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'The Seizing Business' - A Commentary

By Tom Dodge, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Now I know how it must feel to be hit by a train. I could hardly breathe reading the page-one story: "A little-noticed part of a bill Gov. Rick Perry signed into law this week will allow the state to seize the homes of Medicaid patients after they die rather than allowing the homes to stay in the family."

My mother is a Medicaid patient. Her savings were depleted after seven years in an assisted-living facility. In 1999, nursing home care became a painful but necessary next step. Other than her Social Security and veteran's check, her only remaining material asset is a small bungalow listed on the tax rolls at $20,000.

When she still had the ability to speak, she was terrified that someone was going to take her house away from her.

"Who's living in my house?" is the last thing I remember hearing her say.

She no longer asks this or anything else.

Alzheimer's victims eventually lose all the basic functions of life.

She would hate to know that politicians want to take her house. Her furniture and other things are still there, as they were the day she left. I go several times a week and visit, as I did when she and my stepfather lived there. I keep it painted and in perfect condition. I mop and sweep the floors, cut the grass, trim the trees, and keep the taxes and utilities paid. I sit in the back yard where I used to sit with my stepfather and think about the old days.

I'm sentimental about these things.

My first reaction after reading this story was, "Why don't they just seize it now and get it over with?"

Why wait for her death certificate? Of course, she's never going to be able to live there again. So why not just seize it now?

It is only a matter of $20,000 to these functionaries in the legislature. To me, it is a memory of her and Raymond and as sacred as the tombstone on their gravesites. That stone is worth $600. It could be seized. Her furniture and her oven, refrigerator, kitchenware - they have a value of maybe two or three thousand dollars. These legislators, both Republican and Democrat, who sponsored and voted for this bill, and this governor who signed it into law - they should take these while they're in the seizing mood. The Army footlocker she kept at the end of her bed contains all her keepsakes - these have value. I've seen old photographs in antique stores selling for a dollar each. There are two or three hundred of them in this trunk.

Raymond's war medals are in there, as are Uncle Dock's letters. Uncle Dock was the first soldier from Johnson County killed in World War One, a distinction that would add a few dollars to their value. The flag that draped his coffin has 48 stars, a definite antique. His footlocker itself is worth at least $200.

My mother's old Schwinn bicycle from the 1940s could be restored and sold for maybe a few hundred dollars. The garage is filled with Raymond's tools. There are buckets and boxes and drawers filled with car and lawnmower parts. There are stacks of old cigar boxes (do these have value?) stuffed with light sockets, breaker switches, tiny gaskets, filters, and bearings.

Dozens of pulley belts are stacked in corners and hang from nails on the walls. Unopened boxes of spark plugs, bought at the flea market for a dollar or two. Hammers, clamps, hand saws, chain saws, coping saws, and saw blades.

What is it all worth to these legislators? Every dollar counts when you're in the seizing business.

But I think I'm playing a losing game here. It isn't a matter of dollars to me but sentiment, unexplainable to anyone in the seizing business.


Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.