“Promoting the general welfare” is a part of our social DNA. It is featured in the United States Constitution in the Preamble and tasked to Congress to address in Article 1 Section 8. It is part of their job scope to ensure that the general welfare needs of our people are met.
Also noted in our foundational document, as part of servicing the general welfare needs of the people, was the creation of “postal roads,” along with post offices, as resources needed by Americans. The Founding Fathers also called for the creation of free public libraries to keep our citizens informed and educated.
In short order, developing out what was meant by “general welfare” grew as the nation grew. In the early 1800s, with the construction of the Erie Canal, the government funded in the Northeast a fairly involved effort to improve upon the transportation needs of the growing country.
Also occurring during the first few decades of the new nation was the formation of free public schools to educate our population. Via the efforts of Horace Mann, Massachusetts became the first state to provide a public education to its state’s citizens. In time, as part of serving the general welfare needs of the nation, a free public education from K-12 became the norm.
The notion of building upon our transportation needs continued to be a priority with the mostly government funded and subsidized building of the Transcontinental railroad.
Any student of our history will know that in times of need, more government programs have been created to serve the general welfare needs of our people. During the Progressive Era, we created government funded police departments and fire departments, passed zoning laws and worker safety measures. All in pursuit of the general good.
During the Great Depression, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, we established many government programs designed to get the nation back to work and put forth some long-term reform efforts such as the Social Security system, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities Exchange Commission to help stabilize the economy and assist our people in the future.
Under the leadership of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower we greatly expanded on the notion of the government providing better roads with his support of the Interstate Highway System — a mostly toll-free enterprise that greatly contributed to the growth of this nation and common general welfare needs of the people.
Under the leadership of Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress, two major programs designed to serve the healthcare needs of our people — Medicare for our senior citizens and Medicaid, to serve the needs of our poor — were created.
Today, there is a push on the state level for the passage of the New York Health Act (NYHA) and on the national level for a Medicare for All health-care system to provide quality healthcare to all Americans.
The NYHA act, co-authored by New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, would create a comprehensive health-care system for all New Yorkers covering not only medical care but also vision, dental, mental healthcare and long-term care. It would truly be a sea-change improvement on the status quo, saving most Americans expenses in the process.
A Medicare for all national system would best serve the millions of Americans currently enduring poor coverage, with private insurance poorly covering major ailments and nickle-and-diming via co-pays every aspect of seeing a doctor. It would be a logical growth to our health-care system for a government-run program aimed at addressing our entire population’s needs, cradle to grave.
Providing for tuition free-college at state schools is also a logical outgrowth to providing for the general welfare needs of the people. An educated populace is in the best interest of all of us as we compete and interact with the rest of the world.
Ultimately, it is the role of government to do what it can to assist the people it serves. We have done this since our founding and have developed a stronger safety net over time.
So the next time you attend a town hall, press your elected officials on where they stand on providing for the healthcare and educational needs of us all. And as you do, remind them of the Preamble and Congress’s responsibility to promote the general welfare of all the people. Let them know that doing so is part of who we are. It is in our national DNA to do so.
Robert Buonaspina is an Elected Steering Committee Member of Long Island Activists and a History Teacher at Locust Valley High School, Locust Valley, New York with more than 25 years of experience.