” … But Where Is the Outrage?”
National Social Service Conference–
Marsena Buck, ACSW, LCSW –
Marsena Buck, an “Others Award” recipient, chair of the California Board of Behavioral Science Examiners, highly experienced social service administrator and consultant, and member and former chair of The Salvation Army Advisory Board in Modesto, Calif., summarized the events and ideas expressed in the conference and added a strong challenge to its delegates to step forward with courage and remember the poor.
“I have heard,” Buck stated in a quiet and gentle manner, “your concerns for racial reconciliation, for understanding diversity in sexual orientation, for skill in conflict management. I have witnessed your exploration of a theology of social work and your passion for grace. You came prepared to grow as professionals–interested, open, sometimes profound.
“I was also interested in what I didn’t hear. You had two sessions devoted to welfare reform, easily the most significant policy change in the last half of the twentieth century. You are anxious, cautious and somewhat confused. This law takes us outside our comfort zones. I have examined it carefully and can find no word about its impact on the individual; no talk of mothers and children; very little about clients. And there is no outrage.
“This is a change so big it boggles the mind. In 1930, we passed the Social Security Act and established Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It was designed to keep mothers in the home and infuse cash into the economy. It worked well, but it was designed for the thirties. It needed serious repair.
“Welfare reform entered the picture and was based on the premise that we had somehow disadvantaged the people we had intended to help. Three groups of people on welfare were identified. The first was those who were potential workers; the second was those who needed training but could work; and the third those who desperately needed help to survive. Some simply blamed the poor for being on welfare. It was socially unforgivable to be poor. This type of criticism was just plain mean.
“Then, on August 22, 1996, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act was signed into law. It is not welfare reform. It is an entirely new design for our work with the poor. It is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’
“On hearing the wolf’s story as a child, it struck me that for the wolf to appear in sheep’s clothing, the sheep had to die. I have witnessed the slaughtering of sheep and lambs. It’s a messy business, slaughtering sheep.
“I see you as shepherds. Your sheep are straggling–lame. Your people are in our corps–on our streets. There are 800,000 legal immigrants who will no longer receive food stamps. They were sponsored for immigration by the Federal government. They have not yet learned our language or our customs. They will go to bed hungry. Disease will increase. The elderly will die. Ten to twenty percent of those receiving social security insurance are children. Their support will be discontinued. More people must get jobs now than there are jobs available. Even those which are available, our people are not trained to do.
“Each state must make its own rules, and there is a new ‘least.’ They are our children. Their mothers are in our flocks. I feel so profoundly sad, and I am outraged.
“You, Salvation Army, you must be at the table, but I’m concerned about that. There’s a lot of money at stake. The challenge we face is to resist the temptation to identify with power, but instead, to identify with the poor. You must say all you know. If you don’t, you stop being shepherds and become simply an ‘agency.’ Don’t underestimate your power. Tell all the truth. Keep your eye on the people. Bring them to the table with you. Be the voice of the unheard. Be indignant for and identify with the poor.
“This is my advice: (1) Maintain your ability to relate with those we serve; (2) Recognize that we are in a very unique position. We must be among those who chronicle nationally those elements of this legislation which work and which do not work for the poor; (3) We must have a bank of national experts to insure the quality of programs: (4) Use your friends. Report to officials on a local level all that is happening. You have no idea of the value of what you know; (5) You must have the grace to be outraged and speak for your flock–for you are the shepherds.
“During the conference I heard three things: caring…light…and grace. It takes courage to care. Keep the light of truth. Do not dim your light with silence. Stand with the sheep–lift up the lambs. You are experts on grace. Grace allows us to move through difficulties.
“Now, go with grace.”