The Truth about “The Lazy” Welfare Queen

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While perusing Facebook last night, I came across this post, “This Halloween, I am going as a Democrat. When the kids come to the door I am going to take half their candy and give it to the kids that are too lazy to go trick or treating.”  Forget that fact that there is no such thing as a kid too lazy to go trick or treating, I found the statement mean-spirited and the propagation of this ill-informed belief is quite frustrating. I couldn’t quite bring myself to comment and get into a hopeless battle, so I am getting my frustration out in blog form. Lucky you!

I have mentioned before that I work with the homeless population, so you can probably imagine my political leaning.  In case you can’t imagine, I lean pretty far left, but I hope that I keep a balanced view of things and I definitely don’t assume I know everything about economics or running a country.  One thing, however, I am very informed about is poverty and the “lazy” people that I keep hearing people talk about despite their lack of knowledge of who the “lazy” are and how our “welfare” system really works.  So, luckily for all of my readers (all two or three of you), I am going to tell you!

One main theme we hear a lot about in the anti “welfare” vitriol is the idea of the “welfare queen.”  She is a woman with many kids who lives the high life all on the tab of our hard working citizenry.  She is fat and lazy and talking on her iphone while at the cash register at the grocery store using foodstamps.  She will spend the rest of her life dependent on the government because why get a job when you can live such a charmed life!?  Soooo, have any of you ever met a welfare queen? Had a conversation with this person you have envisioned in your head? Oh, you just saw her on the news or in the line at the store….You don’t really know her or her story or what she does the other 23.75 hours a day.  Well, I know her.  I know many of her.

Cindy (I am changing names for protection of confidentiality) grew up in a rural town with parents who both were addicts and abusive to their children.  At the age of 12 she dropped out of school.  At the age of 13, her mother sold her virginity.  That’s right, sold it for money for her own addiction.  Not surprisingly, Cindy wound up using drugs and alcohol and getting pregnant at a young age.  What else would she do – it’s all she knew.   Her family disowned her, at that point, because the father of her children is black.  Yes, Cindy is white (so if you were already picturing a black woman, well, just consider how pervasive the stereotype is).  In order to get clean and sober she had to get out of the relationship which meant entering the homeless system.  Today she relies on “public housing” and TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  The road Cindy has been on, and is still on, has been a long one.  She has three young children to support, one of which has special needs. She has been through mental health treatment, drug treatment and, with lots of support, she is working day in and day out on getting her GED.  She is also President of the tenant council at the housing complex where she lives.

Now TANF. TANF is something our complaining citizenry knows little about. TANF is welfare in 2013, and it is not what many think it is! TANF isn’t free money that has no strings attached.  A parent on TANF has to attend a state-funded job training daily, be in school, volunteering, and/or have some sort of medical exemption to receive her TANF.  Moreover, did you see the “Temporary” part of the title — yes, this assistance is Temporary. Parents are eligible for support for five years and, after that, they are hopefully ready to be on their own. TANF was implemented as part of welfare reform by Bill Clinton in 1997 (yes, a Democrat) in order to limit those people deemed to be dependent or to prevent others from becoming dependent on government assistance.

How much do you think that Cindy gets through TANF to live on to support herself and her three children?  She gets about $675/month plus food stamps.  30% of her income goes to rent (yes, she pays rent) so that leaves her with about 450 a month to support her family of four.  She pays for daily transportation to her GED and all other appointments for herself and her children, clothes for herself and growing children, household supplies, school supplies, the list goes on.  She pays for an inexpensive cell phone so the school can contact her if there is a concern with her children. With an 8th grade education, she has a lot of work ahead of her to get the GED and get viable employment in five years.

No one, I repeat, no one wants to live this way and no one is living the high life on this amount of money.  She wants a better life for herself and her children. She has no car, she has never ridden a bike, she has never seen the ocean, and she has never been on a plane.  Wow, that’s the high life.

While this is just one story, I could tell you story after story of women and children of all colors and backgrounds who are hardworking, loving mothers and they are trying to move out of poverty.  They aren’t perfect – Cindy sure isn’t, and she would never claim to be, but we have all made mistakes.  The difference is the educational, financial, and emotional foundation we were given. Poverty is intergenerational and almost impossible to climb your way out of without a lot of guidance and support.  If you had parents that valued education and/or had a strong work ethic, you are damn lucky.  If you had parents without addiction and mental health problems, you hit the genetic jackpot.  If you had parents that modeled healthy finances, thank God for that.

Please don’t try to tell me your parents never helped you with anything if you are middle class or above. They gave you either the know-how or the assistance at some point to help you succeed. I know my parents weren’t rich but college wasn’t even an option – it was a given – and they surely bailed me out at times. I needed their help because life is difficult and, in order to succeed, you sometimes need a hand.  Luckily I had my parents hands there to hold mine. I surely did not need their help because I was lazy and, you know, no one would even think of calling me lazy at the time and that is solely because I was able to go to my parents and not the government.

Are there exceptions to this – meaning people who are able to work their way out of poverty by their proverbial bootstraps? Of course there are. We see them on the news or in a magazine. Do you know why they are on the news? Because it is big news that they were able to do that – it is news because it is nearly impossible to do. If everyone did it, they wouldn’t make the news. And are there women who abuse the system? I guess there are somewhere but I haven’t met that person. Because no one chooses to live like this.

So, now that you have got me started I won’t shut up. My next “episode” will feature another resident here but will address a different issue. You have to meet him. He is amazing and will help you can better understand the people who rely on our government due to mental health disabilities and why it is a necessity to continue this support. Again, he is not lazy and definitely not the stereotype. Tune in!