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What The Poor Deserve
July 7, 2014 12:21 PM   Subscribe

"When our donors met the actual people they were helping they often didn’t like them. During our Secret Santa drive, volunteers sometimes refused to drop gifts at houses with TVs inside. They got angry when clients had cell phones or in some other way didn’t match their expectations. Other times, the donations we got were too disgusting to pass along—soup cans that bulged with botulism and diapers so dry rotted they crumbled in our hands. One Thanksgiving, a board member called from the parking lot, requesting help carrying a frozen turkey from her trunk to our office. “Can you find a deserving family?” she asked. I lugged the bird up three flights of stairs. Somewhere near the top, I noticed the expiration date. It was seventeen years old." Anya Groner talks about working for Hudson Outreach in up-state New York and the sobering, chilling effect it had on her idealism.
posted by The Whelk (95 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite

 
My volunteer fire department has done clothing collections for the Wounded Warriors project. For the second collection, we very explicitly stated that only new items would be accepted.

We donated the used underwear and other items to a charity that recycles the fibers.
posted by tommasz at 12:26 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


The problem is that people don't realize that charity is as much a form of social control as it is a way to benefit people. This is why I tend to feel that charity is the inferior to an actual working social net run by the government.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:32 PM on July 7 [180 favorites]


Other times, the donations we got were too disgusting to pass along—soup cans that bulged with botulism and diapers so dry rotted they crumbled in our hands.

I have volunteered sorting food at multiple food banks and I can confirm that this kind of thing happens at every food drive. It's disgusting and people who donate that kind of thing should be ashamed. They won't be, of course, but they should.
posted by winna at 12:34 PM on July 7 [29 favorites]


I think some people are so hung up on the concept of 'wastefulness' that they just about can't throw anything away, no matter its condition. Watch an episode of Hoarders for example. Donations provide a loophole for their neurosis.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:36 PM on July 7 [47 favorites]


Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it—George Sand

Chris Stafford reminded me of The Era of Big Government Is Over And Marcus Stephens Is Dead. That is the future Marcus Stephens had to look forward to had he survived long enough to get his transplant.
posted by TedW at 12:41 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


The pull-quote in the FPP is a fairly minor side-point within the article. It's the battle with Social Services and entrenched bureaucracies that grinds her down, not donors and volunteers being shitty.
posted by yoink at 12:43 PM on July 7 [30 favorites]


I remember calling a welfare worker on behalf of some desperate soul, and the caseworker picked up the phone and screamed LUUUUNCH and slammed the phone down. Arguing with welfare workers, on the pleasure scale, is like negative one hundred. I developed hatred for them, when, really, they were just people caught up in a soul-smothering bureaucracy
posted by angrycat at 12:43 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


I agree with 2bucksplus, and I was even guilty of it myself a bit (although not to the extent talked about in the article), until I volunteered for Occupy Sandy and saw how wrong it is. Now I would always rather give money, without earmarks - or possibly buy things from an Amazon wishlist if there is one.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:44 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I’ve heard it argued that non-profits function as a sort of safety valve, releasing just enough steam so that instead of organizing for systemic change, people compete for assistance.

This is undoubtedly true, but desperately poor people are, for the most part, not going to be organizing for systemic change - they're typically too busy just trying to stay alive. That's why influential movements toward systematic change (everything from the New Deal to the Nazis to the Black Panthers) typically feed people and take care of other basic needs as a foundation for a political education program. There are many people who depend on non-profits for simple survival.

I think some people are so hung up on the concept of 'wastefulness' that they just about can't throw anything away, no matter its condition.

A lot of this is a type of tax hustle (witness Bill Clinton, for example, who famously donated and wrote off his used underwear). The successful, focused non-profits I've volunteered at have accepted only cash donations or items from carefully thought out 'wish lists' for this reason. Accept anything, and people will give you just that.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:44 PM on July 7 [22 favorites]


NoxAeternum, one does not exclude the other. There are plenty of people deserving of help in countries with well functioning social safety nets.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:46 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Arguing with welfare workers, on the pleasure scale, is like negative one hundred.
I'm sure they feel the same about you. My wife was a social worker in NYC for 10 years, and she was spat on, sworn at, got death threats, and had all sorts of bodily fluids flung at her.

Incidentally, she said one time that the idealists were the least likely to stick it out.
posted by jpe at 12:49 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


Growing up on the poor recipient side of these kinds of things, I remember receiving a Playmobil set for Christmas from some charity organization. My mom returned the item to a local toy store and collected store credit on the refund so that we could have Ayyám-i-Há gifts. It felt wrong to me at the time, and I suppose it might have been because it wasn't the religious angle the charity had been trying to promote.
Was my mom supposed to be a Christian in that situation? Was I supposed to be a boy from a more well-off Baha'i family to celebrate that holiday? It was a weird guilty domestic colonial situation.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:51 PM on July 7 [10 favorites]


A board member called from the parking lot, requesting help carrying a frozen turkey from her trunk to our office. “Can you find a deserving family?” she asked.

"Do you know the freezer chest in my basement?" Scrooge inquired.

"I should hope I did," replied the lad.

"An intelligent boy!" said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether I've still got the turkey in there—Not the little prize turkey: the big one, at the frosty bottom of the chest?"

“What, the one as old as me?” returned the boy.
posted by Iridic at 12:51 PM on July 7 [82 favorites]


This is undoubtedly true, but desperately poor people are, for the most part, not going to be organizing for systemic change - they're typically too busy just trying to stay alive.

Not so! Not always so, at least.
posted by eviemath at 12:52 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


I've been working this summer on housing and poverty issues in a rural area very close to where the article writer worked, and I can vouch for the terribleness of social services. People who don't have exposure to social services don't really think about it, but it's like this: imagine that every time you had to pay rent, you had to get a special license from the DMV. That's what it's like to live on social services.
posted by gauche at 12:53 PM on July 7 [35 favorites]


I stopped caring. My emotional range contracted, and I vacillated between bitterness and outrage. I obsessed about families I barely knew and reported the horrifying details of welfare cases to my friends. My hatred for Social Services kept me up at night. I skipped parties and avoided phone calls. In the hours after work when I was too drained to socialize, I’d sit in my attic room, listening to music and sewing small squares of fabric into larger squares.

I often feel like I would be happier with my life in general if I could just get a job at a non-profit instead of my current job at a soul-sucking business. But it seems like any organization has the potential to be soul-sucking.
posted by Librarypt at 12:53 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


That's why influential movements toward systematic change (everything from the New Deal to the Nazis to the Black Panthers) typically feed people and take care of other basic needs

That's really interesting, I guess it's something that's pretty obvious but also (for me at least) easy to overlook or misunderstand.
posted by cell divide at 12:54 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


The pull-quote in the FPP is a fairly minor side-point within the article. It's the battle with Social Services and entrenched bureaucracies that grinds her down, not donors and volunteers being shitty.

I think it's less a side point than evidence that most "helpful" people who are distant from poverty and from the lives of the poor tend to indulge in selfishness and judgement.

Additionally, while the article never addresses it, it's not hard to identify the attitudes of Social Service case workers as the result of having to deal with more applicants without getting more funding to do so. When there's a huge leap in the number of people needing help, as the article notes occurred in the 1999-2005 period mentioned, limited resources are doled out carefully. This incentivizes judgemental assholery.

Indeed, the author herself goes through this a bit, as she writes at the end of the article:
For the professional service workers who encounter and, at times, exacerbate social disparity, something happens internally. During my year at Hudson Outreach I grew mean. My friends were struggling through their first years out of college. Some had difficult break ups, some fell in love. I stopped caring. My emotional range contracted, and I vacillated between bitterness and outrage. I obsessed about families I barely knew and reported the horrifying details of welfare cases to my friends. My hatred for Social Services kept me up at night.

….

On my last day at work, a woman tapped my shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am,” she said, glancing towards the waiting room, “but that man just pulled a needle out of his pants.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, glancing up from the papers I was filing, “and what do you want me to do about it?”

“I just thought you’d want to know.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Now, I do.”
posted by kewb at 12:54 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


This is undoubtedly true, but desperately poor people are, for the most part, not going to be organizing for systemic change - they're typically too busy just trying to stay alive.

I should have qualified that as, "In the United States . . . ". Maybe, "outside of the historical Third World". Either way, I don't see much of this kind of organizing going on by the very poor in wealthy countries.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:55 PM on July 7


Accept anything, and people will give you just that.

Ain't that the truth. Walk into some uncurated church thrift shops if you don't believe me. Piled up with unbelievable crap nobody wants to keep and nobody wants to buy because the hoarder running the shop refuses to thin out the merchandise to the stuff people would actually want to buy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:59 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


People can be really generous. I've seen a lot of no-strings-attached money change hands over the years; a lot of people have been helped. It helps when a trustworthy person is between the giver and the recipient.

A lot of the rest of the problems can be solved by putting people with a backbone in charge of charity work instead of the first person who's "nice enough to help." Charity and volunteering benefit from up-front expectations as much as any paid job or commercial transaction.
posted by michaelh at 1:02 PM on July 7 [7 favorites]


But it seems like any organization has the potential to be soul-sucking.

Oh, yes. My sister volunteered at a suicide hotline a few years ago, and many callers just wanted to describe their...interesting feelings towards their mothers.
posted by Melismata at 1:02 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


“Georgia’s Hunger Games,” Neil deMause, Slate, 26 December 2012
Fewer than 4,000 adults in the southern state receive welfare, even as poverty is soaring. How Georgia declared war on its poorest citizens—leaving them to fight for themselves.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:02 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


In America, every level of every branch of government bureaucracy is stuffed to the gills with lazy, angry people whose actual job, whatever their job descriptions, is to keep their salary and benefits with the minimum possible amount of work. Almost none of them went into their careers that way, but a couple of years of dealing with a poisoned system transforms them into what the wrecks you have to deal with at Social Services, in courts, at the DMV, wherever. When you work for one of these agencies, like I once did, you discover very quickly that actually caring about the people you serve is a road to ruin. The clients don't appreciate what you do, and when you go out of your way to help someone you frequently discover that the people you're trying to help care so little about your labor that they

Your supervisors get pissed off and want to know why you're wasting so much time on your cases. You are punished from both sides by being conscientious, so you stop.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:03 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


while the article never addresses it, it's not hard to identify the attitudes of Social Service case workers as the result of having to deal with more applicants without getting more funding to do so.

And, moreover, dealing with the goal--explicit or implicit--of the various agencies to not give out those funds in the first place if they can find the least little excuse to deny benefits, as detailed in ob1quixote's linked Slate article above. I've dealt with state agencies of various sorts both as a paid or unpaid worker at various social service agencies, and occasionally as a client, and the doublethink of an institution whose purpose is to provide material help to people engaging in these Herculean efforts to create and execute various bureaucratic Catch-22s to avoid giving that help was just mind-boggling. All of it is driven by the political impetus to reduce or eliminate social welfare on the behalf of voters who are furious at the idea that someone (else) might get something that they don't deserve.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:17 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


In America, every level of every branch of government bureaucracy is stuffed to the gills with lazy, angry people whose actual job, whatever their job descriptions, is to keep their salary and benefits with the minimum possible amount of work.

My wife works for the government. I know her, and her co-workers pretty well and I disagree with your assertion. Those people do exist, as they do exist in the private sphere. But there are plenty of people who do a 'good job,' by their supervisors standards and give a shit about their caseloads. Yeah, there are incompetent caseworkers out there. There are also really awesome competent ones that work well within the system given (even if they'd like to change it). None of that is here nor there.

Things are quite a bit more nuanced than you're making them out to be and throwing out blanket statements like 'GOVERNMENT IS RIFE WITH LAZY' is just as bad, and counterproductive as the other side saying 'THE PROGRAMS ARE RIFE WITH CORRUPTION.' It's anecdotal*, and not helpful to the conversation.

How can we be doing a better job? How can improvements be made ? How do we actually fix the problem? How do we actually take care of people? These are the roots of the questions we're asking in posts like this, and just saying "Grar, government is broken" which might be true, it's not helpful, even to frame it for people unfamiliar with the situation.

*as are my anecdotal rebuttals.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:25 PM on July 7 [47 favorites]


It was seventeen years old.

Seven commenters in the ask thread would have ate it.
posted by srboisvert at 1:28 PM on July 7 [54 favorites]


All of it is driven by the political impetus to reduce or eliminate social welfare on the behalf of voters who are furious at the idea that someone (else) might get something that they don't deserve.

One thing we deal with a lot is applicants for public assistance being denied because they didn't, for one reason or another, satisfy the employment activity requirements. Essentially this means, in the present (and foreseeable future) economic climate, that an applicant for public assistance doesn't "deserve" that assistance unless he or she spends a certain number of hours every week being told by employers that he or she is economically worthless.

It's a shitty, disempowering system, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if it were more cost-effective to just give people money and counseling rather than pay case workers to deny them for not ticking off the boxes.

But no, we have to protect the illusion that the world is just and therefore, nobody is poor in America unless they did something wrong. So they have to look for work in a place where there is hardly any work to be had, in an economic climate when many of the jobs have gone elsewhere and when employers are stretching their employees thin rather than hiring more -- even though in a lot of cases they could hire more. No, if you're poor, it must be something you did, and you have to grind out job applications until you can finally merit a subsistence. Lo, I was hungry, and ye gave me this form to fill out...
posted by gauche at 1:28 PM on July 7 [39 favorites]


My friend Pete recently put up this piece about his perennial conversation with volunteers on his blog about doing disaster recovery in New Orleans: Isn't it weird to ask poor people to provide lunch for you?
"When we worked for Habitat for Humanity the owners had to work alongside us. I really like the idea of sweat equity because then the homeowners have some skin in the game, and they have more ownership of the project. Sometimes they would make us lunch and bring it to us."

"That seems like a good idea on its surface, doesn't it? Sometimes when we're finished with a house a homeowner will demand to make us lunch as a thank you, and it's really special when that happens. One of the things we've found though, is that it's kind of tough to ask someone who lost their house, maybe family or friends, all their possessions, and is suffering from untreated PTSD or depression, and living in another city, or in their old neighborhood with their community torn apart by the Katrina diaspora, to come out and work with us. Especially our older homeowners. That's what we're here for, don't you think?"
posted by jocelmeow at 1:32 PM on July 7 [7 favorites]


How can we be doing a better job? How can improvements be made ? How do we actually fix the problem? How do we actually take care of people? These are the roots of the questions we're asking in posts like this, and just saying "Grar, government is broken" which might be true, it's not helpful, even to frame it for people unfamiliar with the situation.

Yeah, as frustrated as I am with this work and with social services, I agree with this. The systems aren't broken, but they are often optimized for things other than what they seem to exist to do, and that optimization is an expression of a broken public will.
posted by gauche at 1:32 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


The "yuck nobody wants this" donation problem I think is fixable, with communication. There are groups that recycle clothing for just the fiber. For non-meat products, could a community garden use food past its expiry date for compost?

Personally I've got old electronics (some of which still work!), ripped jeans, and who knows what else (no expired food, I think) that I'd like to not just throw in the landfill. I won't donate things that aren't useful to the recipients (and prefer to donate cash for all the reasons highlighted here, but as an academic I don't *have* much cash). But where did I learn that? Well, probably metafilter or from friends who've worked for nonprofits.

And wouldn't I rather learn what to do with items? Also it's much easier to tell people what *to* do with things rather than what *not* to do with them.
posted by nat at 1:42 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


The problem is that people don't realize that charity is as much a form of social control as it is a way to benefit people. This is why I tend to feel that charity is the inferior to an actual working social net run by the government.

This is an interesting insight to what's behind the Tea Party's love of the government won't do it as well as the community, who will, they claim, help out the poor. So they do their best to destroy or cripple government programs on this "principle" and then pretend that the community at large will solve the issues that of course, are only worsened (and then blame that on godless liberals).
posted by juiceCake at 1:48 PM on July 7


A friend of mine posted this opinion piece from the NRC (one of the main newspapers in the Netherlands) arguing against making looking for work a condition of receiving public assistance: Original Dutch article. We might translate the title as "Enough with the obligation to apply [for jobs], there simply are no jobs."

Google Translate link.
posted by dhens at 1:53 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Google Translate kind of botches the last paragraph of that link; here's my attempt at a translation (It is the key of the argument):

"Or even better, treat them [the unemployed] socially and tell them the real story: 'You will probably be out of the game in the next couple of years. It is not your fault that we don't have any place [=jobs] for you. Here are your benefits. Try to make your life as positive as possible and work on your own development. We won't bother you in the next couple of years."

"Of beter, behandel ze sociaal en vertel het eerlijke verhaal: 'U staat de komende jaren waarschijnlijk buitenspel. Het is niet uw schuld dat wij voor u geen plaats hebben. Hier heeft u een uitkering. Richt uw leven zo positief mogelijk in, werk aan uw eigen ontwikkeling. De komende jaren zullen we u niet meer lastigvallen.'"
posted by dhens at 1:59 PM on July 7 [15 favorites]


"If society does not have all those jobs, people gun without a job than a dignified life with a reasonable benefit." = "If society does not have enough jobs, then people without a job deserve a dignified life with reasonable benefits." #lolgoogletranslate
posted by dhens at 2:01 PM on July 7 [7 favorites]


Class warfare.

Really, I think a large part of the problems underpinning these things is the perception of scarcity. We have a butt-tonne of money in this country but it's locked up in things like massive military spending and portions of a small % of our wealthiest citizens doing everything possible to not pay any more taxes. Trickle down works, only it's not money that trickles down but fear.
posted by edgeways at 2:02 PM on July 7 [14 favorites]


This is part of why I revived my homeless blog after letting it languish for a bit. I spent six months in downtown San Diego getting services from various homeless services organizations. Since I left, I only get food stamps as aid. I think I would rather take up panhandling than go back to a food closet. When I can come up with cash, whether earned or given to me, I can feed myself properly. Food from soup kitchens and the like is ...not very good quality. I need to eat well to stay healthy, off of expensive medication and out of the ER. It makes no sense for me take free/cheap "aid" that will lead to more expensive problems. I can't afford it and it makes me a bigger burden on "society".

So I try to write about self empowerment for people on the street and how they can start solving their own problems. Like someone said upthread: charity is the inferior to an actual working social net run by the government.
posted by Michele in California at 2:13 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


Christian nation my ass.
The Judgement of the Nations Matthew 25:31-46,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We already know that those who have prisoners for neighbors and do not visit them, have the hungry for neighbors and do not feed them, have the ill for neighbors but do not care for them, have the naked (Or I suppose in a modern context, visibly disgraced) for neighbors and do not cloth them with dignity, or have foreigners for neighbors and do not welcome them into their homes cannot plausibly claim to be Christian. When this is a nation that clearly not only neglects the duties it would need to fulfil to be even close to describable as Christian but says that there are prisoners who should not be visited, hungry people who should not be fed, people who should not walk with dignity, and foreigners who should not only be unwelcome but hunted, calling America essentially Christian betrays something that should be deeply offensive to anyone. It requires a hypocrite willing to pretend that Jesus felt that people needed to be worthy by the arbitrary standards of bootstrap athleticism, blood relationship, cultural identity, ritual purity, and abasement so regularly applied to the poor to be worthy of the radically self-sacrificing love he preached.

This is the real purpose behind the manufactured problem we're faced with here, it is offensive to our worst natures that the poor should be as visibly proud as us. The 'waste' involved is inconsequential, the wealth needed to ensure that all Americans are visited, clothed, fed, housed, and cared for could easily have fit into just the briefcases that have been 'lost' in Iraq - and that is without counting the returns such a blindingly obvious investment would bring. Our welfare system is about pride and those we feel shouldn't have it.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:24 PM on July 7 [41 favorites]



The problem is that people don't realize that charity is as much a form of social control as it is a way to benefit people.


THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD JUST HAVE DIRECT CASH TRANSFERS TO POOR PEOPLE.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:24 PM on July 7 [17 favorites]


I'll take the words and actions of actual Christians over the words of some guy written 2k years ago.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:25 PM on July 7


This article adequately illustrates the phrase "careworn".
posted by evil otto at 2:46 PM on July 7


THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD JUST HAVE DIRECT CASH TRANSFERS TO POOR PEOPLE.

I think the arguments for a minimum income and direct cash transfers are really good, my only fear with them, is that if you used them instead of a myriad different programs to help people, that the Right would gain enough power in some timeframe to dismantle the whole thing in one easy swing.

But I'm also quite the pessimist.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:47 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


What a great memoir!

Direct cash transfers don't really work. Here in England, they did this and it has sent many families into arrears because they have not been trained to handle money - the state did it for them, sending money to landlords. I agree, progressively it could probably work, but for now it would be better off to judge people as worthy of getting state support directly and holding others back from the opportunity. That's how welfare is supposed to work, right?
posted by parmanparman at 2:57 PM on July 7


With the way society seems to hate the poors, you'd think they'd provide free birth control and even throw in an abortion or two. I get the feeling there are a few politicians that would be willing to sign up for a pogrom program if they weren't so busy worrying about some woman who might be enjoying sex without punishment.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:58 PM on July 7


I think the arguments for a minimum income and direct cash transfers are really good, my only fear with them, is that if you used them instead of a myriad different programs to help people, that the Right would gain enough power in some timeframe to dismantle the whole thing in one easy swing.

I think that without a robust, national rent-control system (which I suspect would be an economic nightmare) a guaranteed minimum income would merely drive rents up in nearly the amount of the minimum income. I'd love to see a way for this to work that wouldn't just accrue to existing property owners, but I'm skeptical.

That's assuming we somehow have solved the political problems you rightly raise.
posted by gauche at 3:25 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Direct cash transfers don't really work

Yes they do. You have experience from one country, I have experience from another, so what we could conclude is that they don't always work.

An interesting thing I've noticed though, is that even when it is working, it will be quite normal for people in that country to think it is not working, because they're acclimatised to the standards of their country and it falls far short of utopia. I never understood just how well proper social security worked until I had spent years in the USA, learning the subtle and insidious ways the social devastation of some of the other approaches work their way throughout society. I didn't have that experience to compare against - my meter had been zeroed on the place I grew up.
posted by anonymisc at 3:32 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


I never understood just how well proper social security worked until I had spent years in the USA, learning the subtle and insidious ways the social devastation of some of the other approaches work their way throughout society. I didn't have that experience to compare against - my meter had been zeroed on the place I grew up.

An interesting aside but it only proves that America forced its people to adapt to direct support much earlier and helped them prepare for the intervention of cash.
posted by parmanparman at 3:39 PM on July 7


Man, this takes me back to being on the board of my housing co-op. About 360 units, half section 8, we ran a food bank too… We were always always always fighting with HUD (who held our note until a couple years back) over absolute bullshit that really was regulations applied with the intent to not cough up the money they'd nominally promised. I remember once on a housing inspection where we got dinged for having a disabled ramp that was too wide, since the regulations said it had to be between, like, four and six feet (I don't remember the exact figure) and we were six inches over, which meant we couldn't get credit for the ADA compliance there. And from our end, the whole goal of the HUD scoring was to ensure we did well enough to get our next inspection deferred as long as we could.

The flipside, which is something she doesn't mention, was how powerless you feel in both directions — unable to bend the rules to get people who need it more help within the system, but also regularly stymied from being able to get rid of the assholes who made life for their neighbors worse. It was usually easier to buy people out than to actually go through the whole system of eviction and confiscation of member share and court costs back and forth…

And I remember when I was poor enough to qualify for welfare — the closest office wasn't even in our city, but would have required two transfers and a three hour bus ride to get there. The entire thing seemed set up to discourage people from getting benefits to which they were entitled.

At least our food bank was pretty nice — one thing we did which worked well was encouraging all members of the community, whether they needed it or not, to come by and take stuff. That meant that we'd get first choice from a lot of food gathering charities (including Food Gatherers) because we'd move a lot of volume, and it also meant that the stigma of picking up food there was diminished. By getting outside vendors, it wasn't all just government cheese, and we got pretty good at threading that line between running out early and having leftovers we'd have to chuck.
posted by klangklangston at 3:39 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Direct cash transfers don't really work. Here in England, they did this and it has sent many families into arrears because they have not been trained to handle money - the state did it for them, sending money to landlords.

Here in the UK (benefits are not devolved), the only safety net that has traditionally been provided in kind (apart from healthcare) is housing, in the form of rent being paid directly. The substantial portion of the rest is a (not keeping pace with inflation) cash transfer.
posted by ambrosen at 3:50 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


The "yuck nobody wants this" donation problem I think is fixable, with communication.

I think it's fixable in part with communication, with well-intentioned people who spare enough time to think about it as you are. The problem is that most alternative donation options are with smaller organisations, which can't afford to pick stuff up from potential donors and are often not located anywhere central. Most people would prefer not to make a special trip to take their unwanted items somewhere out of their way; easier to dump them at the nearest charity bin or as part of whatever big collection effort is going on, and congratulate themselves for donating. Often cheaper than taking stuff to the tip, too - so the charities have to bear the waste disposal costs instead.
posted by andraste at 3:56 PM on July 7


I think some people are so hung up on the concept of 'wastefulness' that they just about can't throw anything away, no matter its condition. Watch an episode of Hoarders for example. Donations provide a loophole for their neurosis.

Believe me or don't applies, but everyone i encountered who did something like this did not think this way. My mom worked with a number of charities and food banks when i was a kid(and at times, we were getting stuff from them) and all i ever encountered was people who thought that's exactly what those people deserved.

I watched a woman cut the buttons off a really nice expensive(think j crew, banana republic, something from barneys. i forget what brand, but upper middle class white person shop like that) childrens winter jacket that had been donated in almost flawless condition because it was "too nice, and i don't want them to get too comfortable".

My mom still brings up that story from time to time. I actually thought she was going to murder that woman.

The number of people i met like that was staggering. A lot of them just want to flex their tiny cartman-esque authority over someone(or a lot of people), or have some massive complex about how the poor deserve to be poor/got themselves there and need to be punished in some catholic school bullshit whipped with a ruler kind of way.

That attitude was surprisingly pervasive in the supposedly liberal progressive utopia of Seattle/the pacific northwest. I can't even imagine how fucking bad it would be in a red state if it's already that bad here.

And to be clear, i'm not saying there weren't quite a few good honest people who just wanted to help. But it really was a few bad apples spoil the bunch type of thing, especially since a lot of the shitty people like that i encountered(including, iirc, the woman who that quote is from) were in supervisor/management type senior positions.
posted by emptythought at 4:02 PM on July 7 [33 favorites]


I saw a comment on Facebook yesterday, from someone I know, complaining about someone she saw in a supermarket using EBT and WIC but carrying a designer purse. She was so incensed and asked ironically what she was "doing wrong." Several people chimed in with similar tales. I mildly commented that if I lost my job tomorrow I would still have my nice purse and would probably cling to it as a reminder of how my life used to be. I was really disgusted at how punitive everyone was. In these peoples' eyes the poor need to be really poor. No nice things, at all. The Cratchits wouldn't have been deserving of charity according to these people because they weren't homeless and could afford a crutch for Tiny Tim.
posted by Biblio at 4:05 PM on July 7 [55 favorites]


I work with people who are applying for Social Security Disability. Pretty much every day I have someone crying to me about how they're really disabled and having a terrible time because their neighbors and friends don't understand how hard things are for them. And then they do a complete 180 and rant about "all those other people who had an easy time getting disability who don't actually deserve it, you know, the bad ones" and I have to not point out that last week those other people were crying on me, and next week someone else will be complaining about them.

Being horrible to people who are having a tough time seems to be how some folks convince themselves that it can't happen to them, or that when it does it's different because they don't "deserve" it.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:49 PM on July 7 [13 favorites]


Yup. It's called the "just world" fallacy, and it's a big part of why society is fucked up.
posted by klangklangston at 4:53 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure what the 'ideally poor' are supposed to be. After all, the homeless are filthy bums, but the folks living in apartments or houses are freeloaders who actually have the audacity to own (or have provided by landlords) luxuries like refrigerators and maybe even a TV or some other appliance that can be purchased for under $100 used on craigslist. They can't have phones, yet must somehow also survive in this communication-driven time.

bile and syntax: I think a lot of it is the same as "the only moral abortion is my abortion." I've certainly seen a bunch of people who ranted for years about the poor and slacking underclass until they lost their job or became disabled. It's different for them. They're good people.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:53 PM on July 7 [15 favorites]


I volunteered at a local establishment that provides meals for homeless people. It's a popular place to volunteer because, crazily enough, they won't feed homeless people anything they wouldn't serve their own families. The head chef was a real chef. We still had a lot of donations but mostly fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers markets. They were dedicated to treating people with dignity.

One day, Michelle Obama volunteered. She brought vegetables from the White House garden and served meals on the line. The picture of her in The Washington Post showed one of the guests in line taking a picture of her with a cell phone. Right wing outrage ensued about how ridiculous it was that a homeless person had a cell phone and how this was some fancy operation where the homeless ate cous cous with steamed vegetables and goat meat in curry sauce. Because God forbid people who are living on the streets get a healthy warm meal once in a while.
posted by kat518 at 5:00 PM on July 7 [31 favorites]


Right wing outrage ensued about how ridiculous it was that a homeless person had a cell phone...

I have talked with people about that kind of thing where they are crazy outraged that a homeless person might have a computer or whatever. And they seem to have this concept that if you are homeless, you were born naked as a jay bird as a homeless person just like last week and if you own anything at all, you clearly did something terrible and morally incorrect to acquire it. The fact that most homeless people had a home until possibly very recently and took a few of their possessions with them seems to never, ever dawn on some folks. Also, you know, they might have a two year contract for the phone that would a lump sum to cancel. It is less painful to keep the plan until it runs out.
posted by Michele in California at 5:05 PM on July 7 [29 favorites]


I can think of few material things beyond food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep that I'd rather provide the homeless with than cellphones. It gives them a connection to other people and lets them participate in society in a big way - ranging from keeping in contact with family to being able to actually communicate with current or would-be employers.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:05 PM on July 7 [24 favorites]


Amazingly, having a cell phone often works better for getting a job than having people scream "get a job" at you.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:14 PM on July 7 [69 favorites]


If I may be a little light hearted...

I was reading the article and the one about Georgia and all the comments and just thinking about where are all these displaced people going to go?!?!?

And I pictured them lining up outside my house and I got all anxious not because I was concerned they'd have pitchforks but because...
1 - hate having roommates
2 - my house is a DISASTER so I'd be all embarrassed running around trying to clean off the spare bed and inflate the air mattress and find clean sheets while these people stand there waiting for a room.

Thanks, brain, you sure know to find the weird in every situation.
posted by sio42 at 5:16 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


My secret-when-I-win-the-lottery dream? I'm going to donate big ass grants to non-profits. EARMARKED-they can only be used to increase salaries/benefits. Said the woman who escaped non-profit work bc I found that "playing on how much I care" thing to be deeply exploitative. I work at work and volunteer when I volunteer. And my bigger salary means I can give more $. (And I think socially aware people too often self select into nonprofits, ceding business to sociopaths. We need more socially aware people in business. I realize the self serving nature of this argument. But I also believe it.)
posted by atomicstone at 6:13 PM on July 7 [15 favorites]


The thing that hits me, over and over again, is how little care most agencies have for their own employees. The people who are there to help others get very, very little help themselves.

It's generally accepted that someone working in the social services field will be paid a low salary (in North America, at least) and that their working hours will either be extensive and all over the map (evenings! weekends! early mornings!) or the bare minimum (if the agency is poorly funded). Despite the low salary, they'll be expected to deal with all sorts of awful and frustrating situations - and to consistently remain optimistic, physically and mentally healthy, have a high level of energy to deal with the ongoing crises, a strong set of boundaries, to advocate forcefully for multiple clients per day, etc. Right out of the gate we're stacking this deck up badly.

The people doing the job are doing it in the weirdest of circumstances, when you really stop to think about it. Often the clients are absolutely desperately in need - so while they're grateful for the box of cereal you handed them, they also have 82 other legitimately urgent needs and so really, you're not going to get a huge amount of thanks and gratitude. Most people don't go into the field thinking they're going to be praised all the time by clients - but there's a little touch on the inside where you think, "Shouldn't they be grateful that I helped with THAT, at least?" But you quickly learn that most agencies work in silos and are very focused on their own mandate. I can get you X but you'll have to go to that other agency for Y and that other place for Z.

As you start to see the gaping holes in the safety nets (and oh, god, are they ever enormous holes), you realize how completely ineffectual you really are within that bigger picture. If you're lucky, your family and friends are supporting you, but even they often can't see the depths of the problem and thus can't support you emotionally. (If you're not lucky, your family and friends make comments about how the poor "don't deserve nice things and should be happy to get whatever they get" - which will make you want to punch everyone in the face).

Most of the people I know who work in the field don't talk much about their own burn out and how it impacts on them - because one of the things we hear a LOT is how we're such good people, doing good work. Instead, like the writer of the article, they start to shut down and lock themselves inside a bit. I know for me, 4 years into this, my perspective it skewed. My patience for what I (arbitrarily) deem 'trivial' bullshit is pretty much non-existent.

Then there's the guilt. Oh, god, as you're complaining about making a shitty salary and laughing at the idea of ever being able to afford retirement, you're also constantly aware that you make so much more than your clients dream of having! How can you complain that you feel depressed working with people's problems when they have to LIVE with those problems day-in and day-out while you go home to a safe, warm home and eat a reasonable dinner?

If you talk to your boss about feeling overwhelmed, you're likely to get a blank stare and a, "Well, what did you expect this job would be like?" or a side-eye that implies that maybe you're not cut-out for this job and maybe you should start looking for something more appropriate for your overly-emotional personality. No one wants that from their boss.

The lip-service paid to "self care" at most agencies is also totally laughable. It's telling all the staff to be present for a full-day workshop (sorry, clients!) in which you'll hear that you should be taking mental health days, practicing yoga, and eating organic foods to keep yourself healthy. And sure, some people do that. Most of us drink, make dark-humoured jokes to each other, and refuse to answer the phone on the weekend. That's it! That's self-care!

I'm lucky to work for a great agency with a really healthy perspective on things - and I am incredibly grateful - but even still I know that I won't work there forever. It's likely that when I leave, I'll move out of the "helping professions" for a while (or permanently) because it will all be just too much. The problem is that you can't un-see any of it. I will always know too much to get too comfortable in the world, I think.
posted by VioletU at 6:13 PM on July 7 [47 favorites]


This is why we only donate to animal charities.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:16 PM on July 7


i saw this over the weekend.

it helps get fresh produce to food banks and soup kitchens rather than it being thrown out.

this is super duper cool.

Food cowboy app tracks unwanted produce, turns it into fresh meals for needy
posted by sio42 at 6:38 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


i didn't read the comments on the article...i hope no one says that the poor don't deserve what would be just be thrown out anyways.
posted by sio42 at 6:39 PM on July 7


but carrying a designer purse

The poor and their genuine Louis Vutton.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:53 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what the 'ideally poor' are supposed to be. After all, the homeless are filthy bums, but the folks living in apartments or houses are freeloaders who actually have the audacity to own (or have provided by landlords) luxuries like refrigerators and maybe even a TV or some other appliance that can be purchased for under $100 used on craigslist. They can't have phones, yet must somehow also survive in this communication-driven time.

Yep, and it falls on deaf ears that the cheapest way to have internet and be connected now is to get a cheap prepaid smartphone. Have y'all seen how far $50 goes now? lumia 520/521, moto g on sale and various android phones, etc. You need a phone to get a job, and you need the internet to look for a job. And the cheapest way to get reliable internet at home... is a prepaid smartphone.

And yet having one is a "luxury" and "wasting money".

Back when i was unemployed for a year and half several years ago, i had an iphone. i got a surprising amount of shit talked about me(mostly behind my back) about that. I had bought it used for less than a hundred bucks from some rich kid who wanted party money back when i had a job, and was paying under $40 to use it on a prepaid plan.

Total waste of money though apparently, and something i didn't "deserve". Apparently i should have sold it and bought a $9 candybar phone and spent the rest of the money on... whatever that person decided was more "worth it" though.

During that time in my life, i had several friends who didn't have phones. No millenial i've ever met has a house phone, or even VOIP. The phoneless people had a really REALLY hard time getting a job, or keeping one. It generally involved lots of fooling around with constantly using friends phones, and working around that. Employer wants to call you to say you're rescheduled or something? SOL. Watched people get fired for no call/no shows because of that many times.

The hurdle from having no phone and getting a job, and keeping it long enough without a phone to have enough money from a paycheck to at least get a basic prepaid phone is pretty hard. I did it at the end of high school, and ugh.

It just needs to be accepted that having a phone is probably even a better idea than giving out bus passes(although that's also great, don't get me wrong). Asking why urban poor people have phones is like asking why rural poor people have cars if they can't afford XYZ/they're in terrible condition/etc. You just can't really make it work otherwise.
posted by emptythought at 6:57 PM on July 7 [26 favorites]


Every week I have roughly a thousand dollars to help people in need who stumble in through the doors of my church. The money comes directly from the offering plate.

My feelings on this issue run very, very hot.

Recently, the largest charity in town, run by the Roman Catholics, sent out a letter that stated that they would no longer provide cash assistance for rent or utilities. Their position is that, "some organizations receive federal funding for these operations and we do not. It is not our responsibility to provide for the shortcomings of the federal government."

I disagree that it's the federal government's responsibility (I think the funding they are angry about principally comes from the state government) but this is unimportant.

I have stood in the peanut gallery at the state house in Lansing, and heard with my very own ears, legislators proclaim that the houses of faith should provide charity for the poor.

We would be bankrupt in less than a week.

To quote Bill Moyers, "Charity provides crumbs from the table; justice offers a place at the table."

We are going to join with the local RC church and use our available resources to fight and keep the burden of the social safety net on to the elected government and commons where it belongs - using our monies to fund movements that punish legislators for harming the safety net. This will begin to happen around the country because, frankly, faith communities can no longer afford to give as deeply as they have. And while it utterly breaks my heart to turn people away - we were fielding between 150 and 200 phone appeals each week - and we could help perhaps five or six people.

Our system is deeply and profoundly broken and it keeps me awake at night.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:00 PM on July 7 [40 favorites]



I'll chime in a fellow burned out from running a food pantry, 12 months into it.

I think her criticism of food pantries not having client-choice isn't telling the whole story. I'd like to run client-choice at my pantry. The fact is that the pantry (15-20 volunteers and I) give a bag of groceries to ~150 individuals in 3 hours (that's about one a minute). In addition, they do get pick what produce they want - we have usually 3 or 4 produce items, some other item that I get from the food bank that I don't have enough of to give to everyone [eggs, milk, or orange juice] plus a sweet (ho-hos, sara lee cupcakes, hostess items, etc) that they choose. I've only visited one client choice pantry and saw clients take 20 minutes to get through the line. We simply wouldn't be able to help so many people if we went to client choice.

Regarding the barriers, my interpretation is that some of these barriers are there is because if the clients jumps through some of these hoops (such as bringing in extra documentation, coming in at a specific time window), it makes a social worker or service provider's job a LOT easier and they could help 10 people who already have the information ready instead of 5 who don't have the information/papers ready.
posted by fizzix at 7:08 PM on July 7


One of my great shames is I did the wildly expired food thing by accident once. Here, I think, rotary does an annual door to door food drive (they distribute bright yellow plastic bags in the local paper on Monday and then tour neighborhoods on the next weekend looking for filled bags on steps). One year I filled a bag with a pasta soup that we bought and my daughter didn't like. My wife asked me after the drive what I'd put in the donation bag and I said "that soup that DD doesn't like" at which point a horrified look came one her face. And then she explained to me that'd she'd bought it at a local liquidation company and that she'd got a good deal because it was already past the expiration date and that she'd been meaning to throw it out for a couple years but was putting it off because of all the can openning required. I'm sure the food bank checker thought we were horrible people.
posted by Mitheral at 7:34 PM on July 7


There is this weird obsession with fraud that I think hamstrings the US social safety net. I work with clients who will never, ever go off of social security and medicare/medicaid. Their housing is subsidized, and most of them also get food from various local sources (either groceries or meals).

They still have to renew all of their benefits every year. This is in addition to the yearly (sometimes biyearly) inspections and the odd random audit. This is a ridonkulous waste of time, both for us and our clients, and every year about ten percent of our clients fall off of benefits and need to get them again because they got stressed out, or they forgot, or something else was going on and they didn't pass the paperwork on to me.

And weirdly, people at the bare minimum of social security are actually better off that people with higher social security disability payments because if you make "too much" (read still under poverty levels) then you have a "share of cost" which is often several hundred dollars extra, which eats up the extra money.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:40 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


"My secret-when-I-win-the-lottery dream? I'm going to donate big ass grants to non-profits. EARMARKED-they can only be used to increase salaries/benefits."

We don't even do direct services at my nonprofit, and we already have a running joke about being donors someday instead of having to actually work here.
posted by klangklangston at 8:06 PM on July 7


Just one anecdatum about the "ease" of being on benefits: My niece has SSI for cognitive deficits and partial blindness. She does have a very few hours of work a week at a bakery. For a while my mother was managing her checking account, but after her cable/internet charge went up, they cancelled the cable and returned the equipment. Unfortunately, somehow, this resulted in the regular (old) cable+internet charge being double-charged to her checking, and she became overdrawn. In trying to sort it out the bank was unhelpful but suggested a local non-profit could manage the checking account instead, and would parcel out needed cash (via checks she woudl have to take the bank and cash herself) for sundries and things like a bus pass. Well, this did not help in sorting out the billing mess, and because the bank stopped the next month's charge, they sent a guy to her apartment to basically shame her in person into paying cash, which she didn't have, and then threaten legal action if the rest of the cable equipment wasn't returned. Because the bank account was now "managed" she didn't have the capability to deal directly with the billing office, only the non-profit volunteer lady did, but she only came into the office about 12 hours a week, so this festered longer and the bank was upset that the account was overdrawn. In the middle of all this, to frost the cake, a request to move/switch apartments came through, as her neighbor smoked a noxious pipe (believe me, I was in there taking a nap once, and the pipe smoke came through her door and choked me and I don't have partial asthma). So now she had to get all her address information changed using this laborious intermediary, and guess what? Now the power bill got double-billed just as she thought she was going to be in the black on her checking.

This is all aside from the fact that her a) SSI payment, b) food stamps and c) rent are all recalculated monthly based on the variable income she has, which isn't the fault of the business in any way but normal holiday schedules combined with the calender variation between months, where a biweekly paycheck can sometimes come in one month or the next depending.

This weekend her phone payment (which is on the cheapest iPhone plan I could find, Virgin's) didn't go through and she's overdrawn again. I think the cable stuff is over now and she has no cable and might get back in the black next month, even though they still think she owes them, but the electric bill is still a problem particularly since the building's HVAC failed and everyone is on personal ACs now. The horrific part here is that my mom is doing what she can to intervene, but we have no free cash and she doesn't control the bank account anymore. It's a complete and utter shambles. I feel like we're running a shell company in Zimbabwe to manage a local candy store. It's nuts, but this is all mandated by this or that requirement that she cannot possibly ever make 2 cents extra a month or her other benefits must be cut, because being poor isn't punishment enough, you need to have your benefits micromanaged. Meanwhile there is very little (aside from her HUD-subsidized housing) that she can get in terms of help for her power bill, any kind of legitimate modern internet connectivity, or even, really, her phone, despite bloviating on FOX about how easy this all is for the poors.

This isn't even counting the hours spent sitting at food banks to get some free groceries. That's a chore and a half and is worse than just shopping for the same number of items in every way except that it's free.
posted by dhartung at 12:51 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


There is this weird obsession with fraud that I think hamstrings the US social safety net.

It's sadly not unique to the US - even in countries with much better social safety nets it's common. It's very rare, however, that you see the metrics applied. Unlike, say, tax fraud, it's not at all uncommon for the costs of investigating welfare fraud to outstrip the gains in getting some back - and this doesn't even get into the murky "what is fraud" territory, where a fraudster's crime is the difference between being Fucking Broke, and being Really Fucking Broke, for example.
posted by smoke at 3:34 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


When I was on benefits in the UK, both Housing Benefit and Jobseeker's allowance were paid directly into my account and it seemed that this was the usual arrangement for people with private landlords.

The pitiful amounts on offer, soaring rent and living expenses, demeaning fortnightly interrogation, almost complete lack of actual advice and help, insane and Kafkaian bureaucracy, etc. etc., were problems, but being paid in vouchers thankfully wasn't.
posted by Drexen at 4:55 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Woman A Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be In Poor People’s Grocery Carts
posted by TedW at 5:33 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Direct cash transfers don't really work. Here in England, they did this and it has sent many families into arrears because they have not been trained to handle money - the state did it for them, sending money to landlords. I agree, progressively it could probably work, but for now it would be better off to judge people as worthy of getting state support directly and holding others back from the opportunity. That's how welfare is supposed to work, right?


As an English guy, who was on benefits not too long ago, this is:
(a) Factually inaccurate - I got around £55 a week to live on (I would have also got housing benefit if I wasn't staying with friends/family).
(b) Condescending as shit - 'not been trained to handle money', seriously, come on, if you don't talk about poor people like animals who can learn the odd trick you might come across a bit better.
(c) Pretty opaque - what are you getting at with that last bit? Some kind of deserving and undeserving poor thing? Or are you just saying welfare should be means tested, because that's not exactly a revelation.
posted by Ned G at 5:40 AM on July 8 [10 favorites]


Direct cash transfers don't really work.

Please point me to this research. I'd love to read it. There is literally a flood of research out there now showing that cash transfer work tremendously well.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:09 AM on July 8 [9 favorites]


It's very rare, however, that you see the metrics applied. Unlike, say, tax fraud, it's not at all uncommon for the costs of investigating welfare fraud to outstrip the gains in getting some back...

Once I started to get a sense of just how paltry the maximum benefits even were, the concept of policing welfare fraud just struck me as nuts, especially given how much work it would actually be to commit the fraud. Somebody getting $600/month in total benefits instead of $450? I'm not sure it's even worth a civil servant's time to look into that, to be perfectly honest.

And -- having worked as an auditor for a Fortune 500 company -- I can tell you that the private sector does a no better job of looking after its money. We hold government to a weird standard, in the U.S., where it has to be able to account for every dollar (it spends on poor people, rather than on corporations), but also we criticize it for having tons of bureaucratic controls and red tape.
posted by gauche at 6:17 AM on July 8 [10 favorites]


There is this weird obsession with fraud that I think hamstrings the US social safety net.

Same is true of the UK. Disability campaigners regularly point to the fact that the Department of Work and Pensions own estimates place the rate of fraud at 0.5% and yet the supposed high rate of fraud has been a key driver towards disability reforms which are having terrible consequences.

have not been trained to handle money

Nothing to do with out of control rent and inflation then? Just those stupid poors?
posted by threetwentytwo at 7:16 AM on July 8


I saw a comment on Facebook yesterday, from someone I know, complaining about someone she saw in a supermarket using EBT and WIC but carrying a designer purse.

Thrift stores are full of fake designer bags these days.
posted by LindsayIrene at 7:31 AM on July 8


LindsayIrene: “I saw a comment on Facebook yesterday, from someone I know, complaining about someone she saw in a supermarket using EBT and WIC but carrying a designer purse.

Thrift stores are full of fake designer bags these days.”
It's a meme going around certain circles, "I saw you pull that foodstamp card outta ya Gucci bag but that's none of my business tho."


TedW: “Chris Stafford reminded me of The Era of Big Government Is Over And Marcus Stephens Is Dead. That is the future Marcus Stephens had to look forward to had he survived long enough to get his transplant.”
“The Ghost of Marcus Stephens,” Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Politics Blog, 08 July 2014
So, once again, in 2014, we see the reappearance of a statistic first launched by the house crank in a local Social Security office, and given its original altitude by elite journalists who just didn't give a goddamn how many kids they hurt. It has come around again, 20 years later, as though it were a comet or something.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:05 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


the supposed high rate of fraud has been a key driver towards disability reforms

And yet I can't help thinking we're electing the wrong people to run civilization:

Can you imagine working for a company that only has a little more than 635 employees and has the following employee statistics:

29 have been arrested for spousal abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
9 have been accused of writing bad cheques
17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted 2 businesses
3 have served time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to poor credit rating
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in various lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drunk-driving in the past 12 months

And collectively, in the same 12 months, have cost the British taxpayer more than £92 million in expenses. The name of this august body of civic paragons: The House of Commons.
posted by sneebler at 8:13 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


Direct cash transfers don't really work

As a recipient of direct cash transfers, yes actually they do, so.

Yet again this article and the other stuff linked by commenters is a flat out argument for a guaranteed minimum income for everyone everywhere.

But then the Pentagon would have to stop being forced by Congress to buy god only knows how many tanks at god only knows whatever cost that they neither need nor want.

Maybe what the USA really needs is to slash military sp... I can't even finish that sentence because that'll only happen in an alternate universe. Sigh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:18 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Unlike, say, tax fraud, it's not at all uncommon for the costs of investigating welfare fraud to outstrip the gains in getting some back

So, the "fraud" prevention in the US really is mostly about punishing people for being poor by making them do embarrassing things, and often has racist motivations. It's a bad thing. And in some circumstances it would be cheaper to just give everyone the benefit than to police who receives it, as with free school lunches.

But still, and just being pedantic, we would expect a well-functioning fraud prevention scheme (which, again, the US doesn't have) to look like that. In equilibrium, we'd expect not many people to attempt fraud (because it would be detected) and for the fraud prevention to appear as a cost sink instead of a revenue generator. Even if it's indirectly saving lots of money by reducing attempted fraud.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:19 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I'd like a list like the for house of commons but for us congress.
posted by sio42 at 10:18 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I'd like a list like the for house of commons but for us congress.

It's a ... strangely similar list:
29 members of Congress have been accused of spousal abuse,
7 have been arrested for fraud,
19 have been accused of writing bad checks,
117 have bankrupted at least two businesses,
3 have been arrested for assault,
71 have credit reports so bad they can't qualify for a credit card,
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges,
8 have been arrested for shoplifting,
21 are current defendants in lawsuits,

And in 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving, but released after they claimed Congressional immunity. (from Capitol Hill Blue)

And these are the People who make Laws that We MUST obey?
Your tax dollars at work!
Snopes.com: Congress Mend
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:26 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


Well dang.
posted by sio42 at 10:34 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


People complaining about poor people having cell phones have forgotten how much it costs to have a landline. Mine is almost $30 a month for the most bare-bones plan I could get, and that's with a good credit rating, I own my home, etc. I've seen cell phone plans for $40 a month, and I imagine the prepaid ones are cheaper. (Cell phones are much more practical, of course, but I doubt the complainers care about that.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:35 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Landlines also don't exactly go with you if you become homeless. Cell phones do.
posted by Michele in California at 11:39 AM on July 8 [9 favorites]


I am a huge fan of free/cheap cell phones with internet capability for every below a certain income level (above it we can buy our own). It just makes sense. 90% of benefits now have internet-means of access, it means one can "wait for a phone call" back from benefits while going to get food, etc... and if one is job hunting it is essential.

On a more basic level I'm for minimum income for everyone, though.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:11 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I watched a woman cut the buttons off a really nice expensive(think j crew, banana republic, something from barneys. i forget what brand, but upper middle class white person shop like that) childrens winter jacket that had been donated in almost flawless condition because it was "too nice, and i don't want them to get too comfortable".

Things like this are actually one of those things that make me hope that there actually is some sort of a just god who punishes/rewards in the afterlife. I may not make the grade for Heaven but that lady is certainly going to the quintessential "special place in Hell".

Small comparison, but just today I saw a lady triple park her Mustang across a handicapped space in front of the coffee shop as I was standing outside with my dogs. I now have the non-emergency number for the local city police on speed dial, just in case.... Oh please let me see her do it again. Please Old Testament God, hear my prayer...
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:36 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I am a huge fan of free/cheap cell phones with internet capability for every below a certain income level (above it we can buy our own). It just makes sense. 90% of benefits now have internet-means of access, it means one can "wait for a phone call" back from benefits while going to get food, etc... and if one is job hunting it is essential.

This smartphone is $20. Yea it's a refurb, but what if the welfare programs in various states just set up a deal with a prepaid carrier like that(or several, to be fair and not pump a ton of cash into one specific one) that they would buy whatever the current refurb phone under X price was en masse? That's a pretty freaking nice phone for $20 too for basic smartphone stuff, that is still quite capable.

They could probably also get a CHEAP corporate rate on service if they were buying and distributing that many. For those unfamiliar, even small business rates are a big price break. tmobiles $50 plan would be $30, for example even if you're a sole proprietor. You can't even imagine the rates companies fielding 500+ phones get. and imagine a state program like this, giving out probably upwards of tens of thousands of phones. They should give out plans that have unlimited incoming calls, and if they're going to have limits at all only have them on outbound calls. You don't need a ton of data either, their default 3gb is fine. It could probably be even lower because wifi is ubiquitous now, the problem is generally just having a device to use on it since the concept of a public terminal is essentially dead.

I would vote for this tomorrow, if it was an option. I would also vote for not having some shitty enforcement system on returning the device, or any bullshit artificially high prices if you break it. It's $20, write it off on both counts. I also like the idea of $20 phones because everyone will know that's what they're worth, so there wont be any incentive to sell them and report them "stolen" or anything.
posted by emptythought at 9:56 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


So I started working at a low income legal clinic this summer (doing work around housing rights) and I am amazed at how quickly things become routine, and I have become emotionally inured to my clients. Your landlord is trying to evict you because you couldn't pay rent because your welfare got cut because you accidentally let slip that your non-status sibling is surreptitiously living on your couch and anyway without him (he's being deported) you can't afford the apartment at all anyway? and emergency programs only cover rental arrears if your tenancy isn't 'unsustainable'? well, that's shitty and not even the worst thing I've heard this afternoon. It becomes rote, which is almost a blessing because if I felt emotionally for each of my clients I wouldn't be able to do the work. Someone upthread said that idealists are the ones who burn out fastest and I can see how that might be true. I don't think I am doing worse work because I am not crying at night, and I am not crying at night because I have been numbed and this reality has been normalized. People have shitty landlords. People don't pay their rent, for meaningful and stupid reasons. Anyway, this discussion resonated with me a lot. Thanks folks.
posted by hepta at 5:36 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


There is a program for subsidized cell phone service for assistance recipients - Lifeline. Some people call it "Obamaphone" even though it started with landlines in the 1990s and expanded to cell phones under Bush 43. My parents had one while they were on SNAP but once they were making more money and no longer qualified for SNAP, they lost the phone subsidy as well.
posted by candyland at 6:06 PM on July 9


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