(First time diary – and it’s a doozy! – promoted by countrycat)
January 23, 2014
Welfare Legislation Attacks the Poor
By Barbara Evans
Senator Bryan Taylor has introduced a bill mandating recipients of public assistance to “give back”. On TV, he said that the “chronic takers” would be required to provide public service at the rate of 20 hours per week.
Forty years ago I was a welfare and food stamp recipient. The experience never left me. For two years, I did my time. Rules were different back then; you had to prove you had a place to cook food, you had to pay for food stamps, and you had to let the local state human services agencies do what they wanted, like examine your home for evidence of others living there. It was at best a humiliating experience. Throughout life I have listed the experience on my resume under “education”.
After that I resolved that others would not suffer the treatment I endured, and I became active in Georgia Poverty Rights. I spent many a day passing out informational flyers in the long food stamp lines and I became such an expert that I was ultimately hired by the local Community Action Agency and then Legal Services. I was active in the creation of WIC (Women, Infants & Children), providing nutrition to pregnant women and children, but it was my ability to articulate the experience to people who had never had the experience of poverty that was my best thing.
As with women’s rights, labor rights, voting rights and civil rights, I once again find myself forced to fight the battles of the past. But this time it is not lawmakers who are clueless about grinding poverty, it is people who have set out to destroy and remove the poor. The vicious cruelty of the radical right, which dominates the House in Congress and the Alabama Legislature, is frightening because some of our lawmakers don’t want to learn or grow, they are out to punish and destroy. And yet, you never hear one of them run for office without pointing to their own self- professed low income backgrounds. What a crock.
Being poor is a full time job in itself. Just getting and keeping the few benefits available are difficult. How can you stretch those food stamps; what can you cook, and how can you stretch it, to feed everyone. The appointments you must keep. How to arrange transportation. How to squeeze out gas money. Why is the school asking parents to donate to something and how will you get the money. What are you going to do about Christmas. Why are these kids growing so fast and where will you get clothing. Transportation to Goodwill to look for used stuff. Using half dead appliances to cook and heat. No public housing open, and you are way down on the list for section 8. What to do when rats get in your stove and pull out all the insulation. Why do haircuts cost so much. Your kid wants to play an instrument, where can you get the money. And always, in the back of everything, how can I keep from looking poor so that I get treated decently. I really cannot stand this guy I am dating but he gives me a little money. It’s like a prison.
And nobody understood but other recipients. So that’s who you hang with. And the hopelessness that binds you together creates a culture than can be less than publicly acceptable. You are the takers, the less-than, the users, the low-lifes. You learn to kiss up to the workers and you learn to lie. You might even learn to steal. Can’t buy paper products with food stamps, so look out public rest rooms; I am going to steal that toilet paper. The pressure on the poor is intense; it’s a series of daily crisis that take attention and time. People who have not lived through it simply cannot understand.
While the poor, like all groups, have their share of dishonest and lazy folk, it is unfair to categorize the entire group, which is what these punitive and cruel legislators are doing. The drug testing law is outrageous and expensive. It is humiliating. Senators Pittman and Orr should be ashamed. The bill from Bryan Taylor simply heaps more pressure and responsibility on the welfare recipients, most of whom are caregivers to children. In all these bills the children are ignored. Community service? Please. Most of them are already involved with churches, and in the rural areas, how are people supposed to get to community service? Do you really think schools will welcome them? What about day care while they are performing community service?
The hypocrisy of the welfare legislation is incredible. They give millions to industry to come to Alabama, which is nothing short of corporate welfare. Sure in brings in some jobs but the precedent has now caused major financial burdens all over our country. They give nothing to small businesses that want to come here. And when is the last time you heard about Thyssen Krupp, here in Alabama for only 5 years and recently sold. How much money did we spend on that? Try to find out, and all you can find is that it was a “huge” incentive package. Now they’ve sold it. They made money off Alabama’s stupidity.
There seems to be an almost manic desire to attack Alabama’s poor on the part of the radical Republican Alabama legislators. It is hateful, cruel and stupid. What the poor need is investment in the systems that fight poverty. We need rural job training, better education, more programs where people can get some help, not less. We could spend just a percentage of what we are doling out in subsidies to certain industries and big business. We could incorporate job skills in our middle schools, and continue it in high schools. We need churches to help form a good work ethic. Welfare recipients are no different than anyone else and it is time to stop demonizing them. This legislation is just one more step down to hell in this climate of hate. God help us all.
Barbara Evans is a community advocate from Lowndes County.
Her current Alabama State Senator is Bryan Taylor