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Tales from the old-timer

Means Test

I try to avoid politics in this column, either Federal, State or Local, as it is a waste of time, but the urging of a politician to introduce a “means test” to determine eligibility for Social Security got me stirred up. My cousin, Eddie Leveille, became a welfare department case worker in Forest and Vilas counties for several years, eventually serving as director in Vilas County. Part of his job required him to cruise the country roads looking for TV antennas on roofs of elderly folks as in the early days of TV, it was considered a luxury and a sign of relative prosperity. If he spotted an antenna, he told the people that their TV had to go. Ed told me of a tearful old lady who protested that her son had bought the TV, as she would never have been able to afford to buy one otherwise.

Part of the folklore back in those days was the “Welfare Cadillac” in the yard of many people on General Relief.

General Relief was a program that originated in England under what was called “The Elizabethan Poor Law” during the time that England was becoming industrialized and many rural folks were losing out in the scramble for factory jobs and became destitute. The system was also present in our Colonial times in New England, and was federalized during the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal back in the 1930’s. The Social Security system began in the United States about 1936, and was not a public assistance program with a means test. All wage earners had a deduction on their paychecks to pay for their ultimate retirement.

I remember when Grandpa and Grandma went on Social Security when he was in his 70’s, and the $20 or $30 they got was enough for them to maintain their pride and their security. They had no household water system, hot water or automatic furnace. Grandpa made firewood on his 40 acres south of town.

Ronald Reagan, former President of our country and a revered Republican, collected his Social Security when he became eligible.

A “means test” would put Social Security on the level of General Relief assistance, and a revival and expansion of the “Welfare Cadillac” syndrome. “Hey, look at what that guy is driving, and I heard that he’s on Social Security!”


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