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-By Becky “ranty-rant” Reno

I have a laundry list a mile long of things that get under my skin. Most are benign – things like wasted food in the produce drawer, family not dropping everything and running to the table when dinner’s ready, and seeing something cheaper after I’ve already bought it. I’ve got one shot this  month though to vent so I’m going for the big guns- the thing that makes my eye start to twitch, and gets my blood boiling. It’s the topic that makes it near impossible for me to keep social graces, and I instantly get hot and sweaty when it comes up, as I struggle not to go off the deep end launch into a twenty minute rant.

It’s this- “welfare”.

Let me say this first- this is not a political rant, although it is, but it doesn’t have to be. I understand how in theory how being socially conservative doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t want other people to have their basic human rights met. They just disagree on how to go about it. I understand that in theory. However in practice, I think most conservatives aren’t interested because they think people (of color) are lazy, are deliberately working the system, and are at fault for their own misfortune. [I won’t go off on a tangent about this, but look into the Southern Strategy if you’re interested in hearing about how this isn’t an accidental association, even though more whites are on welfare.]

As a social work student, I’m working with many low (no) income women who are pregnant and/or parenting so I’ve had the opportunity to learn from this population first hand. They are single-handedly some of the most amazing women I’ve met. They can budget for their family on so little money a month, their kids are taken care of, and loved, and their kids are easily cleaner than mine. These are some of the most stigmatized women in our society and I’ll save my feminist rant for another day, but truly all they want is a better life for them and their children. I don’t know a single one who is interested in just living off the public dole.

There are so many misconceptions about them and so few people in the public know how welfare really works. I know one mom who desperately wants to go to college, but she needs a stable house for her and her child first. She’s sleeping on friends and family’s couches while she waits to get a section 8 voucher. She’s been on the waiting list TWELVE YEARS. That waiting list, by the way, is now closed, as it is in all the counties where the college has a branch campus. Another mom wants to get a job, but in order to get childcare, you have to first have a job, or be in school. Can anyone explain to me how a woman is supposed to get a job when she can’t even get child care for an interview? Food insecurity is perhaps our most pressing issue, and not a month has gone by where a woman hasn’t run out of food for her and her child. Formula in particular is one of our biggest needs, which is necessary because of the lack of support women get around breastfeeding. Also? For as much as I hear about people living off welfare, did you know you can only receive TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) and general assistance for pregnant women for a LIFETIME of 5 years? Lifetime, people. That means if you start at 18, you’re done at 23. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. You can have 30 kids and that lifetime limit is not changing.

I could go on and on, but for me it all boils down to this. I don’t give a shit what you think the size of government should be, or whether or not you think people are undeserving. No one, not a single fucking person in this country, should ever go to bed not knowing how they’re going to feed themselves or their child. It’s an atrocity for this country, and we should be so fucking ashamed that we’re busy fighting about whether or not “those people” deserve help while they are struggling to keep themselves, and their kids alive. For all the political rhetoric around the economy, especially in this election cycle, I am still waiting for someone to talk about how to fix this broken system so that at a minimum people get their basic human rights met. Here’s the crazy thing too- despite all this I’m still optimistic that people would help other people if only they knew them personally, but our cities are so segregated that we live almost parallel lives, usually only miles apart. It’s easy to have stereotypes and draw conclusions about people you’ve never met, but once you’ve come face to face with them and their family, most would do anything they could to help. There’s no pithy way to wrap this up, but if you are inclined to help, please pick up a couple of extra groceries and drop them off at your local food bank. Diapers and formula are especially needed.

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  1. September 17, 2012

    wow.
    i hear ya’.

    having never been “on welfare” but desperately needing assistance from the local women’s shelter and food from the local food bank, both when my ex-husband made life with him dangerous and made me needy [after he cleaned out our bank accounts] i can truly understand the need for “assistance”….and so, i shall drop off groceries at the local food bank. i already support my local women’s shelter, and the homeless shelter in the closest big city.

    bless you for speaking your mind!!

    • Becky #
      September 17, 2012

      bless YOU for making a donation, and for giving back to the local women’s shelter. That made my day.

  2. September 17, 2012

    Well I don’t know how you will feel about what I have to say. I am a white Southerner, I am 37, I was unemployed for almost four years, I was in college when I lost my job in 2008 and then dropped out but I lived in HUD housing so I qualified for zero rent and also a utility allowance, and I still get food stamps, even though I am due to graduate in December of this year with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, emphasis in Business concentration in Health and I am under employed working only 12 to 16 hours a week. I will be honest, that back in 2000 and still even now, I self identify as a liberal. But when I decided to go back to school in 2004, I needed my families assistance, and I decided to vote GOP for the past two election cycles. As a Southener, with college educated parents, I really think its counter productive to harp on the so called ‘Southern Strategy’ and that it is dumbing down the democratic base. Period. If you want to elevate the conversation, why not talk about historical revisionism? Why not talk about other issues related to the production of culture and how different views are being challenged? Academia is alive and well no matter what anyone says about the GOP effort to attack it. Put academia to use and stop whining about it is what I think. There is more than one way to skin a cat, peel a orange or an apple and there is more than one way to address what is going on with the GOP these days.

    • Becky #
      September 17, 2012

      I’m guessing by southerner you don’t mean Ohio, which is a shame because I’d love to met up over a beer and continue the conversation. Indeed there is so much to cover with this topic, and with the direction politics has taken as of late, it seems there is little space at all for productive conversations, much less complicated analyses of what is, and has gone on. I agree- academia is alive and well and I’m ridiculously privileged to be a part of it. Hopefully, as a result, I’ll eventually be able to give back and become a part of some solutions.

  3. Jill #
    September 17, 2012

    The 18 months that we spent on Welfare were the absolute worst ever, Becky, and they should have been wonderful. The girls learned how to walk and talk, we celebrated their first Christmas, and I graduated from college. But behind all that was the underlying issue of having to rely on food stamps to pay for our groceries and a Medicare for the girls’ insurance. I hated every single minute of it because whenever you turned on the news, people were complaining about folks on Welfare and how they were cheating the system. Exactly what was I cheating? From my vantage point, I was stretching the $225 we got a month to feel like $500. I was making sure that the girls were up-to-date on their shots. I was working with my pediatrician to figure out why they kept getting ear infections. But I was ashamed of our situation every second that ticked by. Now when I tell my students or other friends, they look at me a little surprised. “Why would you need food stamps, Mrs. G? You’re a teacher. You’ve got money.” Because I wasn’t always a teacher and because I didn’t always have money. Friends or acquaintances react a little different. “Well, your situation was unique. You are different than most people on Welfare.” Nope. Not really. I just don’t fit your preconceived notion of what a Welfare recipient should look like. Thanks for posting this . . . xoxo.

    • Becky #
      September 17, 2012

      Jill your experiences and willingness to share them are a part of what make me want to fight so hard for women’s rights. I’m guessing there are a lot more women out there like you, but aren’t a part of the dialogue because as you said it doesn’t fit the preconceived notions. Thank you for sharing your story, your perspective adds so much to the conversation.

  4. Cori #
    September 17, 2012

    I agree. I don’t think people understand the system of jobs. The way jobs are set out is like a pyramid: The best paying jobs are fewer in number at the top, and the massive amount of lower-paying jobs are at the bottom. Not everyone can get to the top. Not everyone has the economic means, or the drive to get up there.

    People are so darned focused on getting to the top. The whole, “I work hard for my money, so so should you” way of thinking isn’t right. Some people can’t work hard for their money thanks to stigmas and a whole other whackload of issues, including the pregnancy/child/slut-shaming culture that we live in.

    I believe in social programs and bringing people together, no matter what the person’s or family’s background may be.

    Sidenote: I went to my local police station to get a Vulnerable Sector Check today, and got denied because I didn’t have a proper stamp of approval from the agency I’ve chosen to volunteer with. While this police station could be pursuing important issues, the lady at the desk chose to belittle me for supposedly “forging the signature.” Instead of calling up the agency and asking if I’d been there, you make me drive the 30km back to my original agency to have them resign a different paper. Way to go. Way to argue with me over a $40 check that I even offered to pay for (and they refused to give me). Ridiculous.

    • Becky #
      September 17, 2012

      You bring up a whole different point and that’s our society’s overemphasis on productivity at all costs, where more often than not those costs are being paid by women. The fact that working full time on minimum wage still keeps you below the poverty line is messed up. Seems like there has to be a better system somehow.

  5. September 17, 2012

    Thank you so much for writing this. Despite being a college educated, hard working woman my family has to be on government health insurance and food stamps until my husband finishes his degree in biomedical engineering next year. I can’t wait for him to be done so I never have to deal with the lines, paperwork, and smelly government office ever again. It takes so much time and fighting just to keep getting the benefits we qualify for the idea that lazy people do all this work because it’s so easy just makes me laugh. Thanks for breaking down sterotypes.

  6. September 18, 2012

    I want to tell you how much I appreciate this post and your bravery in posting it. I haven’t been on welfare but have been near it — one time due to a child with a potentially lethal mental illness that required expensive care and a parent to be available full time. To me, welfare, health care, and a woman’s right to choose birth control and whether to continue a pregnancy or not are all intertwined.

  7. September 18, 2012

    Fantastic, real post. Thank you for your passion and understanding. Both are desperately needed in this time of sound bytes!

  8. September 18, 2012

    Many of the people who need welfare most, don’t take it because of pride and stigma.
    My mother, a schizophrenic woman who lives alone, barely makes it on about $800 a month, doesn’t even QUALIFY for more than $23 a month in disability SSI. Oh jeez.. don’t get me started..

  9. September 19, 2012

    i know jill and i agree on this one big time since both she and i benefited at one time from assistance. me a 21 year old single mom of a baby and no child support ZERO from the man who helped make her. i the young woman who worked her ass off 14 hour shifts to feed clothe and diaper that baby who was on soy formula. i needed and relied on WIC, and i also received a very small amount in food stamps until they took that away because god forbid i had a JOB and a CAR! i guess the lesson in that was to sell my car and quit my job? hmmm… so yes though the syste is surely broken, it is also very much needed. and not my bus or dead beats or losers, but by women like myslef that needed a leg up…

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