I occasionally see posts on social media or news articles about welfare and the poor in our country. It's mostly related to politics, which I understand. We're certainly in the midst of a turbulent time politically in our country. It's difficult for working class or middle class person to be frustrated that their tax dollars are going to support someone else, who maybe isn't working or hasn't made the wisest decisions in their life. I get it. Our economy sucks right now, people are struggling. There are many people who have never worried about paying their bills who have now faced foreclosure, bankruptcy, and extreme hardship. My husband was laid of in January, so I get it. It's hard to live on a Social Worker's salary and unemployment. We did, but just barely. I'm thankful that God has provided me with a new position that will help us financially and that Brent is close to starting a new job, but I constantly remind myself that we are blessed.
|"Helping the Homeless" - Ed Yourdon (Creative Commons)|
Most of my readers are suburban, middle class individuals. Most of us have never received public benefits or have actually gone hungry. Not "oh I haven't eaten since breakfast" hungry, but "I haven't had a full meal in several days" hungry. I've never felt that, and I imagine you haven't either. Maybe you have, but most of us haven't. I couldn't even imagine how it feels as a young child to go without food, how difficult it is as a parent to struggle to provide for your children, or how scary it is to be homeless and not know who may come to help you with food on any given day.
I've met many people who are struggling like this. I'm currently working very closely with a local DFCS (Georgia's public assistance office for you out of state readers) office through my current position, so I've spent time in the waiting room in several locations. The mood inside these public benefits offices is somber. People don't make eye contact. They look sad, depressed, and discouraged. They are humbled down to asking the government for help. They are struggling. Yes, I imagine fraud exists, but for most of us, asking for help is the last resort. I've worked with refugees for several years. All refugees (legal immigrants) are given public benefits for the first couple of months. Many of them receive food stamps for several years after that time. They cannot find jobs that pay more than minimum wage, so this food supplement keeps them going as they make a new life in our country.
I don't want to get into the health care debate, but I worked at a charity medical clinic for a year during grad school. I was a counselor and spent my days providing therapy to patients at the clinic. Most of our patients were working class individuals who either lost their jobs or their health insurance. Many struggled with chronic health disorders and were not able to pay for their own insurance. I don't know how many times I sat next to a middle aged woman, trying to help her come up with options to pay her bills or find a job. It felt hopeless, and there were a lot of tears, but we still tried.
Before you throw stones or turn public benefits into a purely political conversation, remember the faces of the children who are able to see a doctor because of Medicaid. Remember the new residents of our country who are able to eat as they work to create a new life here. And remember the people in the DFCS office who are lined up to see if anyone can help them. Public benefits do not fully sustain people by any means. TANF benefits max out at 5 years of an adult's life, no more. You can't have more children to extend your benefits, and if you miss a TANF class or do not fulfill the requirements, your benefits get cut. The average Food Stamp benefit is $208 dollars per month for an average sized family of three. Brent and I spend twice that on food per month. Very few adults have medicaid, most medicaid recipients are children, and the benefits are severely limited. I spent three hours one day trying to find a specialist who would see a medicaid client, and the result was a two month waiting list. Section 8 housing vouchers are essentially non existent now, there isn't even a waiting list. Private organizations are essentially tapped out right now, its almost impossible to find a church or organization with the funds to help someone keep their lights on or put food on the table. Its a vicious, painful cycle for so many people. Its a cycle that brings tears to my eyes, because I've seen it, I can give names and faces to this struggle. I'm going on my fourth year of vocational social work and my sixth year in the non profit world, and I have yet to meet someone who enjoys their situation or who is abusing the system. I'm not naive, I know it happens, but I don't think its as prevalent as the media would like us to believe.
I could go on to talk about cycles of poverty and how insecurity in childhood can perpetuate poverty, mental health issues, or substance abuse later in life. But I try to limit my post lengths, so I'll refrain. Ultimately my prayer is that much like Jesus was, we will be moved with compassion towards the people around us. People are watching us online and out in our communities, especially if we claim to be Christians. Let's put aside assumptions about welfare recipients and try to imagine life in their shoes. I would love to see the day when the private sector can care for everyone in our communities, deserving or not. But in the meantime, I hope I can extend grace and love, and do my best to help those in need around me. As Mother Teresa so eloquently put it:
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
I try to make things positive and give us ways to make a difference through my posts, so if you want to help people in your community and around the world, check out two innovative organizations I've recently learned about.
Hungry for a Day www.h4ad.com