We are coming down to the home stretch of the marathon run towards the first step of health care reform. Conservatives (and those who believe them) are decrying the bill's deficit spending during a recession. But there is evidence of plenty of questionable expenditures that, had they not been made, might help fund reform, create jobs, lessen the deficit, or even pay our military personnel something more closely resembling a living wage. We've all heard of the hundred-dollar hammers and thousand-dollar toilet seats, as well as five-and-six-figure office redecorations. But this latest one takes the cake:
Today I got a letter from the Census Department. Now, as a good citizen, I've seen those cheery TV spots reminding us to respond to the 2010 Census. OK; though ads don't come cheaply (even if airtime is granted to Uncle Sam for free PSAs, someone's taxes are paying those actors, techs, and writers as well as the costs of even digitally transmitting the ads to stations and networks), there are those recalcitrant "privatarians" who need to be enlightened as to the consequences to them and their communities of an undercount. Fair enough. So today, sharpened #2 pencil in hand, I eagerly slit open the envelope (which informed me inside the space where the stamp normally goes that first-class mail postage and fees were paid) in anticipation of doing my duty to my country, state, Congressional and school district.
It was a one-pager. Was it telling me perhaps of a url where I could save a few trees and tax dollars and be counted online? I wish. Here's what it said:
"In one week your Census Form will arrive." Plus an exhortation to answer it when it does, an explanation of why I should do so, and one-line message, printed in six languages, giving the url for help in filling out the form. (Mind you, all the important and explanatory stuff was only in English).
WTF??? What did this cost us? Let me count the ways: first-class postage and fees, even if bulk permit (and no, not even the free Congressional "franking" privilege); sorting, paper, ink, printing, translation, collating, stuffing, and the time of some creative talent who had to have written the thing (if not outsourced, civil-service workers' time that could have been spent on more meaningful work for which we're already paying), and the time it took already overwhelmed Postal Service workers to resort, bundle and deliver it. C'mon, at least the in-person census takers will be doing much-needed temp work that will pump some salaries into the economy--couldn't you have paid some unemployed people to slip this missive through mail slots along with the lawn-service ads and takeout pizza menus?
I wonder how many more school supplies, free lunches for poor kids or transit or road improvements and repairs this expense could have bought!