Government handouts: And the “real” leeches on society

*Names in this blog are changed for privacy reasons.

I looked up to him in college.

Heck, I still do.

His name is Daniel. And he was the one in my university newsroom that I always saw pass by in a hurry, camera bag slung over his shoulder, in a race to get to the story first. Or the one to sit outside temples or in freezing temperatures with giggling newly engaged couples to capture the perfect shot. My now husband and I were one of those couples. I’d see the pictures he took in the folds of the newspaper or even now hanging on our walls, and I always thought to myself that the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words” was invented by his lens.

I knew Daniel would go places in life with his creativity and his passion for capturing reality in a beautiful, raw way. And I still know he will. Even now, when he’s out of a job and feeling down on his luck in this rough economy. Even now, when he admits to having to live off of unemployment benefits right now to keep food on his plate.

photographer

Even now, I look up to him.

But then I got on Facebook today *which can sometimes be a REAL bad idea, if you know what I mean* and I saw some comments to a status he wrote about having to humble himself and accept government benefits. Some people began to call them handouts. Some people told him he should have more dignity. People mentioned that those who accept hand-outs are a leech on society. And some just made jokes about the situation.

My blood boiled as I read through these comments. And I wanted to write something in return. I wanted to write back to each and every person individually and tell them about Daniel. I wanted to show them all the pictures that Daniel has taken–one by one. Pictures taken by the very person they point fingers at and sneer at from their lofty pedestals–I want them to see the creative way he captures moments and the way in which he had worked for years and years for all he has in various positions. Daniel is not a leech to society.

I wanted to tell each of those people on that comment stream about my awesome dad–a man who faces cancer and can’t work anymore and therefore receives food stamps and unemployment benefits and is still drowning in mounds of freshly-inked hospital bills. I wanted everyone to know about his 25 years of working hard for our family as an ultrasound manufacturer, coming home late and leaving before the sun came up to make sure we had new school clothes every year and hot meals every night. My dad is not a leech on society.

DSC_2937

I was tempted to comment about my situation from only a year ago. My husband and I were new to Washington after I graduated and a job was hard to come by. Although I have a Bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, I also applied outside of my field–over 100 applications that fried my brain cells to fill out– everything from secretary work to flight attendant to restaurants around town. No callbacks. Since my husband was still in school (paid for by federal grants) and he didn’t have enough hours in the day to carry a job, we too had to rely on food stamps for a while until a news station in Seattle finally called me and answered my desperate prayers. It was a hard time where we honestly needed help–but never were we leeches.

To all those commenters I wanted to show them the essays and novels my dear friend Andrea has written–a friend of mine who graduated with a well-deserved English degree and has been struggling to find a career outside of her job in an Italian restaurant in New York City. I want them to read every word of her writing and hear her talk about her ambitions and what she does every day to chase them down. Andrea is not a leech to society.

lacey

But I’ll tell you what is.

The only leeches to society are the attitudes that drain the life from those who are merely clinging to the edges of their own lives–trying to get by. Trying to be seen again.

The leeches are the sneers and unkind looks from people in check-out stand lines to the single mother of three fumbling with coupons and her EBT card. Leeches take the form of pride and skepticism and lofty attitudes that say, “I’m above that” and suck confidence from everyone else. Leeches are the impulses that drive someone to share a viral (and unrelated) picture of an African-American woman holding a photoshopped sign that states she’s a mom to 13 sons instead of the original sign that said 3. On social media sites it implied that’s why she probably voted for Obama so she could have free handouts. Totally unrelated and completely unacceptable.

sign

People aren’t leeches–people are people. But attitudes can be.

I understand that there are attitudes within those who receive assistance that are the opposite of what I’m talking about here–attitudes that are within people who don’t look for jobs but solely rely on what the government can give them. I’ve personally seen people who take advantage of government benefits by using the cash to get tattoos or steak dinners or to continue to live lives of irresponsibility. But I won’t say this is the majority.

I know there are people out there in cramped DSHS waiting rooms waiting for benefits to eat dinner that night or people standing in grocery lines with EBT cards who are just like Daniel. Or Andrea. Or even me, a year ago.

welfare

There are people out there who are legitimately trying to get back on their feet after a long battle with drugs or people who have lost spouses after having been a stay-at-home mom for a long time. There are future doctors and teachers sitting in classrooms all over the nation because of help they’ve been given.

This group includes mothers. Fathers. Students. Aspiring artists. Intelligent mathematicians. Twenty-somethings with bachelor’s degrees and fifty-somethings with masters. People trying to clean up their lives. Hard workers with two part-time jobs and plenty of mouths to feed. A leukemia patient.

These people are not leeches.

I’m tired of hearing the words “free-handouts” and I’m sick of the attitude that everyone who needs government benefits are somehow not trying. Our nation tends to be more sympathetic toward the impoverished within foreign countries, but when our own people need help we laugh. Or shun them. Or call them burdens on our “system”.

Sometimes people can make it just fine on their own–sometimes life works out. And that’s where we all hope to be at, of course.

But sometimes, people need help.

And all the time–they need your compassion.

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13 thoughts on “Government handouts: And the “real” leeches on society

  1. I see you point. At times I have used government services for brief periods.

    However, I have met people who had been on welfare In government housing for three generations. Someone else who was able to get on the disability roles to avoid working as a sanitation engineer. There are many who could be contributing and proud members of society, but instead feel the larger pubic owes them a living stipend.

    These aren’t government programs I want to disband, but there must be some way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  2. Have you ever read the book “Leadershift: A Call for Americans to Stand Up and Lead” by Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille? I think you might find interesting one of the Five Laws of Decline talked about in there, I believe it’s either Bastiat’s Law or Gresham’s Law.

  3. What a great post! I just found your blog and really appreciate the way you view the world! People are people and we all come from unequal starting points in life, so I feel there is no room to judge and condemn each other.

  4. I think you do a great job of humanizing this, which I appreciate. I am generally very harsh on people who take government help, but I appreciated your perspective here. There are lots of people who use it the way it was meant to be used and it is good to have a reminder of that.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I can’t tell you how wearing the burden of constant shame is every time I take out my EBT or medicaid card. I feel the burden of being the burden. I feel guilty, and ashamed, and increasingly worthless, some days.

    I needed to hear that someone out in the world doesn’t see people like me and automatically think ‘leach.’ I’m counting the days when we will finally be able to leave government assistance behind. For now, I’m so grateful for kind words, offered by a stranger. 🙂 It’s a nice reminder that I’m not alone.

  6. Thanks for sharing!! Though my husband is an attorney and I have a masters degree in education we are “a burden on society”. My husband has a job as a prosecutor and makes over $60,000 but… our first daughter was born with severe and profound special needs. At 12 years old she is still in diapers and non-verbal and just finally got her feeding tube out. The first hospital bill I saw for her was $147,000. That was just the first. Thank goodness when she was born we were both working (I as a teacher and my husband in the casino industry not even thinking about law school yet) so we had double insurance on her. We have been blessed, truly blessed that due to her special needs she has been able to be on medicaid since she was about a year old. Due to the number of appointments she has, I am no longer able to teach. For a long time a felt guilt that my child was on medicaid, but you know what, God handed me a child with special needs. A couple of years ago my daughter had three small cavities in her teeth. In order to get them fixed she had to put under, in a hospital. The bill was over $10,000. Our medical insurance only paid about $4000. Thank goodness we have medicaid. We always carry the best insurance plan we can get through my husbands work. We pay almost $1000 a month for insurance so that we use as little medicaid as possible, still medicaid is paying about $25000 a year for our daughter and some years more. Yes there are many people out there that “suck the system dry” but there are also many people out there that use the system the way it was intended to be used.

  7. There are many “real” leeches on society. All a person needs to do is a simple web search and a plethora of evidence will come up; from food stamp/EBT waste, to fraud to the entitlement minded people. Look up the reports on “Someone needs to pay for my 15 Children”, “Welfare Queen, Who Would Want to Work in America”… the list goes on and one. What is lacking in most, but not all, of the cases is personal accountability and personal responsibility. Sure people will, at times, need assistance; but that assistance was and is suppose to be temporary, not a lifelong living pursuit that far too many aspire to stay in.

  8. I worked in the benefits office in Salt Lake City, certifying people for food stamps, Medicaid and AFDC. It was the most heart-breaking job I have ever had. Every day, I was faced with good people who had had their life crash down around them. Or who had never really had a chance. I saw the desperation and shame on their faces. I saw the embarrassment as they had to provide person details and documents to a complete stranger so their kids would have something to eat or their spouse could get medicine or they could maybe stay off the streets for one more month while the kept looking for a new job. I had people break down in tears when I was able to hand them emergency food stamps because they had not eaten in days…or their child was subsisting on a single box of dry cereal. I cried every night because I had such limited resources at my disposal to help these broken people. And I raged in anger at the newspaper and TV news stories about how easy people on “welfare” have it. And I tried to help.

    I clipped coupons and kept them on my desk to help people stretch their criminally tiny food stamp rations. (You can’t buy a newspaper to get coupons if you have no spare cash.) I kept rolls of toilet paper and boxes of sanitary supplies in my desk (you can’t buy those things either. Nor can you buy soap, shampoo or deodorant or diapers.) I kept lists of other agencies who could help with job hunting or teach an adult how to read or offer respite care for an exhausted family caregiver.

    Yes, there were a few fraud cases. And I use “a few” very accurately. Our fraud investigator had a 1% of gross caseload result. The other 99%? Maybe 10-15% weren’t trying to break out of this life any more. Were they lazy? Some may have been. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, they were just too disheartened and depressed, too beaten down (and in more than a few cases, weak and sick from lack of proper nutrition, lack of proper shelter) to try any more. Most people tried against amazing odds to get back on their feet. Sadly, many did not succeed. The odds were simply too stacked against them.

    Our safety net system in this country is horrible. It is degrading and grossly insufficient. It forces those in need to endure humiliation and shame in order to survive — barely. Thank you for calling out the REAL leeches.

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