How could you let that happen?

I have written before how legislators can play a heavy hand in creating the circumstances for something to happen, then when something bad does happen, say “How could you let that happen?” An example I have used a few times is when funding is cut and social workers are asked to take on 160 clients when the most effective client to social worker is rate is more like 16 to 1. You do not need to be good in math to recognize that is ten times the number of clients each should have.

So, when something bad happens to a family or person being served out of the 160, the legislators will claim “how could you let that happen?” This frustrates me as I see first hand the hard job social workers have and how many qualified ones are quite excellent at what they do. They are counselors, mentors, nudges, shoulders to cry on and providers of some tough love when needed. Yet, the countless times they do their job does not make the news. Only when they don’t makes the news.

In North Carolina, this story is highlighted once again when short-staffed prison guards are put in harm’s way. This apparently is not unique to NC, as I see bill boards advertising the need for prison guards in other states. Earlier this year, a female prison guard in a male prison was beaten to death by a prisoner. She was overseeing about forty prisoners in an onsite work program. She had been fearful for her safety given this oversight long before she was killed.

The NC General Assembly who cut funding on staff and salaries set up the circumstances for this to happen. And, yet last week, the two chamber leaders politicized the issue and laid blame on the new governor for not doing enough. Per The Charlotte Observer today, the editors said this is a new level of chutzpah. They likened it to a child killing his parents then asking for leniency since he was an orphan. It is some chutzpah to cut funding and ask “how could you let this happen?”

This is not the first time nor will it be the last. But, I do not care what political party you are, we cannot tolerate and condone these kinds of statements and behavior. Do not take your sand toys home, then claim other kids do not want to play with you. That is a child’s story not a so called leader’s. The fact the US President does it is no excuse.

Budget, budget, budget

Now, that agreement has been reached on setting a budget for the current fiscal year which is seven months old, I have three comments. First, bipartisan collaboration is the reason this budget passed. Thus far, the House has been trying to pass legislation arguing amongst Republicans. Bipartisan legislation is how John Boehner got bills passed.

Second, it is interesting how we are celebrating Congress for doing its job. This is one of the easier, substantive things they do, yet it should not take seven months into the fiscal year. Keeping the lights on is the most important thing they do, yet they can’t do even this well.

Third, I have witnessed yet again a Congressional candidate to replace now budget director Mick Mulvaney tout he is in favor of a balanced budget amendment. Folks, we have $20 trillion in debt. We need more revenue than expenses. And, we cannot cut our way there. We need to increase revenue. It should be noted the President’s tax plan is estimated to increase the debt from $2 to $6 trillion.

We need more serious discussions than this President and Congress are prepared to do. We must roll up our sleeves and add wisely to revenue and cut wisely our expenses, as both efforts are required. If someone tells you otherwise, mention the $20 trillion debt figure.

But, how could you let this happen?

“But, how could you let this happen?” is a phrase often uttered after an event has made the headlines. People are incredulous and leaders, in response, will look at others to blame for the recent turn of events. Yet, oftentimes, the leaders omit their role in the event which occurred by their failure to act. Or, the event was going to happen, and no proactive action was taken to lessen the impact.

I have written before about how social workers are sometimes thrown under the bus for a family treating a child poorly or rampant substance abuse exposing children to things they should not see at their ages. Invariably, the social worker is handling far too many clients due to budget cuts over the years, so that families do not get the attention needed. Depending on travel, capabilities, types of family challenges, and numbers of family members, a social worker should ideally have less than twenty clients. The ratio of 16 to 1 is often mentioned as ideal. Yet, when something goes wrong, we often see social workers with 150 or 200 clients, which means no family gets the attention they need. I have the greatest admiration for social workers, but even Mother Teresa would have a problem with the caseload.

However, this line of questioning is much broader than making sure we staff sufficient numbers of social workers to meet a community’s needs. It gets into most areas of politics and governance. Last week, I was watching a leader of the US border guards on the news describing the problems with the influx of child refugees. He defined and demonstrated how difficult the job is and noted we are already understaffed due to the sequestration budget from last fall. So, to state the obvious, we have people in Congress who, in addition to not passing an Immigration Bill, have not funded the open positions in the border patrol making it harder for them to secure the border. Please reread that last statement, as we have some Congressmen and women who are insisting we secure the border, yet they won’t fund staff to secure the border, in general. This is before the latest request for funds to handle the refugees.

Yesterday, I was encouraged that a bi-partisan bill was agreed upon between the House and Senate committees on handling veterans’ affairs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Representative Jeff Miller (R) are the key proponents (kudos to both). Yet, when the VA Hospital problems hit the fan earlier this year on wait times and veterans not getting served, the echo from Congress was loud, “how could you let this happen?” A veteran leader noted this is the same Congress who would not sign off on Senator Sanders bill earlier this year to address known concerns saying it was too much money, but offered no compromise solution. Yet, they did not do a mea culpa and say we screwed up earlier. Our leaders talk a big game about taking care of veterans,  but we are much more prone to fund tanks and planes we don’t need, than take care of wounded soldiers. Soldiers who have fought much longer and, since fighting among civilians, have been exposed to more PTSD need our help and not just our “atta-boys and girls.” Words are cheap, very cheap. Thank you Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for your actions to support our troops.

Finally, I will drift back to another favorite topic of some and that is Benghazi. “How could you let Americans get killed?” is asked. This issue has been put to bed for eighteen months in a non-partisan review led by Admiral Mullens and Ambassador Pickering, neither of whom were asked before Congressional Committees to speak on their report from December, 2012 until the committees were apprised of this oversight. The report went through all of the areas where we could have done better, but one area was interesting. Security of all embassies had been shortchanged by budget cuts in funding from Congress. So, we cared less about securing our embassies and then cried foul when something happened. And,this is not the first time our embassies and foreign service personnel have been attacked. “How could you let this happen?” the same folks asked.

The two common themes from the above are budget cuts impact service and it is hypocritical to totally blame someone else for something you, as a group, had a hand in causing. As a business person and volunteer board member of non-profit groups, I recognize fully that budgets are not infinite and require trade-offs. I do think we need serious discussions about where we spend our money. Yet, I am also mindful there are some that want to axe everything without noting what services are being performed. And, I also am aware there are those who say cut this or cut that, but when reminded that people back home or funders’ businesses are impacted, change their mind. There are so many military weapons that are not needed and are stockpiling, yet because of funders and lobbyist efforts, we cannot stop making them, e.g.

We have a deficit and debt problem in this country. The answer that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission came to in December, 2010 is both spending cuts and revenue increases are needed. Before we have other “what-ifs” happen, we need to take a look at that report as a plan to start from.