We’ve all seen her — the young black girl at the bus stop with a couple kids at her heels, one in a stroller, and another on the way. We want to know why she keeps having kids she can’t afford.
If I leave the office on my lunch break, I’m apt to see all kinds of people roaming the streets. It’s the middle of the day, why aren’t you at work? I wonder.
I even know of girls who spend a good portion of the day smoking weed, party at night, treat their kids like they’re a nuisance, and use their government assistance to buy weave. Yes, weave.
Because most people with jobs are outraged by the idea that we could be actually giving our hard-earned money to some shiftless, ambition-lacking adults, many states are tightening down and implementing stricter welfare policies.
“It’s widely known here and all over the country that they’ll take the food-stamp card and buy good groceries with it, and then swap them for illegal drugs,” said Kentucky state Rep. Lonnie Napier, who has submitted a proposal to allow case workers to require drug testing when they suspect illegal drug abuse.
But are stringent requirements an attempt to curb abuse and balance state budgets, or are they an assault on people who are already so humbled that they must rely upon public assistance?
And in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has made drug testing a part of the welfare application process. The applicant must pay for the test and will only get their money back if they are approved for benefits.
It is “unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott said in early July when he signed the legislation.
Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown from Florida says no:
“Indeed, investigating people when there is probable cause to suspect they are abusing drugs is one thing. But these tests amount to strip searching our state’s most vulnerable residents merely because they rely on the government for financial support during these difficult economic times,” she said.
To be accurate, welfare rolls were actually their highest in 1995, with 14 million people receiving assistance before President Bill Clinton approved strict welfare reform. As much as we’d hold up the welfare queen as an example of everything that’s wrong with the system, understand that only 4 million people were on welfare in 2010, and while 39 percent of them were black, whites accounted for 38 percent.
So how did low-income black people come to be the face of public mooching?
“The backlash began with the increase in the rolls during the 1960s. Public impatience with welfare fed nicely into a new framing of racial politics. Attacks on welfare were a perfect way to appeal to racial stereotypes. A disproportionate number of the new recipients were black. Why? Because a disproportionate number of the poor were black and beyond that, a disproportionate number of those kept off welfare when it was effectively discretionary were also black. The myth of the lazy and shiftless person, who preferred to live on welfare rather than get a job was a singularly useful political device,” said Peter B. Edelman, Faculty Director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy at Georgetown University.
Whether the stereotypical “welfare queen” is alive and well or not, she is not alone. One in seven of ALL Americans lives at or below the federal poverty line. The number of poor people in large metro areas grew by 5.5 million from 1999 to 2009, and more than two–thirds of that growth occurred in suburbs. The recession has been an equalizer, putting people who have been cyclically dependent upon aid in the same boat as those who worked their entire lives and found themselves the victim of mass layoffs. The national attempt to whittle away public assistance will further cripple both groups.
But, it may surprise you to find that people of color seem to support these new measures. A poll conducted by BlackPlanet/NewsOne shows that 77 percent of African Americans believe that drug screening should be required for those applying for welfare benefits.
They reasoned that if employers can drug test you for a job, the government should be able to do so for public assistance programs.
While I don’t advocate giving a lifetime handout to someone who wouldn’t work if Bill Gates drove by and personally extended an offer, I look at how precarious my own job situation is in this fickle economy. I consider that my father’s health is shaky and my parents have a 10-year-old child to take care of. If they both were to be laid off from their government jobs, I would hope that same system they contributed to would be available if they were in need.
And really, how do term limits or drug testing solve the core problem: 14.1 million Americans are currently unemployed. Are politicians taking into account that when these hundreds of thousands of people are kicked off welfare because they’ve overstayed their welcome, there will still be no jobs out there to make them self-sufficient?