Monday, April 27, 2015
W is for Welfare
We have Ronald Reagan to thank for the term "Welfare Queen." He offered a depiction of a woman who was taking advantage of the system to malign an entire subset of society. All of the poor who received aid were condemned to a hypothetical representative that would've been impossible for anyone to duplicate. The woman Reagan cited did exist. But she was not the typical welfare recipient. She was an actual con artist. Her entire scheme was to get over on anyone in any way she could. She took advantage of many people and many government agencies.
While campaigning for the presidency, Reagan failed to mention all of the other government agencies she managed to take advantage of. Why would he not mention the rest? Because he was a dick. Because he didn't need her for that. He only needed a means to vilify the poor and create a narrative that would start Americans to think twice about wanting their tax dollars to be used in helping them. The funny thing, which happens to not be funny at all, is that, as with all Republican approaches to societal issues, the idea of fixing a broken system that could be taken advantage of was not the issue. He did not talk about how to make the system more productive in its means of caring for the nations poor. The issue was to condemn those who needed it. And, for the GOP, this has never changed.
Earlier this month, Kansas passed a law saying that welfare recipients cannot spend their money on cruise ships. Well holy shit! That must happen all of the time, right? I mean, either that or Kansas has gone so far out of its way to cure all of its ills that it is only left to mend the problem of assistance dollars being spent in the Caribbean. The focus of this new bill, however, was meant to limit the amount one can spend in one day to $25. This, obviously, makes it quite hard to pay rent and utilities. But I will explain what it does that is not so obvious. When I was on welfare, I didn't have a car most of the time. I had to take a bus wherever I went. Once a month I took a cab to get my groceries. I could hardly bring them all home on the bus. And a cab ride was not free. For the bulk of the time I was receiving aid, my daughter was in diapers. They are not cheap. And neither are the wipes. And (sorry Bubba) my baby girl had a very sensitive bottom so we had to be very careful about which brands we bought or she would have a terrible rash. With this new proposal, we would have to take a cab to the grocery store several times a month to do our shopping as you simply cannot, even with coupons and a wonderful sale, get a months worth of diapers and wipes with $25, let alone all that one needs to feed their family. And I had a family of two. I don't even want to try to imagine how many trips it would take to get the necessities for a family of five or six.
Some years ago Fox "news" interviewed a guy who explained that buying seafood and steak were his top picks with his food stamps and he really loved getting the free food. First of all, I imagine this dude was not on welfare and Fox paid him handsomely to read this script. Secondly, he is quite obviously not representative of the majority of families receiving aid. The idea that a family living on food stamps exists on steak and lobster is a little hysterical. But I guess you would have to actually receive food stamps and be given a ridiculously tiny amount of money to try to feed your family for a month to understand that.
Presently Maine, Missouri and Wisconsin are trying to pass laws saying that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or expensive items, like steak and lobster. Of course, this is all rhetoric in attempts to get on the news to remind their lowly base that they need to hate the poor and completely ignore what other items they had on the agenda. The legislators know full well that they would never be able to pass this bill. First they would have to define junk food. Then they would have to deal with the lawsuits from companies who wanted to contend that their food should not be classified as unhealthy with so many studies defining subjectivities. Then they would have to back off because they were only doing it to rile up morons, anyway. But lets just pretend that they were able to limit what a family can spend their food allowances on. Okay? So we, my daughter and I, were a normal American family. Regardless of how much money we contributed to stimulating the economy, we were a normal, yet small, family. Every year on Audrey's birthday she would get to pick whatever she wanted for dinner. So if my child wanted me to buy her steak that would be unacceptable? And if I wanted to make her a birthday cake, which would be deemed junk food, that should not be allowed? Are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness only available to those who can afford it? Shit!
This myth created by Reagan, and perpetuated by our present Republicans, of what it is like to live on welfare is ridiculous. You do not get enough money to go on a cruise. You do not get enough food stamps to buy expensive (or healthy) food items. No one is having a wonderful life from the benefits this assistance offers them. It creates so many limitations that it is very hard to get out of it, as well. With $300 coming in a month you would be hard pressed to save anything. But if you could find a way to do it, you are not allowed. If you have money set a side, you do not need assistance. But if you do not set money aside, there is no way to get off of assistance without something pretty miraculous happening. Its an ugly circle. Americans who are desperate to condemn others to inflate their own pathetic lives seem unwilling to realize that there really are not enough bootstraps to go around.
In a capitalist society that is woefully unbalanced, some aspect of that society will have to be weakened by that imbalance. The poor are those to suffer. Always. The Supreme Court has determined, through its Citizens United ruling, that campaign funding can be limitless and secretive, allowing the wealthiest Americans and corporations to control the message to the voters, and thus those who are elected. The poor can't afford a lobby, let alone the capacity to purchase their very own Congress.
Today the right has managed to convince its followers that Jesus Christ, himself, would condemn those who need assistance in caring for their families. That contention has even been made in a Congressional hearing on food stamps. Well, if St. Ronnie wasn't enough to convince them, Jesus certainly should be. How desperate can one person be for a scapegoat to allow the Bible to be rewritten to justify not helping the poor?
I will conclude with a message to those who have allowed Jesus to be turned into a prophet of hate.
As Michele Bachmann said, the rapture is right around the corner. Take a moment to ask yourself which Bible you really believe in. Is it the one you grew up understanding about love and tolerance? Or is it this new one where Jesus promotes war, discrimination, greed and hate? You better figure it out quickly because if Michele is right, you don't want to be stuck here with me and the rest of the sinners, do you?
While you are being asked to hate the poor and imagine them sitting around having a lavish lifestyle, ask yourself how likely that really is. Realize, first, that many receiving aid are actually working. But they don't make enough money on their minimum wage job (the wage your representatives would like to eliminate altogether) to come anywhere near the poverty line. Ask yourself about the people you know who have fallen on hard times and needed assistance. Why do you allow them a pass? You don't know every family in America receiving aid. And you don't know what brought them to this place. No one aspires to end up on welfare. And no one wants to imagine continuing to have to give their children the lives welfare affords them.
Why not take a good ten minutes out of your desperate need to hold contempt for everyone you have been told to hate and quietly reflect as a human being why the politicians you support are asking you to hate the group who cost America a third of the amount lost annually by tax breaks offered to those who are meant to be stimulating our economy? And realize, you cannot condemn this economy that you attribute as a failure of President Obama, but then state that the economy is doing so well as to warrant tax breaks to those who are stimulating it so successfully.
Instead of criticizing those who have no means of defending themselves, maybe go demonize the politicians who think so little of your intelligence and capacity for critical thought that they asked you to get riled up about this in the first place. You are supporting those whose agenda is to only benefit the corporations who pay for their elections. They don't care about those of you who actually elect them. And the corporations want to get rid of minimum wage, so the leaders scream about it on the stump, and then you all scream about it in social media. Wake up! When these corporations end up with the policies they want (those that will deregulate the means by which they run their corporations, are taxed and are responsible to their employees), Americans will be much poorer. Immediately. That includes you. Obviously none of you are well off or well educated. You will be screwed. And the safety nets you rallied so hard to get rid of will be gone. And you will need them. And won't that just suck?