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How Stereotypes Are Reenforced – Part 3: Community Service

This is the final post in a series of blog entries I wrote in response to this article. After originally reading it I wanted to address the stereotypes of welfare recipients that was reenforced by these legislators and their proposals. I also felt a need to shed light on the real situation for most poor people that receive social services.

If you missed the first two posts in the series, you can find part one here, and part two here.

Also related is my original blog entry about the reality of living on welfare benefits and what that truly entails, and why I started this blog to begin with, called the extravagance of welfare.

The last thing I wanted to address in regards to the original article was the bill co-authored by Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg) and Sen. Nancy Collins (R-Tupelo) that wants to make recipients of public assistance serve at least 20 hours of community service per week. As noted in my previous two entries, when they talk about welfare recipients they mean anyone receiving any type of benefit from any social service programs, including food stamps or medicaid.

Despite this, they were forward thinking enough to mention in passing that “some of the details will have to be addressed in committee, such as whether a person has a job but is still on some form of public assistance.” Nice. If you already have a job and happen to receive food stamps or Medicaid because you make so little that you are still considered below the poverty line due to your low-income they’ll consider you in a committee. No guarantees though. They couldn’t be bothered to put minor details like that in the actual bill.

To quote the article, Polk said:

“People on assistance are receiving help from taxpayers. Most of those taxpayers are working to a point that they can’t offer community service like they wish they could sometimes,” he said. “… You get a wonderful feeling (from serving the community), and I think sometimes those who have made public assistance a way of life don’t have the self-esteem and the feeling of accomplishment … from helping others as they’ve been helped.”

First of all, if working 20 hours a week doing “community service” becomes a requirement to receive aid, it is no longer community service. A task that someone does in return for compensation is called a “job” not “community service” — and jobs typically pay much more than a welfare recipient receives in benefits.

Secondly, “those who have made public assistance a way of life“??? Really? What?

I don’t think most people are on welfare by choice, they are on it because they have no other options, and I’d certainly call it a stretch to say many make it a “way of life” – especially when many states have lifetime limitations on how long you can even receive most types of public assistance to begin with. And, I might add, if many of them have low self-esteem it’s exactly because of bullshit rhetoric like this.

Many of those in the government and the media make it a point to talk about people on social programs like they are leeches, the bottom of the barrel, and undeserving free loaders. It is something people are made to feel ashamed of and embarrassed about, rather than as a fellow citizen receiving help in a time of need. Help, I might add, that they “help” to fund and pay for as well. Remember, taxes come in many forms, from income tax to sales tax. Just because you receive welfare doesn’t mean you’ve never paid taxes, or never will. Tax dollars come from medicaid and food stamp recipients as well.

Not to mention the business and industry that would be affected in local communities without the patronage of low-income individuals. Poor people – even those on welfare – still have certain basic needs and spend money, contributing to the economy and enabling shops and businesses in these areas to stay open and employ others. These businesses pay taxes, some of which goes back into these programs. Plenty of business exist and thrive on the low-income demographic, providing job opportunities for others in their community. Surely this is a service of some sort as well?

Plus I’m pretty sure I missed the part that explains how a person who doesn’t have adequate childcare to look for or hold down a job to begin with, or who has a special situation that prevents them from doing so, can suddenly do community service instead. I think I also missed the part about how transportation costs would be covered.

Seriously, this – out of all the proposed bills in the original article – seems the most absurd to me. If I was able to spend 20 hours a week outside of my home on community service, I would be using that time to work (and earn a much better income) instead. It is not that I do not want to work, it is that my current situation does not currently allow me to. I am sure there are many others in the same boat, and still others who would rather spend that time looking for work, so they could get off of welfare altogether, rather than wasting all their time fulfilling requirements to remain on public assistance indefinitely.

First they want to tell people how to spend the small amount of income they have, and deny them access to certain rights and goods, then they want to perform humiliating personal searches with no probable cause, finally they want to tell you how to use your time and force you into “serving the greater good.” I’m sure I’ve seen this pattern of degradation and a separation of one section of society into second-class citizens before. Is this really the road we want to go down?

Why such resentment towards the poor and the needy?

What do all of you think?

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Politics, Welfare

 

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