You don’t have to be a salaried research associate to know that most of the main points made to decry social assistance programs – particularly SNAP – are simply not true. People unfairly hemorrhaging aid dollars that they don’t need; people nefariously purchasing cigarettes and skittles with their entire allotment; individuals only on the program to avoid working. A simple Google search finds that most people on public assistance DO work. While fraud cases are always widely covered, they’re in the minority compared to people who desperately need this assistance. And anyone who thinks it’s an easy jaunt to buy whatever vice-related goods you want has clearly never experienced any public assistance program.
Which is probably why the administration is considering cutting SNAP—not only by trimming the budget and just kicking people off, but providing a pre-designated assortment of foods that Trump is okay with poor people eating. Touted as a meal delivery “Blue Apron”-esque service, the party of “keep government out of our business” is now pushing a program that would literally chokehold the American family’s grocery list, something that would siphon millions out of state budgets to implement. But they haven’t thought about that—because they have absolutely no clue what it is to be poor in this country.
They have never known anyone who suffered or died from a preventable cause due to lack of healthcare—or the inability to pay the deductible (because, as we all know, access is not the same thing as ability to participate). Concepts like lack of transportation or low/no credit are completely foreign. They have no experience with hungry kids, or anyone who has wanted for anything. It’s hard to believe these will be the generators of guidance and protocol for solving these problems, but easy to see where the path leads. This is how you get results like a friend of my mother’s, an American veteran who was arrested, and jailed, for stealing a package of bologna.
My mom was a single parent in the 1970s, during the debut of WIC. Between assistance with food and through state-based healthcare plans, public funding helped my family quite a bit; I’d my parents made good return on the investment by raising four now-taxpayers. The reality is that these programs are actually, on the whole, a success. They actually offer a meager solution for the current problems of low wages and rising costs of living. But detractors continue to hammer away at the costs of funding (stingingly ironic, post $1.5 trillion gift to a wealthy micro-minority), and mostly use the vehicle of shame to do it.
For years, the message that those who use public assistance should be ashamed has seeped into conversation, cultural positioning, and even language in legislation. When someone in the grocery line pulls out their EBT card, someone—inevitably—rolls their eyes. Thousands of graphics in the sea of meme culture proclaim that SNAP recipients are scumbags, healthy people who are lazily sitting and home and shopping for junk food and beer on your dime, toxic lies that produce the guilt and silence for recipients who did nothing wrong and deserve to have healthy food in “the greatest country in the world.”
Back in the 70s one had to go to a local bank to receive food stamps. My mother’s neighbor asked her if they could go together, and meekly stood in the crowded bank when they arrived. When my mom called to a staff member to be serviced, the teller irritatedly told her, “You have to go to that line for the Food Stamps,” raising her voice on the last two words and enunciating them like they were proper nouns.
“WHICH LINE FOR THE FOOD STAMPS?!” My mother shouted, cupping her hands around her mouth and drawing attention. Turning to her neighbor and dropping her hands, she muttered, “Thinks she’s gonna embarrass me?” She was not going to let the bank teller’s, or anyone else’s opinion determine her self-worth and feelings about using the government programs provided to assist taxpayers.
The desire to vilify public assistance recipients is typical for an administration that consistently attacks the most vulnerable groups of people—whether they’re women, Muslim, Latinx or black (among many, many others). While their supporters are busy persecuting the scapegoats, the hoarders of the nation’s wealth (and the ultimate cause of their grief) can soak up more money with reckless abandon. What a fly in the ointment it would be to have public assistance recipients and their supporters speak out, unashamed and confident that a truly just society provides for its citizens during times of need, and those citizens reward their society in kind.
Isn’t that what the greatest country in the world does?