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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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How Stereotypes Are Reenforced – Part 2: Drug Testing

For those of you just joining me, this is the second of three posts I’m making in a series in response to this article. After reading it I wanted to write about how the stereotype of the free-loading welfare recipient is reenforced by the very type of dialogue these legislators are engaging in, and how it’s a far cry from the reality of the situation of most poor people that receive social services.

If you missed my first post in this series, please refer to yesterday’s entry here.

If you haven’t read my original post on in regards to the reality of welfare benefits, and why I started this blog, you can look at my thoughts on the extravagance of welfare by clicking here.

In my rant post today I’d like to address the part about mandatory screening tests for those on social service programs, which include not only cash aid, but also recipients who receive only food stamps or Medicaid.

Although it’s a common cry that is often heard to “test for drugs” before an individual is allowed to sign up for welfare benefits, and at first glance, this type of request seems harmless, even prudent – again, we miss the bigger picture with these types of proposals.

First and foremost, this is unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment specifically protects citizens from unreasonable and unwarranted search and seizure. This is the same reason a cop cannot search you during a routine traffic stop without cause, and why refusing to consent to a search is not (in and of itself) reasonable suspicion to conduct such a search.

The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

A drug test is a type of search, a very personal and private one. It is not legally (or even morally, or ethically) considered “reasonable” to search a person solely because they are poor, and need assistance. Having little or no money is not probable cause that you are a drug user.

There is absolutely no basis to assume that because someone is struggling financially that they must therefore be using drugs. Furthermore, there is no research that shows the percentage of drug users amongst welfare recepients is any higher than the percentage found within the rest of the population.

Translation: Some people use drugs, some people don’t. It has nothing whatsoever to do with poverty levels or whether someone is on general assistance programs.

To group everyone together and force them to submit themselves to a very personal, unreasonable (illegal) search with no just or probable cause in order to receive help they are qualified to receive, just because some people in the general population break the law, is humiliating and unfair. It also further reenforces and perpetuates the stereotype that if you receive social service benefits, you are a sub-par citizen, not deserving of the same equal treatment and rights of the rest of the population.

I understand taxpayers don’t want their money to end up in the hand of someone that might potentially use it to buy illegal substances. I don’t want that either. But it is a risk that is taken with every single government employee, legislator, senator, or anyone who receives payroll from the government, or who is subsidized with government grants or programs.

We do not force congress and the senate to submit themselves to drug testing before they are paid. We do not make sure college students are drug-tested before they qualify for a government student loan or grant. Farmers do not have to pee in a cup before they can receive a subsidy for their crops.

It is exactly the same. Because there’s no probable cause or reasonable suspicion, even though a certain percentage of all of those groups are (statistically) invariably guilty of some type of illicit drug use as well, as stated before, this is true of the entire population – regardless of income levels or job position. Drug users exist in society across the board, and their existence alone is not sufficient reason to suspect everyone is guilty.

This is why federal courts have blocked similar laws in the past that various states have passed, (most notably Michigan in 2003 and Florida in 2011) due to their violation of constitutional protections.

This entire argument is all based solely on the fact that such drug testing is unconstitutional, without even getting into the murky areas of the fairness of innocent children being potentially denied or delayed access to benefits if a parent fails (or refuses to take) a test.

Finally: “Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, has introduced a bill to require Medicaid recipients to submit to random nicotine testing.”

Really?

This doesn’t just have to do with the right to purchase, as I addressed yesterday, but the right to use an item. It would also prohibit the various forms a substance could be used in by making it restricted completely for certain people.

You can’t have special rules for the poor that don’t apply to the rest of the citizenry. They’re now going to prohibit citizens from partaking in a product that is legal to purchase by an adult?

And here’s the kicker on this one, not because it’s a waste of taxpayer money if a recipient chooses to use income to purchase tobacco products, but because “tobacco-related diseases cost the state $264 million each year in direct Medicaid costs.” So, if a person has no health coverage whatsoever, not even Medicaid, that will somehow cost the state less when they have to treat that person anyway?

What about people who are quitting smoking but are using nicotine patches or gum? They’ll still have nicotine in their system. How can you possibly differentiate this through random nicotine testing?

Again (going back to other government employees) what about the armed forces, congress, the senate, and all other government employees that receive health insurance provided by the government… Will they all be forced to quit smoking and submit to nicotine testing as well to avoid paying their “tobacco-related” health care costs?

Why do all the justifications and excuses the legislators use to attempt to explain these proposals and bills only apply to the poor on social services?

Soon they will be proposing no Medicaid coverage for the overweight, due to the high costs of treating obesity-related illnesses. (Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure we spend just as much money on in healthcare costs in this nation.)

Where does it stop?

Pundits and politicians and certain factions of the media often want to shift the public focus to welfare, as if this is the only place where tax dollars are used. Your money isn’t taken from you and given to the poor like Robin Hood, and the poor don’t get nearly as much as you think they do, and certainly don’t have extra to waste. Far more tax payer money is used and spent on so many other aspects of government than welfare, and there’s so little room to trim in an already extremely underfunded system, that I can’t understand why this one use of funds receives so much resentment and attention. Is it really that horrible to spend a little money on keeping your fellow man alive within your own country compared to the massive amounts we spend to wage war elsewhere in the world? or the huge bail outs we give to Wall Street and the large financial institutions? How about random drug and nicotine testing for all the geniuses that caused this economic meltdown to begin with?

Are the poor really the ones we should be upset with for “wasting” tax dollars?

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Politics, Welfare

 

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How Stereotypes Are Reenforced – Part 1: Vanity Plates

So, yesterday I read this article,  and it reminded me why I started this blog to begin with. There were so many stereotypes being thrown around in these proposed bills by these legislators that I found it sickening.

The stereotype in this case is of the high-spending, free-riding welfare recipient that throws money around wasting it on frivolous things. We all know that’s not the case. If you haven’t read it already, take a look at my original post on the extravagance of welfare by clicking here.

I’d like to address a few of the various points brought up in the article, including the points on community service and various screening tests, but I will address those in separate entries. In today’s post I just want to focus on the stupidity of the vanity plate issue, and the idea of spending restrictions.

Do I feel spending $30 extra on a vanity plate is a good use of money? No.

Do I believe the government should have the right to regulate what someone is allowed to acquire based on the fact that they’re poor or have special circumstances and need health insurance? Absolutely not.

I also find it ironic and absurd that all these proposals come from the political party that supposedly wants less regulations and smaller government, but we all know that only applies for big business and the wealthy. When it comes to the so called lower class, the working poor, and those in poverty, then more rules, regulations, tests and barriers to programs that barely help someone survive is all the rage.

The supposed justification for this is that taxpayers contribute money to a social program, and someone receives it, so that person is responsible for using that money in a manner that the taxpayers would not deem wasteful. Or rather, they must use all of their money, from any source – even if they work and earn money and just happen to receive only medicaid benefits – on only the bare minimum necessities to live, because they received some sort of aid, and are therefore beholden.

I quote: “If you’re on welfare, you ought to spend that money on medicine or food,” Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven said. “If the taxpayers are picking up the tab for your health-care costs and/or your welfare benefits, you ought to be responsible enough to spend our money wisely.”

You hear that? If the taxpayers are picking up the tab…

And we all know that if you have $30 for a vanity plate you can afford thousands of dollars on medical bills. It’s exactly the same thing. (For those of you that don’t know me, that was sarcasm, by the way.)

So, since the taxpayers also pick up the tab for the salaries of legislators, how about we pay them the bare minimum to survive? Why should we “pick up the tab” to pay for fancy suits and briefcases, high-end cars, vacations, etc.

But, but… That’s different!

What about how tax dollars are spent on absolutely anything else for that matter? We have no oversight over spending to ensure funds are used in the most efficient manner possible, that’s simply not how the system works.

I personally wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on special monkey wrenches and hammers either, but we know it happens with taxpayer money. No one stops the army from wasting money on flying expensive celebrities out to entertain the troops. Why not just pop in a video?

But, but… That’s different!

Money is wasted across the board on just about every program we manage. This does not make it right, of course, but to point the finger at the poor and blame it on them, as if that is where all the waste can be trimmed from is ridiculous. It’s also not fair to limit how an individual chooses to enrich their life in some way, or how to manage their money and purchases in a way that they choose.

The idea that if you’re poor, you’re less deserving of any creature comforts above and beyond solely food and medicine is sad. You must only eat and live. That’s it. Really?

Do we include everyone that is on any social program? Remember, this also includes the working poor who do have jobs but still receive additional assistance because their income is so low, those who make barely enough to survive and may only receive food stamps and/or Medicaid? Those who receive some cash aid to supplement an extremely low income that is not enough to support their family size? Those like me whose only income currently comes from public benefits?

It’s a slippery slope. If we start on it, where do we draw the line? What other purchases can we limit and regulate to ensure the taxpayer money is being used wisely? Should it be against the law to “waste” money by renting a video? To pay for cable – which most often is the only entertainment most poor people can afford? To go out to eat for a meal instead of preparing everything from scratch every single night? Can you only buy generic toilet paper and toiletries? (Assuming you don’t already…) If you need to buy a “new” clothing item are you only allowed to purchase it in a secondhand or thrift store? Are you no longer allowed to buy a toy or present for your child for a birthday or holiday?

Do the poor (on assistance) have to get marked or stamped on their IDs to differentiate them in a store so we know what they are and are not allowed to buy? Does everyone just get carded? Do those not on assistance have to carry around a special card or ID that they show the cashiers to let them know they’re exempt and allowed to buy whatever item they choose?

“An automobile license plate is a privilege, just like your driver’s license is a privilege,” Sen. Flowers said.

Yes, and not everyone has the privilege of air conditioning, so only fans for the poor!

And where do we stop? Who decides what one person needs, or wants, and differentiates whether they have the right to buy it or not?

This is not the same as a felon not being able to buy a gun. They committed a crime, and have to deal with the repercussions and consequences. The poor are being (further) punished for nothing more than simply not having enough money and asking for help in a time of need.

Again, I really don’t think the purchase of a vanity plate is a good use of money. However, I just can’t abide the principle of taking away a right from someone (even just a right to purchase something) that other individuals in this country have, based solely on the fact that the person has a limited income that qualifies them for assistance.

Is this really the type of path we want to start down? Once you take away a few freedoms and infringe on a few rights, it becomes even easier to justify taking away more. The poor and impoverished should not be targets of the government. They are not scapegoats. Being poor is not a crime. How can you possibly justify trying to take away something from someone who already has so little? Why?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Politics, Welfare

 

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