-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.