I have always been proud of being an American and consider myself lucky to hail from what is truly the land of opportunity.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s my view that the concept of the American Dream is still alive and well, whereby citizens of any socioeconomic or ethnic background can succeed through education and hard work.
And if somehow they experience difficulty along the way, our system allows for this by providing a safety net of social services to get us through the rough spots.
Yet there is something else to aspire to these days which adds a new twist to the American Dream. It’s the idea that being a Syrian refugee might be the way to go — when you consider the benefits they are receiving compared to rank-and-file residents of the U.S.
A 2016 report pointed out that federal taxpayers have been on the financial hook in a big way to resettle refugees, to the tune of nearly $20,000 in assistance for each. Then once here they are immediately eligible for cash welfare, food stamps, housing and medical aid, according to that report.
My crack research team here at The Mount Airy News also turned up a recent news story from San Diego County, California, where a Syrian refugee family was lamenting the fact that the $1,560 per month it now receives from the U.S. government will be reduced to $850 in May.
Then there was a media report in February out of Tallahassee, Florida, which informed readers that a panel of the House of Representatives in the Sunshine State had voted to end Florida’s participation in a federal program assisting refugees entering the country.
While this is noteworthy in itself, the really interesting thing about that move was the disclosure that Florida agencies receive about $257 million per year from the federal government to contract with non-profit groups for refugee aid. Those in turn provide cash, job training and medical assessments and vaccines to the refugees.
Keep in mind that $257 million is the annual cost of this for just one state.
Now, I want to say up front, loud and clear, that I am not hard-hearted toward the plight of innocent Syrians who are suffering the ravages of their war-torn country.
And it behooves the people in the rest of the world to do everything they can to help them, a mission that European nations have embraced — to their great detriment — in addition to what has been provided by the U.S.
However, it seems to me that some allowance needs to be made for the fact our nation is about $21 trillion in debt — and counting. And even though the refugee spending makes up a small percentage of the federal budget there is also the symbolic factor to consider.
It boils down to my contention that any aid provided to the Syrians should not eclipse what our government is willing to do to take care of its own people, for example:
• How many veterans who are homeless and unemployed could use that $1,560 per month in assistance which Syrians are receiving?
• Don’t you think that sum also would be appreciated by elderly people on fixed incomes, who often must choose between buying food or medicine?
• What about the millions of American families whose breadwinners can’t support them due to having to compete for jobs with not only newly transplanted refugees but illegal immigrants from Mexico and other places?
And unlike the active employment assistance supplied to Syrian refugees — along with rent, household items and youth programs — American citizens who find themselves out of work receive no such help, and are pretty on their own when it comes to securing new jobs.
The various charitable agencies and churches that are working so hard to assist refugees must be commended for their efforts to aid people from a faraway land.
That being said, I bet they could find plenty of folks with similar needs by driving through the hill country of West Virginia, and basically anywhere else, including our little corner of North Carolina and Virginia.
Again, it is not unreasonable for the richest and most powerful nation on Earth to try to help others who are victims of violence, famine and other calamities through no fault of their own.
Yet at the same time, let’s make sure the basic needs of citizens in our country are being taken care of first and foremost — those of every man, woman and child.
And you don’t have to look far — maybe at the empty shelves of food banks in this area — to see where this is certainly not the case.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.