By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post.
Roanoke, Ala. — She wanted her clients to look to her for inspiration, so Teresa Boullemet stamped out her cigarette, popped a peppermint, sprayed herself with perfume and applied fresh lipstick. “Are you going to the farthest corners of the world today?” her assistant asked as she walked to her car. “Roanoke,” Boullemet said. “Say a prayer for us.” And then, carrying pamphlets saying she provides “guidance and choices” to disabled people interested in working, she set out for what may not be the farthest corner of the world, but is certainly one of the farthest corners of Alabama.
Vocational rehabilitation counselor is Boullemet’s official title, a job she does for the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, but she thinks of it in far simpler terms, because the questions she tries to answer seem so simple. Can this person work? Is there someone who would hire them? And if so, how can she connect the two?
They are questions that have become increasingly urgent in a country that is hardening its stance toward recipients of government benefits. Wisconsin wants to be the first state to require childless Medicaid applicants to undergo drug testing. Georgia has dropped thousands from its food-stamp rolls after instituting work requirements. And the Trump administration has proposed a budget that would further erode the social safety net, slicing hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade from Medicaid, food stamps, children’s health insurance and programs that serve the disabled. Taken together, the policies either amount to an assault on the vulnerable, according to Democrats, or, according to Republicans, a promotion of the most American of values: the dignity of work.
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