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Who's on Welfare?
The Real Faces of Welfare
Meet Sandra*, she’s exhausted chasing after four kids every day but still she has agreed to meet with me. I want to know what it’s really like to be a full time student, mother of four, and welfare recipient. Sandra never imagined she’d end up like this, not eight years ago while living a comfortable middle-class life with her husband and high-school sweetheart. But when Sandra discovered her only love was cheating on her, she couldn’t stay by his side; she had to leave.
It took more than emotional strength to summon this departure. Sandra has succumbed to years of poverty as she struggles to pay sky-high rent, care for kids, and get through school. Still, her face is fresh and she always wears a smile, even while detailing me the horrors of a program instituted to help. The government’s goal is unarguably to have the least amount of people on state welfare, in order to help achieve this, the government has implemented evasive processes to deter applicants. For women applicants the concern is they have a man in the house, to check for men- and anything else- random searches are conducted. These “night-raids,” as described by Sandra, include a group of men marching through her home, opening all of her drawers and flipping through her most personal items. All the while her and the children stand back watching as their tiny apartment loses all sense of privacy.
This loss of privacy doesn’t even earn Sandra enough money to survive on. When real living expenses are calculated, welfare doesn’t come close to covering it. Not that Sandra wants to complain, it’s great the government is giving anyone anything, but she feels it would be better suited if the government gave a larger amount of money each month for a shorter amount of time, thus allowing one the chance to get ahead instead of always remaining behind, only to fall flat on the floor once welfare is cut off.
Sandra is not alone in her struggles, ¾ of all single parents are in poverty.
14% of our Federal budget went to social welfare programs in 2011, a sure sign that too many people are without job availability. Although there is a small percentage of people who chose not to work and enjoy a welfare lifestyle, the majority do not feel favorably about being on welfare. They would do anything to have a job, to stand on their own two feet, to not be trapped in a system of constant control. Paying with food stamps is overwhelmingly admitted as embarrassing and comments are commonly uttered about food selections.
What the Shame of Welfare Earns
The nicer the area you live in, the nicer your welfare office will be. Location regardless, the lines are long and the seats are few. The room is packed tight with kids crying from their strollers, the adults yawn into their hands, their eyes blurred with worry. Entire days are spent waiting, often only ending in a missed signature or forgotten piece of paperwork causing the same process to be duplicated the following day. If able to jump through the paperwork hoops and pass the rigorous inspections one can expect approximately $762 in cash aid, $400 from food stamps, and $50 for transportation. Realistically, in most parts of the US, this is not enough money to live on. Keep in mind these numbers are averaged off of a random sample of San Diego welfare recipients, where living expenses are quite high. Also, if one receives any sort of child support it is now redirected to the State who takes the majority of this money as “repayment” for welfare. Welfare requires beneficiaries to work; often causing them to spend their entire checks on travel and babysitting just to go to the dead-end job welfare insists they maintain. Better suited to their future and our society would be requiring educational programs or speciataly schools so that a good paying job will be within reach once welfare is cut off.
Reality vs. Media Buzz
Hardly ever does the media shine light on the real faces of welfare. Instead we see the random cases of outright financial abuse such as “Octomom” or the latest lottery winner still collecting her food stamps while paying two mortgages. These images are not the norm and only put distance between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s,’ hosting the perfect environment for blame and hostility. We truly believe that those who work hard make it and those who don’t deserve their ill fate. While in some cases this is surely true, there is an entire sect of society that is not given the same opportunities, are set back by so many adversities they can’t find their footing. Due to the negative light we view poverty in, and the fact our policy makers are rich and often biased towards the poor, it’s natural that the welfare system is not a caring sort of place; it’s biased in thinking welfare recipients are faulty or ‘less-than’ in some way. The repercussions of this are devastating for individuals forever caught in the web of poverty. Of course for those who unexpectedly end up on the system but have human capital, welfare can be a tool to success. Take Sandra for example, although it’s been a tight crunch her previously obtained capital and family resources have given her the ability to utilize welfare, get through school, and now, about to graduate, she has a great job lined up. As a soon-to-be tax-paying citizen, Sandra can now gladly pay her dues as a productive economic player.
Sandra uncovered through her own research that college was an acceptable activity, in place of work. When she presented this to her caseworker she was told this route was not something they promoted- to save money- but since she had brought it up they would allow her to do so. Without having the resources to find this knowledge Sandra wouldn’t be heading in such a positive direction. Instead she’d be scuffling to figure out how to make it on minimum wage once welfare cut off. It’s adamant that we promote education; even if it costs our system more in the short it will save us buckets of cash in the future.
*Names have been changed