Some of you all may have seen that EBT (It’s Free Swipe your EBT) song, which has been going viral over the last week, right. All have to say on that one is that there is a special type of ignorant, which thinks it’s okay to mock people, who rely on public assistance for their daily assistance. Most particularly now since the right wing is doing everything in its power to strip away the very safety nets for the working class, the poor and even the middle class (when they need them), which has gotten folks through some very tough times.
For many folks, the stigmatization of public assistance continues with uninformed claims about welfare and its recipients in this country. Folks may see, read or hear about some extreme case of public assistance abuse and believe that it applies to the 45 million people, or 12 percent of U.S population, who use the plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese. Few will actually sit and mull over the fact that food stamp usage is now at record highs and climbing every month. This program now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
Likewise, this new face of poverty in America includes more than the Tawanqie and the Shanifas of the world; the new face of poverty, mostly the result of the economic crisis and the ever weakening economy, also includes the married couples, struggling college students, the newly jobless, who have seen their unemployment benefits lapse, and workers whose slender wages leave them making the hard choice between rent and food. And still, the Republicans and Democrats who nearly eliminated welfare in the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan and again through the 90s, under Bill Clinton, through ineffective welfare reform acts, have not only unfairly targeted these safety nets but basically are in denial of the very policies and structural causes that have contributed to the need for welfare and other public assistance in the first place.
Policies including tax cuts for the rich and corporations, who send jobs overseas more than they provide employment for Americans here at home. Common place policies include providing billions in property tax breaks, free land and other kind of subsidies to attract or retain big box businesses, which do more to exploit workers than they do to provide livable and sustainable wages. And let us not forget the trillions in bailout money, including an array of other financial programs, which provided support to banks, car companies and now chicken factory farmers, who gave us little to no assurance that they will not engage in the very same practices, which caused the economic crisis to begin with.
But yet, with the economy in the condition it is in, we only want to discuss whether or not Latoya is smoking weed in her Section 8 approved apartment or has “schemed” her way into buying a $5 sandwich from Subways with her EBT card.
Last week marked the 15th anniversary of welfare reform, signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The goal of the reform was to move struggling Americans into job training and employment (also known as welfare to work). After the economy weakened, states are continuing to push people off welfare, even while fewer and fewer jobs are being created. Likewise, housing foreclosure has contributed to record levels of homelessness in some places, food cupboards nationwide are struggling for funding and 15 percent of American households in general are experiencing “food insecurity” at some point. Meanwhile our elected leaders including Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan are pushing budget proposals for deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and even more fundamental changes to how it is administered, particularly turning SNAP into a block grant program, which would allow individual states to set the criteria and stipulations for how the money would be distributed.
SO yeah, with most Americans living about a paycheck and a half away from financial ruin, I find it distasteful, to say the least, to mock through song the very safety net programs, which could mean the difference between hunger, homelessness and even death. And quite frankly, I have grown weary of this aspirational mindset, which seems to sings praises of the rich while making scapegoats of the working poor. I’m sayin’, when did genuine concern over the welfare over our own citizens become a negative trait?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.