The ranks of the poor have now grown to record levels. According to the recent Census Bureau figures, 46 million Americans are living below the poverty line.

That line is $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for a single individual. Amazingly, 20 million Americans are living at 50 percent below that already low poverty line, the Census Bureau found. And 22 percent of the children in our country are in poverty.

At this very difficult time, when the safety net built over generations should be assisting families who are down and out, it is being attacked and diminished, and the poor are the big losers.

Take Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed a law that ends cash benefits to potentially 41,000 Michigan residents by capping benefits at four years. Approximately 30,000 of those losing the assistance will be children, according to the Michigan League of Human Services.

At 10.9 percent, Michigan has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation. The economy in the state is stagnant; jobs are not being created by the private sector despite a massive corporate tax cut from Snyder, and prospects for an economic recovery are currently dim. Snyder’s decision to slash the safety net now is heartless and unnecessary.

But Snyder is not alone.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona, California, New Mexico, South Carolina, New Mexico and the District of Columbia, all have reduced cash assistance. These reductions will adversely affect approximately 1.3 million children.

Another state on attack against the poor is Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed into a law a requirement that those applying for and receiving welfare must be drug tested. Scott called the program the “right thing for taxpayers.”

Scott’s move is an attack on the poor disguised as accountability.

Since the law went into effect, only 2 percent of applicants have tested positive for illegal drugs, the Tampa Tribune reports. This completely destroys a basic assumption by Scott and those who support this approach: that poor people are abusing drugs at high rates. They actually seem to be using it less than Floridians in general. “A 2008 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy also showed that 8.13 percent of Floridians age 12 and up use illegal drugs,” the Tampa Tribune reports.

If Florida drug tested everyone who benefits from government programs, there would be a huge outcry. Imagine having to take a drug test just to get deductions on your tax returns. Such an intrusion would never stand. But the poor make an easy target.

In 1989, a federal appeals court ruled that a similar blanket drug-testing program proposed in Michigan was unconstitutional.

But that hasn’t stopped Scott. And it’s not stopping Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who recently suggested drug testing for anyone applying for unemployment benefits.

These harsh policies should end. The poor deserve our support and compassion — not our scorn.

Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer who lives in Michigan. He can be reached at

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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