From the government, and here to help

This week’s “Speak Your Mind” essay contest topic/question was: What can your government do to help you as a working mom? I don’t usually get very political here, and in my more cynical moments I’m not sure it’s even worth expecting anything from our government on the domestic-policy front, but I did have a few thoughts to contribute.

Since it’s a contest, there’s a prize – the article with the most votes/highest rating wins, and today’s the last day. You have to be a registered member of the site to vote, but if you click the link above, it’s easy to take care of that.

While Americans were once advised to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” I think the time has come to ask. While it’s not always true that “ask and ye shall receive,” it is often true that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

There are so many things we could ask for – where to begin? In a country that proclaims its devotion to “family values” every time you turn around, it doesn’t seem that all varieties of families are valued equally. Many families are headed by only one parent, and in those that have two, it’s increasingly likely that both need to contribute to the family’s income – and when the parents are working, where are the kids? Childcare for the youngest children that’s safe, nurturing, high-quality and affordable can be a challenge to find, and we need support to make more of it available. The childcare questions don’t go away once kids start school, either, since the school calendar is still based on a farming society model that’s less and less appropriate for today, so policies supporting longer school days – if not longer actual instruction time, extending the days with on-site before- and after-school programs – and year-round schedules would be equally beneficial.

Childcare, school, and work all tend to fall apart when someone gets sick, though, and one of the sickest things in this country right now is the health-care system. Most people agree that reform is critical, but there’s so much dissent about what form it should take that it gets stuck and nothing happens. The upshot is that affordable, accessible health care is necessary for everyone, especially families and children, regardless of someone’s employment.

The tricky part of asking the government to get involved in any of these issues, though, is who’s going to pay for it. Businesses will pass the costs along to the market if they are required to make changes without being compensated somehow. Direct funding from the government means that government debt, taxes, or both (most likely) need to increase at some point – spending cuts and redirection of funds from other areas won’t take care of everything that’s needed. And speaking of taxes…

For the record, I don’t object to paying taxes in either theory or practice. They’re the cost of the services our government provides for its people. But in a country where, as previously mentioned, two incomes are increasingly necessary for families, a tax system that’s still based on the “one-provider” family needs to be overhauled. In my first marriage, both my husband and I had to have our taxes come out of our paychecks as if we were single in order to make sure we we covered at the end of the year. It was an unfortunate shock for my second husband when we filed our first joint tax return and he saw what we owed; his ex-wife hadn’t worked, and he hadn’t realized what a difference it made in that respect. (He was certainly aware of other differences.) No one wants taxes to get any more complicated than they already are, but I think this is a really basic issue that’s out of whack for many working families, and it needs to be changed.

If “family values” really matter, and that really applies to all families, then these are just a few of the things I think our government could do to stand behind that statement.

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