The Spokane Homeless Coalition posted a link to an article from the New York Times regarding what the poor do as their benefits are being cut, a side effect of the Clinton Administration's signing law that established work requirements and time limits. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.html)
Some people have found themselves doing the illegal - selling their food stamps, the food bought with their food stamps, shoplifted, or even sold "off the truck" items. Others have returned to abusive relationships. Some have sold blood. I knew personally of a woman whose son bragged to me about how, years ago, had sidestepped the government's rules by buying old junker cars for almost nothing, then parting them out for beaucoup bucks. Bucks she never reported to the state. The end effect? It taught her sons that it's okay to cheat, it's okay to ignore the rules, because they don't apply to you.
And as her former daughter-in-law, I refuse to teach my children that message.
I have never cheated the system, I never will. I will skip meals, as some of the women in the article have, to make sure my kids eat, but I will never, ever work under the table, misrepresent my income, get involved with illegal activities under any name. While I understand why some people may see that as an acceptable option, I can't get behind it. I will not endorse it as a means of getting by.
As a result, I live a bare-bones existence.
I also understand why the government thought it was a good idea — encourage people to get up and get going with their lives. However, it has never addressed the needs of the people it is providing life to. The article states "recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income
single mothers is jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million
women and children."
I am currently out of work, and have been looking for six weeks shy of a year. As I've previously posted, I cannot take on the traditional "fallback" jobs of waitressing, fast food and call centers due to my disabilities. To do so would significantly impact my mental health. I have had — and lost — friends who cannot grasp this concept, who think I'm making excuses when I say I cannot work these jobs, or cannot understand what triggers are like. They would be the first to understand how a quadriplegic could not swim the English Channel without proper tools and training and a proper mindset, but they are the first to tell me I should do the equivalent because they can't "see" my limitations. Psychological disabilities are not always visible — contrary to often popular belief, we don't all go wandering the streets, arguing with ourselves and slobbering down our shirt fronts! Thank you, Hollywood, for continuing that stereotype!
I am signed up at DVR (Vocational Rehabilitation) and get a free bus pass. I am also signed on with a placement organization that works to facilitate my employment opportunities whenever they can. Last week I got over 40 job applications in, many of them online. I have over two decades of administrative experience, am a skilled public speaker and while not formally trained in marketing, have some great experience there as well. My years of working with nonprofit organizations should be helpful too, but I'm still looking. My placement counselor says there is no reason I should be into the job search almost eleven months after starting, but that's the facts, Jack! (Meanwhile, we're trying to get me something going, and frankly, I'm getting a bit discouraged and burnt out. The fact that I've worn out two pairs of my good job-hunting boots this last week alone doesn't help much.)
My oldest daughter is also out of work, and she is raising my grandson, who will be three this summer. I was out of the area for almost a year, and when I came back, I noticed that he didn't seem quite as "present" as another child I'd seen in my year away, who is just a bit younger than he is. Knowing that all children develop at different rates, I watched him and observed. My daughter took him to the clinic where we as a family have been receiving care, expressed her concerns. They looked him over and said he was just fine. A slow developer, but fine.
The fact he has no vocabulary at all and doesn't even look up, when others his age know over 200 words and can follow basic instructions, still had me concerned. Since that time, I've had her take him to others, people who actually know what to look for.
He is one of the one in 88 out of 100 children in America with autism.
My daughter has to have the time to take him to appointments, several days a week, while getting in her required 20 hours per week engaged in job search activities. We are bus jockeys — we do not own a car, and neither of us has a driver's license. My daughter has a compressed disc in her spine which makes retail and restaurant work difficult, as she would have to stand for long periods of time. There are few full time sedentary office jobs that she can do that will work with her need to take my grandson to his appointments; I'm having a hard enough time finding clerical work locally.
She is supposed to be getting a bus pass provided by DSHS but they have been slacking at providing her one. They do not provide her with assistance with getting him to and from his appointments, nor do they make an effort to learn what skills and tools she has available to facilitate her job search. Basically, she is on her own. Pushed out of the nest much, State of Washington?
She is getting him reinstated at day care tomorrow for her job search activities but can only have him there for four hours a day, yet she is expected to do a full four hours of job searching a day (if she spreads it out over the work week). This isn't easily done, when the bus ride downtown, then to WorkSource is about an hour each way and she has to include the time waiting for buses in the equation. A decent job search requires at least six hours per day.
We live together (but do not share state benefits with each other). Neither of us can afford much beyond the rent. She receives TANF. I do not, but if something were to happen and I lost the $467 I receive each month (in four equal payments, one a week) from my ex-husband, I would not qualify for state funds.
Both of us know people whose stories, while not identical, are much the same. It's not right, and it's not fair. Yes, we recognize that there are people out there who cheat the system, but they are not as large a segment as some sources would have you believe. Most people who receive government benefits are in legitimate need, and only temporarily in need; they are not "career welfare rats."
Perpetuating the myth of the Welfare Queen that Ronald Reagan spoke of in the Eighties does us a disservice. While it may strike people as funny to see the poor as leeches, sucking the lifeblood out of the system, all it does is perpetuate the hate.
Don't like the poor? Stop bitching about them and do something to improve their lives.
I recently wrote an article about helping friends who are out of work. You don't have to be in a position to offer them a job, or refer them to one. Resumes always benefit from another pair of eyes. Sometimes people need a reminder of what they've done in order to even create a resume. Some people would benefit from being treated to lunch or a cup of coffee while out looking for a job, to sit down and talk with someone else. Job hunting is such an isolating task, even as you're out pressing flesh with potential employers, that such an effort can make all the difference in the person's attitude.
Don't divide us into categories, America. Let us be part of the world, instead of separating us from the rest of it. That's all many of us ask.