Washington's helping hand

Our view: Just as helping homeless tornado victims is an easy call, shouldn't assisting those in similar straits always be a top priority of government?

May 01, 2011

Last week's deadly rampage of twisters through Alabama and the Southeast was a shocking and sad reminder of how quickly and unexpectedly disaster can strike. In Tuscaloosa on Friday, President Obama said he had "never seen devastation like this." With so many homes completely flattened, cars tossed like errant toys, and whole neighborhoods reduced to rubble as if bombs had been dropped in the streets, meteorologists have pronounced April's tornado-spawning storms the most deadly and destructive in nearly 40 years.

While there's nothing Mr. Obama, or anyone else, can do for the nearly 300 people who died in last week's storms, the federal government does have a responsibility to help these communities get back on their feet and rebuild. Unsurprisingly, the president promised exactly that in Alabama. He's unlikely to find much opposition in Congress.

That's because most everyone who has ever held public office at any level recognizes that the government ought to lend a helping hand when people are suffering. This time, it was tornadoes. At other times, earthquakes or hurricanes may strike. It is the nature of our country and our culture to assist those in dire need.

And so it should be, too, for those living in the aftermath of poverty, disease, drug addiction, disability, and other maladies that can strike like a thunderclap and leave individuals in conditions not unlike those facing last week's survivors — without jobs, without financial resources, without homes, without hope.

As Congress moves toward its next budgetary showdown — this time over raising the debt ceiling — members would be well served if they could visualize the faces of both the shell-shocked of Alabama and those living on the streets of cities like Baltimore. Reducing the nation's debt should not come at the expense of those in desperate need. That is not to suggest that spending not be reduced but that we make saving the lives of those made vulnerable by disaster (natural and man-made) one of our country's highest priorities.

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