch Program has increased significantly. According to state officials, food stamp enrollment in Clinton County is up 91 percent, while the number of people receiving cash benefits has increased 116 percent. Medicaid rolls have increased 37.5 percent during that time.
Mark Rembert is co-director of ENERGIZE Clinton County, an organization trying to tap into public and private resources to redevelop the region. He applauded the work of local service organizations, but said that "government money has played an essential role in meeting many basic needs in our community," adding that "it is difficult to envision what state our community would be in were it not for the unemployment insurance paid to laid off employees, food assistance programs, job and family service programs, and financial assistance to our local school system."
But to Beck, these types of "government handouts" make people "slaves."
Just months before the announced job losses, Beck discussed the enrollment process and public awareness campaigns for food stamps and Medicaid. He asked, "Is there no shame in this country anymore?" Food stamps, Beck said in April 2008, are "just the tip of the now taxpayer-funded iceberg lettuce."
In September, Beck proposed a solution to the problem of have-nots: "teach a man to make pie" (because pie is better than fish), and let charity fill in the gaps. Complaining about the number of Americans on government assistance, Beck said, "The vast majority of us -- get off your ass and bake some pie."
But after suffering thousands of lost jobs, Wilmington doesn't need a lesson in how to bake. It needs jobs and investment. And for that it has turned, in part, to the federal government.
Wilmington has received more than $10 million in stimulus funds, according to city officials. And that's a drop in the bucket considering that the city has requested more than $63 million in funding under the stimulus bill, which officials estimated would have directly created 1,211 jobs. Raizk explained to PolitiFact.com: "I've beat on more doors than I can count. Not because we are looking for a handout -- but we are looking for a hand up."
A Wilmington City Schools official says that stimulus funds were used to offset additional teacher layoffs and to purchase classroom resources.
In fact, when it comes to stimulus funding, the problem is not that "government money" has enslaved Wilmington. If anything, the people of Wilmington need more of it.
ENERGIZE Clinton County's Rembert explains: "While we have received some funds -- for which we are very grateful -- they are negligible given the size and gravity of our local economic crisis."
Which brings us back to Beck. At the height of the debate about the stimulus -- a stimulus that many economists said needed to be significantly larger to fix the economy -- Beck called the bill "slavery."
Beck has repeatedly denied what countless economists have said: that the stimulus has created millions of jobs that would not exist otherwise, including more than 500 in Wilmington. (Economists say the stimulus indirectly creates even more jobs than that, as employed workers spend stimulus-funded paychecks on goods and services.)
Beck would have you believe that the people who are working those jobs, weatherizing homes throughout Clinton and Clark counties and redeveloping downtown Wilmington, are slaves to the stimulus.
Wilmington doesn't need Beck -- it needs a strong social safety net and significant public investment in jobs.
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