This article was originally published July 6th of 2011 and is being republished as a foundation for an upcoming article. The illustration is a recent addition, a stock photo image combining photography and clip art to which I added the words then blended the coloring. Enjoy the article. Please share your opinions and be a part of the solution…

Have you heard that term, “welfare rodents”? It’s the most derogatory term I’ve heard to describe those, especially children, reliant on welfare. I heard someone mumble it as I walked with the two foster kids, for whom I help care, to our seats for the fireworks display last night. It implies such people are like rats – dirty, sneaky, robbing food, spreading disease, worthy of nothing more than laboratory experiments. Some express the same sentiment more subtly like 1996 Kansas House guest minister Rev. Joe Wright, who in the prayer to open the session (since referred to as The Prayer of Repentance and actually written by Rev. Bob Russel), stated  “We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.” I do empathize to a degree with the prayer’s sentiment; I agree there are people who abuse the welfare system. However, as stated, his words imply that all on welfare are lazy. This is not a new or infrequently held attitude. In fact, as the numbers on welfare rise due to our recent financial crisis, this espoused opinion reverberates far and wide. The foster kids are of course on welfare, but I won’t discuss them any further here. I, too, currently am on welfare. I can’t be sure whether the person who mumbled the term was referring to any of us, but it has given rise to things I’ve been wanting to say and haven’t yet. I am disabled, but I am not my disability. I am unemployed, but I am not lazy. I have tried repeatedly to work, even since first being on disability, and not only failed, but endangered my health even more by trying to do so. Some are forgiving of the disabled or displaced children on welfare, but reject the notion that others need it. In general, I disagree with this perspective. I could sit back and quietly accept that at least they’re not picking on me, but it’s just not in my nature.

I once had a personal care attendant who assisted me for over a year and also relied on welfare to a degree. She was an honest, hard-working, God-loving woman with three very sweet boys, aged 11, 7 and 3. Her first husband abandoned her and her first son, providing no support. Her second husband worked a 36 hour split-shift in Dietary at a hospital. I won’t give you a full run-down of their expenses, but they were not frivolous in their spending. They simply could not make ends meet. She was only able to get 15 hours per week of work at just above minimum wage. She had been able to get more hours before her car broke down. Then, at one point, when she tried to fix a sliding closet door, she accidentally deeply cut and broke her foot. Can you believe she was forced to wait four hours for a couple friends to assist her home because she had no money to pay for crutches and the hospital would not loan them to her. When she informed her welfare case worker by phone that she would be off work by order of the doctor for at least three weeks, her worker’s response was only that she needed to provide a copy of a doctor’s note when she was released to work again and written verification of her wage and hours upon return. Two weeks later, due to receive her foodstamps for her kids, she got a letter that not only had her benefits not been increased (as one might have reasonably expected they would), but all assistance of any kind (including her kids’, one of whom has a heart condition, medical coverage) was cancelled because she had not provided written verification of her change in work status. It took 6 weeks for benefits to be reestablished, during which time she accrued an emergency room bill for her son and one for herself due to diabetic complications from an infection of her wounded foot.

Recently, she made the difficult decision to use money she saved up to go back to school for training in a related field she hopes will require less travel and give her better employment opportunity. However she had to limit the days she was available to work because she couldn’t handle working on the four days she went to school and needed to do homework. Now, her agency has told her they can’t accommodate her restricted time available and she has been without any hours for 3 weeks. She is diabetic but now can’t afford even emergency medication she does not qualify for medical coverage except as related to a pregnancy. After having to move due to her landlord’s failures to address poor living conditions resulted in her home being “condemned”, her kids’ new public schools were “fining” her daily because she couldn’t afford their required uniforms for the last month of school. She is being hounded by the hospital for payment on her bills, washes the family’s clothes in the bathtub, sold her furniture except for her kids’ beds, and is now without any phone line (despite hers nd her son’s medical conditions). She survives on will-power, grace, faith, and a strong commitment to the future of her children. Yes, she’s still alive, but can we call this “living”?

As for myself, even with the assistance of welfare, not all of my medications or medical treatments are covered and after paying shelter costs, I have only $250 per month for all other expenses combined. If I did not have federally and state-funded medical coverage at all, just my medications alone would cost over $2000/month. Unable to afford that, my conditions would deteriorate quickly, bringing me to a pre-mature death, perhaps first briefly forcing me into an institution if such were publicly funded. Is there another way? Sure; if we could all count on each other to support the weakest and most in need members of society without the need for a regulated system, we could indeed do away with welfare. However, we do have this system currently and when I did work, I paid into the system that now supports me and have moved past my initial shame in having to rely upon it. I’m sure I have by now drawn from it more than I put in, but believe me, if I could earn a wage, I would. Even of my meager income, I give charitably. Yet, I wish I could give more. And I contribute to society as best I can, helping to raise foster kids, for example and sharing my experience, strength and hope for the benefit of others. So, I wish people would quit trying to eliminate the system or bash people using it, but instead, listen to the people who know how it works first hand (those who administer it and those using it). We need to address the gaps and barriers in the system for the welfare of individuals and our society as a whole. It is a shame that those most in need of advocacy are often least able for health or financial reasons to advocate for themselves. So, I ask you, my readers who are capable, will you please be someone I can count on to support my wanting to be and do the best I can? Will you please join me in  promoting cooperative efforts and a positive outlook? Will you please quit looking for who or what to blame — or simply looking the other way — and look, instead for solutions?!

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