Sunday, February 02, 2014

"Welfare" is NOT a Dirty Word

When I posted about hope for the disabled, I was thinking of how being disabled is stigmatized enough without other problems.

Being out of work is a trigger for depression. You aren't bringing in a paycheck - you are receiving welfare.
Definition of Welfare: financial support given to people in need. (my emphasis)
Welfare isn't a dirty word, but the way many people say it makes one think of a recipient as being lower than a rapist. I think one of the reasons I've always disliked an otherwise likable man is because he popularized the term Welfare Queen. He did for recipients of assistance what many trashy newspapers do for the image of any American person with brown skin.

I've responded before to people who have a negative perception of welfare recipients. (Okay, it was more like I ranted, but I felt provoked.) I probably didn't touch the conscience of the stupid, but I might have made a difference to the ignorant.

On the subject of depression among the disabled (even those who aren't diagnosed as depressed), much of the problem is caused by ignorance. Most of us are guilty of being ignorant of situations we haven't been in. Ignorance is only bliss for the people it doesn't affect. When I run into people who are ignorant about my personal situation as a welfare recipient, I am affected. Sometimes, I come away mad, but I often just feel depressed and frustrated.

An example:

A while back, I was in the grocery store and another shopper started chatting with me. She commented on the ridiculous prices of the fruit we were looking over. She told me how she had lived all over the world and still didn't understand why shipping costs to Alaska seemed worse than anywhere else. That led us into a conversation about other things: places we'd lived, jobs we'd held, our hobbies... We even had a good laugh over being single after forty. She was one of those people you meet and just instantly like. She seemed smart, educated and friendly. We talked for probably a good fifteen minutes before separating to finish our shopping. A couple of times while I was cruising the aisles, I saw her and another woman sharing a cart.

When I went to the self-checkout section, there was the lady and her friend at the register next to mine. She had a bunch of groceries she was almost finished checking out and she gave me a look of "Thank God" when she was just about done. I scanned my three or four items and pulled out my EBT card to pay.

The EBT cards issued here in Alaska look pretty much like any debit card, but most residents know at a glance exactly what they are.

The woman who had been so friendly before saw that EBT card and she developed an instant nose-up attitude. I don't know if she said anything to her friend or not, but I caught them watching me and giving each other looks. I thought about waving when I left, but they were ignoring me pretty good. I'm not blaming this woman for her reaction. I blame media and anyone who promotes negative stereotypes. Still, I felt a few seconds of hatred for that lady's attitude. When I got over that, I spent the drive home wishing something would happen to send her running to stand in line at the local Public Assistance office. I got over that, but the hurt feelings I had lingered for days. Also, I started using my EBT card at the least busiest time in a store - like at midnight.

Maybe I am just being sensitive. Probably. Knowing how welfare is so stigmatized in our society will do that.

I told my sister once that no matter how I'm dressed or how I speak and present myself, that the minute I have to pull out that EBT card at a store (or the Medicare/Medicaid card at a clinic), my soul shrinks ten inches. My sister knows me. She knows that I tend to feel everything too deeply. She has held my hand while I've cried from feeling embarrassed and worthless because of that fucking EBT card.

Being on welfare feels like wearing signs that say things like "I am lazy", "I am milking the system", "I am the reason you pay so much in taxes".

What I want to express here is that not everyone receiving assistance owns those signs. We've paid taxes and we will be happy enough to pay them again. Not all of us wear our situations wear you can see them. We are smart, educated and worthwhile people. We have, at some point, worked just as hard as you. We dream and hope and care and feel. Just like you.

The past couple of years have been tough, but I've learned things about myself that I might never have discovered. A good thing about being at your lowest point is, you can be sure of the sincerity of the people who love you.

If you are someone lucky enough to never need help, be good to the people who do.