Posted by: mydarkestplaces | November 3, 2012

Some of you may have seen on the Book of Face that I have volunteered to be an emergency babysitter for a woman who works on the same block as me. Her son is three years old and she’s going it, mostly, alone. She’s piecemeal-ed together childcare over the summer, but – due to changing circumstances – she has recently found herself short a couple of her typical babysitters. While, sure, potential babysitters abound, not ones that will do it for free. So, to me, it made perfect sense to volunteer to help out.

I recently got switched to a Monday through Friday schedule, outside of work I have few obligations, I don’t have offspring of my own, and – more – I can help, so why wouldn’t I?

My take on the situation is that she needs help to gain/regain her feet. She needs a hand up. I have a friend who says that I’m a wonderful person for making the offer. I appreciate that (a lot, actually). But isn’t that part of what a community is? Looking out for each other?

Which is all a lead in to this: screw everyone who is trying to cut welfare and other social services.

So many folks, particularly on the far right, maintain this illusion and urban legend that anybody who receives welfare and unemployment is lazy and looking to mooch off the system. This is an illusion born during President Reagan’s 1976 Presidential campaign and continues right through until today with men like Governor Paul LePage saying that it’s possible to get off welfare, “you just have to want it”.

The big problem is that many of those on the right wing are coming at this from the wrong angle.

See, I hate people who abuse the system, too. People who CAN work. People who CAN find a job. People who CHOOSE not to because living off the state is easier for them. They’re the one’s that the right wing points to and hold up as an example of how bad the system is broken. They make it infinitely harder for the millions of people who are legitimately in need of assistance from the state to get that assistance.

What gets lost is that those who abuse the system are the minority. Not just the minority, but the extreme minority. The top hits for welfare fraud via Google seem to say that less than 2% of those on welfare are committing fraud. Depending on whether you count “welfare” as food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Social Security or some permutation thereof, the numbers of people receiving assistance from the state vary from 4.4 million to upwards of 100 million (the latter number skyrockets because it includes the 50 million seniors and disabled Americans who are receiving their social security benefits and Medicare).

I also wish that there was a way to limit those who abuse the system. I don’t think that cutting the benefits for the 4.3 (to 98) million people NOT abusing the system in order to nab the 88,000 (to 2 million) who ARE is the best approach to doing so.

To be clear: I don’t have an answer for the problem. I don’t know how to fix a system that is so distorted and broken. I am just sick of hearing about all these people who “want” to be on welfare. Who “don’t want” to find a job. Who like getting handouts. Who are happy to take other people’s hard earned money. I can’t imagine anything being further from the truth. I don’t know if the woman I said I would babysit for is receiving any state assistance, but I do know others who are. And, particularly with the messages being sent from politicians, I can’t imagine a more lowering experience than having no other option than to ask for help from the government to keep food on your table and/or medicines in your cabinet.

We live in a country where so much has been and is made of being self-made, of providing for your loved ones, for setting up the next generation to be better off than what we ourselves have. I don’t know anyone who relishes having to ask for help to make that happen.

I think we could get a lot more accomplished if we could abandon this idea that those who receive state assistance, in whatever form it may take, are looking for free money. Because that money isn’t free. In order to even ask for it you have to sacrifice your pride. You have to admit that you can’t do it on your own (or with a partner). In order to receive it, the government has to say, “Yeah, you’re poor enough.” In order to keep getting it, the government has to say, “Yep. You’re still poor enough.” During that time you’re receiving it, even if you CAN and WANT to go about earning more money, cod forbid you do because then your benefits can decrease.

This isn’t the way we help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We don’t help by making people feel horrible for asking for help. At least we shouldn’t. I don’t ask – or expect – that reading this post will make anyone change their mind. If you’re reading this post I expect that most of you fall within my worldview. But if you don’t agree with what I’m saying, think of all the mom’s and dad’s who are trying to do it right. Who are trying to raise their child or children to be curious, smart, courteous and sensible. All they need is a hand up.

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