If you’ve never needed the welfare system, consider yourself lucky
March 2, 2015 6:22 PM   Subscribe

 
As if the system isn’t emasculating enough already, the idea of forcing desperate people to piss in a cup just to get money for food is worse.

I've had to do the pee-in-a-cup thing as part of my last couple of hirings. In both cases, since it was just a pre-employment screening and I'm a white, middle-class looking person, the workers at the testing places let me pee in the cup in privacy. Based on the written instructions on the posters, that's not the way it works if there is cause for suspicion, and I am sure that the anti-welfare people would write those rules to be as awful as possible. Honestly, it is pretty demeaning to have to go through that process even when they give you the privacy.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:39 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The only view I personally have of the welfare system is dealing with WIC as a cashier at a grocery store, and that at least seems arcane and arbitrary almost to the point of it being intentional. You can buy the 'mild' cheddar but not the 'sharp' even though they are the same brand and the same price; your card is reporting that you can buy 9 more ounces of cereal, but will not pay for a box of cereal which is smaller than 11 ounces, so you can buy 0 more ounces of cereal; it will pay for that sandwich from the deli, but if you get the sandwich pressed it becomes 'prepared food' and the card will no longer pay for it. And so on and so on, all while the people behind you in line get impatient and grumpy. I can only imagine that the rest of the process is just as much a pain.
posted by bracems at 6:40 PM on March 2, 2015 [29 favorites]


WIC is super weird and designed to use up surplus agricultural products and not to feed people.
posted by latkes at 6:48 PM on March 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


The other day, a very well-meaning and otherwise well-informed individual mentioned how "easy" it was to get welfare, how they didn't check your bank accounts.

He'd never had to get welfare. At one time (and maybe still), you weren't allowed to save even a few hundred dollars. So even if you did everything right and lived cheap enough to save to help yourself do better (buy a freezer, buy a car, take a college class), they would punish you.
posted by jb at 6:59 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm about to go to bed, but, uh, this is something I wrote, so... hi. I'll take questions by MeFi Mail, or in the thread tomorrow if it's still happening. In the meantime, I'm going to have a minor freakout while I brush my teeth.
posted by SansPoint at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [58 favorites]


For cash-strapped governments, including Pennsylvania, welfare is just a money sink.

To the extent that the government is "cash-strapped" it is on purpose and by design. And welfare is not a "money sink."

[Edit: Not a criticism of the article.]
posted by klanawa at 7:11 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


klanawa: [Edit: Not a criticism of the article.]

I dunno. That might be a criticism, and a valid one. Can you explain further?
posted by SansPoint at 7:14 PM on March 2, 2015


What's the best way to help with this? Are there nonprofits dedicated to making the welfare system respectful? The only murmurs of welfare expansion I've seen are the guaranteed minimum income folks, but if its this hard just to give people a hundred a month for food its going to be impossible to get that passed.
posted by hermanubis at 7:17 PM on March 2, 2015


So even if you did everything right and lived cheap enough to save to help yourself do better (buy a freezer, buy a car, take a college class), they would punish you.

It's worse than that, because it encourages you to store cash in highly suspect ways, and makes financial services more expensive for you, as regular banks charge you all sorts of fees for having a low balance. My parents kept all their money in a shoebox in their closet. This made them vulnerable to theft, loss, and the hijinks of their offspring. I once walked into the bathroom to find my toddler sister merrily tossing bills into the toilet. I don't know how my mom kept from crying when she found out.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:19 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


What's the best way to help with this?

Vote in your state elections. There's no other way.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:32 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


The other day, a very well-meaning and otherwise well-informed individual mentioned how "easy" it was to get welfare, how they didn't check your bank accounts.

Not only is it not easy, it's practically a full-time job. With the physical and emotional hoops you have to go through to get any kind of government assistance those naysayers would be homeless and starve to death if they actually had to go through the system.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:35 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


As if the system isn’t emasculating enough already,

*cringe*

So what about the women on welfare? I mean, being on welfare didn't rob me of my femininity or womanliness or whatever. But it did PISS ME OFF that people thought they had a right to pass judgement because my family needed help for a little while. I had been in the workforce since I was 16, worked multiple jobs to pay for college all by myself, but the moment I needed a little help (working full time, I might add!), I was suddenly made to feel worthless. It didn't matter that I was working 40 hours a week while using welfare, I was still lazy scum.

"Demoralizing" would be the better word here. Being made to feel like dogshit on the bottom of the societal shoe doesn't need to be gendered.

the idea of forcing desperate people to piss in a cup just to get money for food is worse.

...and forcing them to attend "well child" appointments IN ADDITION to the same visits with the regular pediatrician to keep your WIC, and listen to lectures about why you shouldn't be making your own baby food and why formula supplementation is "necessary", and forcing them to attend "nutrition"classes that are nothing more than some social worker talking down her nose to people...

Welfare fucking sucks, and I get blindingly angry every time someone natters on about "welfare queens" and "lazy". I had a literal screaming fit in the grocery store a while back when I remarked upon the store's recent cessation of double coupons. The cashier whispered about "the lazy n**s on welfare* were pissed about it and how dare they, they got $1500 a month on SNAP. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if I bled from my eyes while I told her off, then did it again in front of her manager.

I was on welfare in Ohio for 10 months in 1992. And I am STILL pissed by how hard people tried to make me feel bad for availing myself of services I had already paid for. This was a good article, SansPoint, and you should feel good about it.
posted by MissySedai at 7:50 PM on March 2, 2015 [59 favorites]


The "emasculate" stood out to me for a second and then I realized it probably has a more general non-male specific definition, which it does, but I would look for a word surrounding "indignity" or being stripped of one's dignity if I were to beanplate; demoralize is definitely a step up :) Emasculate does originate from "cutting off beans and frank" so it is hard to escape that

All in all I wanted the article to be longer and I appreciate it. Let it be the first installment of many! I don't think the author was implying that welfare IS a money sink, but to "cash strapped governments" (whether by design or otherwise) is seen that way.

Thanks for sharing, SansPoint.
posted by aydeejones at 8:09 PM on March 2, 2015


Compassion fatigue is something that needs to be deeply explored from all levels too
posted by aydeejones at 8:10 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just so folks are aware, the majority of states no longer have cash welfare. Of those that do, most restrict it solely to single women with children. So no matter how long you sit in the welfare office, the best you're going to get from the government is a tiny SNAP (food stamps) allowance and a spot on the Section 8 housing waiting list.

The silver lining for those of us who don't need assistance is that you can be fairly certain that anyone talking about people spending their benefit on cigarettes or booze or whatever other thing that makes them undeserving in the eyes of the speaker is pulling shit straight out of their ass. That's cold comfort to the folks who have to go without heat or medical care, though.

The infuriating part is how many people refuse to believe that cash assistance is a thing of the past, even in states where there is no such thing and are surrounded by states where the same is true. You'd think that EBT cards would have helped keep the busybodies from noticing, but it seems that they actually now just confuse UI with SNAP and even payroll cards given by employers. Maybe that confusion has something to do with their sense that everyone but them is on welfare and spending it on cake, booze, and cigs.
posted by wierdo at 8:11 PM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


@hermanubis: In addition to getting involved in local politics (which can include voting, as T.D. Strange suggested), supporting the civic sector is key. I'm not sure that there are many non-profits whose mission is to reform welfare as such but certainly legal aid organizations such as the ACLU and SPLC or even the EFF will help protect a welfare recipient's civil liberties through the courts. Policies like enforced drug-testing have gone to court and lost, so someone's right to privacy can be vindicated by-passing local politics.
posted by koavf at 8:18 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just so folks are aware, the majority of states no longer have cash welfare.

And what cash payments do still exist in the form of Social Security Disability benefits is now construed by Republicans and FOX News as the new"welfare", and the next target.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:26 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


wierdo: “The infuriating part is how many people refuse to believe that cash assistance is a thing of the past, even in states where there is no such thing and are surrounded by states where the same is true.”
My personal favorites are the people who insist that we should change welfare to "workfare" and will not hear that they did that twenty years ago.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:52 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. Let's not derail into meta-discussion over whether it's ok to criticize the article. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:38 PM on March 2, 2015


It isn't terribly difficult to get into the WIC program in my state, but it is easy to get kicked out of it and into this purgatory where people will actually consider asking for a pay cut in order to qualify for the state programs. It's a hellish feeling of hopelessness; you get a much needed raise or a bonus that doesn't break the hand to mouth cycle, and suddenly your expenses outstrip your gains by many factors.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:48 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


WIC is super weird and designed to use up surplus agricultural products and not to feed people.

I hate that there's no nice way to ask for a source on the Internet, but, do you have one for that? It seems like it's just the results of a high-school nutrition class to me, and it doesn't seem like there would be a surplus of whole milk, vegetables, etc., and if there were, WIC's effect would be negligible next to futures markets, subsidies, etc. But, I've always been skeptical of the program's effectiveness compared to allowing people to buy anything in the store.
posted by michaelh at 10:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you have to pee in a cup to get corporate welfare?
posted by maxwelton at 10:36 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


maxwelton: "Do you have to pee in a cup to get corporate welfare?"

Good point! Corporations are people as well* so they should be subjected to the same rules.

*Puhlease!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:00 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the cup pee testing contract is the corporate welfare.
posted by michaelh at 11:16 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


WIC is super weird and designed to use up surplus agricultural products and not to feed people.

I hate that there's no nice way to ask for a source on the Internet, but, do you have one for that?


It doesn't strike you as rather peculiar that WIC and SNAP are administered by the Department of Agriculture? And that every Agriculture budget is an epic battle between those who want to fund subsidies for farmers and those who want to fund subsidies for poor people.
posted by JackFlash at 11:51 PM on March 2, 2015


WIC is super weird and designed to use up surplus agricultural products and not to feed people.

I don't know about that. Yes, there is a weird "supply-side" aspect to the SNAP program, which has been tied indirectly and later more directly, via the whichever-current Farm Bill, to agricultural surpluses since its inception. (The general idea being how could we, in a land of plenty where silos of grain go to rot, have starving citizens. Meanwhile there are all these farmers going bust, so....)

But WIC [literally, Women, Infants and Children] and related Child Nutrition programs came out of the 1960s War on Poverty (WIC itself dates from 1972) and are more directly tied to concerns over educational attainment of pre-schoolers, much like school breakfasts, and infant mortality. The restrictions are there because it is intentionally separate from welfare-type benefits, but usually piggy-backs on top of them. The WIC vouchers/cards are only to be used for things that benefit maternal and infant/toddler nutrition.

Sometimes the general public, though, gets the idea that all SNAP/food stamp benefits should be restricted to healthy foods. The judgemental thrill that some get from this is unmistakeable -- in local newspaper and FB discussions I've seen people freak out over a family buying a birthday cake with SNAP, supposedly luxury items like salmon/lobster, or supposedly "bad for them" products like mere soda. Since SNAP benefits are almost never considered the only source of food income for recipients, it really doesn't matter how they spend it, but recently a Wisconsin Congressman, Glenn Grothman (who had a long history of similar slopbrained comments as a state legislator), suggested his constituents closely watch their fellow citizens making SNAP purchases. Why, I'm not sure -- stores shouldn't be dumb enough to sell people any of the verboten items in the first place.

Anyway, I can definitely speak to seeing the other side of this picture, as two members of my extended family are essentially permanently disabled (primarily cognitively) and on SSDI. My mother has been the intervenor for one of these and has spent innumerable hours on the phone or slogging around town to the Social Security office, the state Job Center, and so forth, including a disastrous intervention by a woman who was appointed (by the state!) to manage my relative's finances and screwed up her overdrafts at the bank to where she lost her bank account and is banned on ChexSystems (to be sure, the cable and power companies both helped with their obtuse direct draw procedures). Now she has a different woman who basically keeps a pile of cash for her. I think it's ridiculous but it's out of my hands. Anyway, this relative, despite her disability, does work -- not full time but enough. That means that her SSDI, her SNAP, and her housing voucher are all SUBJECT TO CHANGE every single frickin' month of the year based on how much she gets paid the month prior. (And keep in mind that some months have FOUR weekly pay periods and some have FIVE.) All of these numbers, therefore, are in constant flux, and have to be reported to various entities, like her apartment manager, and so there are multiple phone calls, slips of paper, and personal visits with ALL OF THIS BULLSHIT. Every damn month until the end of time.

(Well, Scott Walker is proposing major changes to the state's aid for the disabled attempting to live independently, so who knows -- maybe she'll have to move back home.)

I can't even begin to calculate the hours that my mom spends on this for free, let alone the cost of all the hours worked by professionals, almost all of which is in service of the idea that SHE MUST NOT GET A PENNY MORE than she is supposed to. It's insane. And all you hear from the public are MORE ways to police the people dependent on the system, like pee-in-a-cup requirements, which have been shown to cost the state more overall than any slackers do (and it's never clear that they -- the pee-cup-failers -- aren't among the majority of the benefits recipients who NEVERTHELESS WORK).

Are there nonprofits dedicated to making the welfare system respectful?

I think the key idea here should not be massaging a broken system, but thinking about a bigger idea, the Basic Income [Guarantee aka BIG].
posted by dhartung at 11:57 PM on March 2, 2015 [19 favorites]


WIC is super weird and designed to use up surplus agricultural products and not to feed people.
I hate that there's no nice way to ask for a source on the Internet, but, do you have one for that?


or to put what JackFlash more bluntly:

Rooted in congressional logrolling, [SNAP] was part of a larger appropriation that raised price supports for cotton and wheat. Rural lawmakers supported the program so that their urban colleagues would not dismantle farm subsidies.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:48 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My personal favorites are the people who insist that we should change welfare to "workfare" and will not hear that they did that twenty years ago.

Well, heavens no, why let actual facts get in the way of a good high dudgeon? People like that are very heavily invested in the notion that if you're poor, it's your own damned fault and nothing a bit of good old bootstrappin' won't cure. They have to be that way, otherwise the reality that it could happen to them sets in, and we can't have that.

I have a friend who really NEEDS to apply for assistance. He is severely underemployed through no fault of his own, suffers from some chronic health conditions, and has 3 kids to take care of. He's hanging on by his last fingernail, and when I told him he should at least apply for SNAP, he said "But I'm not like THOSE people."

Heh. No, buddy, you're not like "those people". You ARE those people - working hard and still barely hanging on. Jesus.
posted by MissySedai at 5:55 AM on March 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Check out the USDA for a reference that food aid programs were founded as a solution to agricultural surpluses.

More from the link above: Congress voted to continue farm price supports that generated government stocks, and mandated USDA Foods assistance for school lunch programs.the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.. provides food to supplement the diets of low income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to age six, and the elderly. This was the predecessor to the WIC program…

Interestingly, international food aid has also always been explicitly linked with using up agricultural surpluses and building markets for agricultural products. I haven’t read this whole PDF but the history section on page 3 summarizes this point.
posted by latkes at 7:44 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you spend enough time trying to work through WIC, SNAP, SSDI and SSD, Section 8, and local city and county public assistance programs, you come to the conclusion that these programs were designed by people who hate poor people. There's almost no other explanation possible.

A guaranteed income program would be more ethical and economically more efficient. But politically dead in the water since Nixon first proposed it.
posted by PandaMomentum at 7:47 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


WIC's effect would be negligible next to futures markets, subsidies, etc.

This is a reasonable point addressed in the context of international aid in my second link: It doesn't matter if the program is effective in it's economic goals, only that congress perceives it to be (or pretends to).
posted by latkes at 7:52 AM on March 3, 2015


I was a hardcore welfare mother. After a while they started pushing me to get a job. I took the civil service exam for welfare caseworker and scored so high that every time there was an opening they had to, by law, invite me in for an interview. They never hired me, I think they suspected me of wanting to change things from the inside, and I would have. I was inspired by the National Welfare Rights Organization in the late sixties and early 70s. We need an organization like this now.
posted by mareli at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's been 8 to 10 years since we used WIC or SSDI. I recall WIC being a little annoying at having to show up for renewal appointments and such. They still used paper vouchers and I usually went to the store in the middle of the night as it was easier and had less potential for embarrassment. I can believe the ag surplus reasoning for the program. We were in it solely for baby formula. But they gave us vouchers for everything. Even stuff most of the family was allergic to.

I think I finally finished paying Social Security back late last year for the SSDI overpayments from 6 years ago. Much like dhartung's experience, checks came monthly but they only checked my income quarterly. As a result there was a constant series of adjustments up and down culminating in my owing over a thousand dollars once we were finished when I got a better job.
posted by ericales at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2015


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