2009-01-09 / Columnists

The Progressive

Social Progress
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

As 2009 begins most Americans are in dread of the unforeseen consequences of nearly a decade of the failed foreign and domestic policies of an unpopular president. We are hopeful that the young, energetic, charismatic president-elect will be able to undo the failures of war over diplomacy, the lack of a coordinated effort to overcome international terrorism in Afghanistan while wasting treasure and blood in Iraq, and an economic policy that has brought fear and pain to most Americans. Our prayers should be for all our leaders in these difficult times. Our fears need to be transformed to a committed effort for social change similar to the change the New Deal brought our nation. Many Americans forget that although the New Deal may not have ended the Great Depression of the 1930s, it enabled many of our citizens for the first time to enter the middle class stratum of society that ensures democracy and civilized law and order. Self-interest within reason is ideal. Without restraint and solidarity based on justice and not on charity, self-interest may lead to chaos, violence and dictatorship.

Many of us who have followed the media reports of the past few months may have overlooked some developments that may influence our nation in positive ways. President Bush in October signed two pieces of legislation that are encouraging. Many advocates for mental health patients have sought legislation that will ensure that private insurers cover health and addiction services for millions of Americans for years. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act was attached to the final financial bailout or rescue bill. According to the National Association of Social Workers it is estimated that forty-four million Americans suffer from mental illness and substance abuse and yet only onethird receive treatment. For years insurers have provided less coverage for mental illness and substance abuse. Despite the legislation, the law does not mandate mental health coverage. This again demonstrates the power of the insurance industry over our health care. Many Americans have now become unemployed and as a result will lose their employer based heath care insurance coverage. Of course, these Americans can buy the expensive coverage through the Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of the Reagan years but there are insurance companies hired by employers to limit the number of unemployed who take advantage of COBRA. We as a people must debate the role of insurance companies to influence our medical care.

On October 7, 2008 legislation was signed by our president that extends foster care payments at state option, for youths to remain in foster care up to the age of 21. This legislation aids relatives in caring for foster children by extending adoption assistance and guardianship payments for children who were adopted or entered guardianship after the age of sixteen up to the age of twenty-one. The legislation also states that reasonable attempts be made to place siblings together. The law provides federal training dollars for child welfare workers in private state approved agencies, bonuses for special needs and older children who are adopted, and better oversight of the children's health care and educational stability. Native American tribal governments will receive direct federal foster care and adoption funding. All Americans who believe our children are our most valuable resource must encourage better health care and education for all America's children. This is a moral and ethical imperative.

America must strive for social progress as it unravels the economic recession we are in. This is a great opportunity for a more just nation that believes the economy must work for the people and not that the people work to allow an economy that ensures the extravagant lifestyle of an elite.

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