LBJ's Great Disaster

In the mid 1990s, I landed a job as a welfare caseworker at a county welfare office in Southern California. Before I could get busy and change the world, I had to attend a six week training period to learn the rules and regulations pertaining to eligibility for means tested programs. There were so many rules and yards of red tape that my head was spinning; however, anxious to change the world, I payed close attention to the material. It was incumbent upon me to pass the class with an average of 80 percent. Nervous creature that I am, I agonized over every exam. The roots of anxiety were embedding. I was a California born and breed tree hugging liberal on a mission to help those less fortunate than myself. In spite of the plethora of rules and tests, I prevailed. Finally, I could enter the trenches of the war on poverty and help those in need.

My first day on the floor I waited anxiously for my first intake application. I didn't have to wait long. Nervous but excited I sat down to interview my first client. She was a young girl, not yet eighteen and very pregnant. Her mother and stepfather were with her. Mommy who already had an active case in the office, was pregnant as well. Mommy had been on the system for a long time. In fact, she seemed to know more about the various programs, cash aid, Food Stamps, and medicaid than I did. Her daughter, my applicant, was already active on her mother's case. Now that she was in the family way, she was applying as head of household for her own case. This wasn't going to be an easy case for a greenhorn such as myself, but it gets better. The young girl was pregnant by her stepbrother. By this time, confused over the complexity of the case, I politely excused myself for the moment, making a beeline to my supervisor's office.

It was a rough first day on the job, but that's not really the point I'm attempting to make. Rather, my young client was embarking on a journey of generational welfare. I could relate countless examples of this dynamic that I witnessed during my time as a caseworker,but I will spare the reader the details. Suffice to say that the above related example was one in a string of unfortunate circumstances that I witnessed during my time as a welfare caseworker. In the months and years that followed, I reached the sad conclusion that the great majority of my clients were not self actualizing. That is according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the clients were having their basic needs met via the assistance provided from welfare benefits, but many were content to simply remain on the system, rather than use the benefits as a means to improve their lives.

Worse yet, there were incidences of child abuse and neglect. In addition, I saw many clients continue to have children when they were already on the system. In my universe, this defied logic and common sense. If you can't afford to support the children you have, should you continue to procreate? Recipients were rewarded for having another child by increased Food Stamp benefits and cash aid. Of course, many such situations were not the ideal conditions to raise a child. I asked myself, what are the societal implications of in some sense, conditioning those who are not financially, psychologically, or emotionally prepared to parent, that the state will pay their way?

Let me be clear, this article is not an attack on all welfare recipients. There are those who recieve assistance, who know how to effectively parent, as well as how to utilize the time on aid to obtain a degree or viable employment. Nor do I wish to disparage those on Food Stamps, as in this volatile economy, many need to supplement their earned income. Programs such as Food Stamps, Cash Aid and Medicaid are vital and necessary components of a civilized society. They exist to help those who need temporary assistance, the truly disabled, or the elderly. That's not always the case though, and there's the rub.

LBJ's expanded programs of assistance to the poor have evolved into a trainwreck of epic proportions.There are those who spend a lifetime on assistance, and many have a genius ability to work the system. Meanwhile, the working poor fall through the cracks, and there is a segment of society, the mentally ill, who are too mentally disorganized to complete the application process, and don't get me started on how the elderly often get lost in the fray. I would submit that in spite of the best efforts and intentions, we as a society still haven't found that fine line between helping and enabling.

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