Welfare “Queen” – Part II

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I know my vast audience has been waiting patiently for my follow-up to my “Truth About the Lazy Welfare Queen” post. Well, today is your lucky day.  I am back and inspired! So, let me introduce you to Arnold.

Okay, since we are talking about a man today, he is obviously not a “queen” so I guess we shall call him a “king” instead.  Arnold is on disability for a mental health issue — the one, the only, Schizophrenia.  Most people probably haven’t spent much time with schizophrenics unless you are unlucky enough to have this disorder run in your family or you work in the mental health field.  Schizophrenia is a scary and debilitating condition that strikes people just like cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or any other genetic disease.  Schizophrenia is not multiple personalities as sometimes it has been portrayed. Without getting too technical,  it is a psychotic disorder involving delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.  Schizophrenics have so much noise in their heads at times that they can’t function properly.  They are often scared, angry, or aggressive but, with proper medication, they are rather functional.

Arnold grew up in upper middle class suburbs of a major metropolitan area.  His parents are African immigrants, his father a doctor. He had the typical suburban life of neighborhood playmates, afterschool activities, vacations with the family, etc.  He did well enough in school to get into a well-known and popular state college.  Once in college, things just started going awry.  His grades weren’t great and his concentration waned…he was struggling with voices, confusion, anger.  He dropped out and returned home and got a good job in the county, but the problems continued. He was on the road to a full psychotic break. 

His story is so scary to me and, unfortunately, it is one I have heard repeatedly:  A successful trajectory cut short by a psychotic break. This could have been you, me, your son or daughter. Unfortunately for Arnold, some of his symptoms were paranoia and aggression.  At one point he got aggressive with his parents and he was forced to leave the home, resulting in his homelessness.  I don’t know the specifics of this part of his story, but he was able to get support, get medicated properly, and become housed through the homeless system.  Since the state hospitals/community mental health were defunded in the 80’s under President Reagan, the homeless system has managed to pick up where the hospitals left off.  Homeless services are now a major provider of housing and support services for the mentally ill. 

Arnold is now 38 years old and an exemplary member of our community.  He regularly attends to his mental health needs, he always pays his rent on time and he has been the President of the community tenant council for two terms.  He is kind, funny, articulate, and if he was walking down the street or was on the bus with you, you would never know he wasn’t your average joe citizen.  Arnold has every desire to still be successful in the way that he envisioned when he was 18 and going off to college. He started community college last year and is doing well. He keeps his course load light and gets a lot of support, but he is highly intelligent and able.

The sad part is that, even with his stability, his family is not helping him more financially even though they could.  I believe that a lot of their resistance is out of fear and the stigma of mental illness. They still tell him that they will buy him a car if he graduates from college and recently they bought him a lap top to help him, but they keep him at an arm’s length and still maintain the same standards of success for him that they had for him when he was 18 and not sick.  Here we have a world-reknowned doctor who could financially support him 100% but does not.  Would he support him if his son had been paralyzed at the age of 20 or had been struck with multiple sclerosis? Would they still only help him financially if he obtains a college degree if he had sustained a traumatic brain injury? The stigma and ignorance is powerful with mental illness.

I, for one, am glad the system is here to support him.  One, because he is human and deserves the dignity of a home and adequate mental health treatment.  Two, because if we don’t support him, the other option is him living on the street, uninsured, unmedicated, a drain on our law enforcement and healthcare systems, and a potential danger to our society.  With all of the recent mass shootings in the United States, many fingers have been pointed at the mental health system and perhaps rightly so in many cases, but a huge problem is the underfunding and lack of resources.  People can point the finger all they want but the problem with the system will continue until they are willing to support this system financially and to support the “lazy” people in need, and perhaps see them as humans in need. 

 

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!