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Rules for taking public assistance

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, mostly because myself and many of my friends are now on varying forms of state aid. Taking public assistance is a daunting thing to do, generally incredibly depressing, and just all around no fun. Many perfect strangers are happy to criticize you for your dependence, regardless of the fact that they have no idea what your actual situation is.

With this in mind, I've compiled a simple list of rules (or perhaps, "guidelines") to help minimize the embarrassment and discomfort of taking public assistance. This list has been created based on my own experience and the experience of friends. Please note that contravening any rule in any way does grant legal rights for every person who sees you to judge you (out loud or, if desired, in print) on any or all of the following: your lifestyle choices, your parenting, your personal hygiene, your laziness, your education, your intellect, your lack of patriotism/apparent Frenchness, your very existence as signaling the certain decline and fall of our entire civilization, or any other topic of choice. So please do be careful out there!

The Rules:

1. Don't be dirty. Present yourself in as hygenically-perfect a condition as possible. You should have no visible dirt on your person (including fingernails), clean and well-kept hair, freshly-laundered clothes, no rumples, etc. This goes double-extra mega for children. Any signs of uncleanliness in your children could be considered grounds for busybody supermarket shoppers to call DFS on you.
2. Don't be clean. But remember, you are poor. You shouldn't be able to afford things like shampoo, or fresh laundry, etc. If you're too clean, you are obviously wasting the taxpayers money on frivolities. Do nothing to breach the carefully-maintained prejudices of the public who believe that people on assistance are dirty, lazy slackers who really enjoy living on $250 per week.
3. Never engage in any luxury activity at all, ever. Remember, you are currently taking public aid, which means of course that you must never, ever, find any way to enjoy your life that costs any amount of money at all. Do not ever do any of the following: go to movies, rent movies, go to the theatre, go to a restaurant, take your children to amusement/skating/other fun activities, or anything else that might cost money. You are poor--you don't deserve a moment's enjoyment of life. If you did deserve it, you wouldn't be poor, right?
3a. In addition to money-costing activities, also remember that free activities that you might enjoy are also forbidden. Every moment you are enjoying yourself is a moment you are not spending trying to find a job, keep a job, find another job, or find a third/fourth job. Obviously this must be your only focus. As such, all of the following activities are also forbidden: walks in the park, taking children to the playground, having a picnic, sitting on your porch with friends, visiting family, going to parties, etc.
4. Never possess any item which could be construed as you spending money. This rule is a bit confusing, so examples might serve well here: do not let your SIL give you a manicure for your birthday, or fix your hair in any fancy way. Do not dress in business clothes, even purchased secondhand. Do not borrow your parents/in-laws nice car to go to run errands. Never dress your children in the expensive clothing purchased for them as gifts by loving relatives. Do not use public aid to buy your child a birthday cake and soda, which was the only thing they asked for for their birthday. Obviously, if an upstanding, tax-paying citizen sees you in a grocery store with nicely done nails & hair, driving a nice car, and buying a cake and soda, they are entitled to decry loudly (and post everywhere possible online) how abusive you are being of the system. Just because they have no idea how or why you have these things is no excuse--it is your responsibility as a poor person to never make taxpayers have to think about, well, much of anything.
4a. To maintain the personal moral indignation of the taxpayer to our situations, it is acceptable to on occasion breach rule #4 in limited fashion. This allows the taxpayer to continue with their prejudices, which is crucial for our status quo.
5. Only purchase things deemed appropriate by the surrounding consumers. Again, the guiding principle here is that you are poor, and obviously incapable of making educated decisions (otherwise, again, you wouldn't be poor now, would you?). You must only buy products that other tax-paying people think are appropriate. As this can vary somewhat sharply by area, it is often helpful to pass out a brief questionnaire to other shoppers before attempting to shop yourself.

If you follow these simple rules, you should lead exactly the joyless, grinding, depressing life you are meant to lead, while simultaneously having any sense of self-worth or pride expunged from you forever. Remember, if you work very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very hard, you may be able to get a job that will allow you to pay taxes, and then you can decry all the other people on public assistance for not "taking every opportunity to get yourself out of that mess like I did!" If you work even harder than that, you might someday be able to afford your own health insurance!



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Dude, you just made me snort coffee up my nose. =)
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
You should repost this far and wide. May I?

Also, in re: #4, that certainly must include buying organic food. Gods forbid you buy something organic with food stamps when non-organic sugared fluff is so much cheaper.

We are lucky to have two lucratively-employed folks in my home, but my mother still complains about why we buy organic, because, you know, she saw some TV show where they "proved" that organic foods had pesticides, too, so why not just buy the cheapest thing you can find?

Still waiting for the paradigm shift....
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Totally welcome to repost, although if you do, do me a favor and repost it from my other blog at adaptinginplace.blogspot.com. That's my more "public" blog, I guess you could say.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the food issues. Right now I'm working on creating a class for using gourmet cooking techniques to stretch your budget. Sure, if you're poor you probably can't pay others to make you crepes or croissants or whathaveyou, but that's no reason you can't have them at all! Good food is not just a health issue, it's a dignity issue. My family deserves beautiful food, too, at least occasionally.
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
we love home cooking everything. crepes at home are awesome ;-) and eating beautiful food at home from scratch is actually really cheap!
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of those attitudes are leftover from the Depression-era folks - passing down the 'Get a job, loser!' vibe on to their kids.

Some of it is the same reason people are weird around folks with disabilities. Fear. It could happen to any of us, any time. That's scary, so they lash out and feel superior.

For myself, I'm sorry you have to go through this, and I love you more than five.
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, there's another "don't even get me started"--generational politics (which can be summed up for me as "the Greatest Generation and baby boomers can all go fuck themselves").

Fear is the mindkiller. *sigh*

Thank you for the love! =)
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
My mother told me about growing up as a child in the early welfare days. Raised by a single mother with a dead-beat Dad (my grandpa was a drunk and womanizer), she told me about how she grew up eating a can of soup a day or sometimes every other day because there was no money even with her job, how her grandma would sit her down at her house and feed her an entire loaf of bread with butter... while the kids on welfare had steak and cashmere sweaters. Her mother wouldn't go on welfare, and while I felt the same as she did about why it was best not to, had I been in her position, I would have taken the welfare rather than suffer so deeply. That was why when all our savings ran out and our cupboards emptied and unemployment denied us the money I was counting on and one of the jobs Dave was going for turned him down, and there was nowhere else to turn and nothing else that could be done, we finally applied and were accepted. Today our cupboards will be full and we will not be hungry and will not have to eat the weird and unhealthy food food banks often give (which is also never enough) and as much as I can't help but be disappointed that it came to this, I am grateful for what I can get if not for me but for my kids, because there is no shame I will not endure to see them healthy.

This is so true so often, and funny and sad at the same time. People are judgemental jerks. You can be against the system as it stands while not taking it out on the people who are just trying to get by. I have never, nor will ever, put down someone who needed help. I hate especially that they pick on single mothers, who are often the ones who need it the most. Yet I cannot stop myself from feeling a little embarrassment in needing this. 5 years of struggle, and the better part of a year unemployed and only now have we come to this.

It's hard.

On an unrelated note, I am so glad costco takes the food stamp card now here. We buy most of our meat and a lot of produce there, very low prices compared to a lot of places around here and we know how to buy carefully in bulk. I am such a person for saving money on food!
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
PS- another neat thing, the local farmer's markets are taking it too!
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Don't you love that?!
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
Wow, your grandma was hardcore. I guess I've never really understood the "accept no aid at any cost" mindset. I mean, I suppose if one really believes that "anyone can make it in America" or something similar, then it makes some sense. But that's just not true, it never has been true, and it really really really really isn't true right now. If we're not willing to look out for one another, and help each other when we're in need, why are we living in a society at all? Is being an American only "I live on the same contiguous piece of ground as they do"? Do we owe nothing to each other? Even those who are doing well right now didn't bootstrap themselves--they're riding on the coattails of a rich country with all kinds of benefits.

Part of having a functional society is that there is a baseline below which people can't fall (or at least, can't fall without trying hard). Societies don't function when large portions of them are worried about having enough to eat, or how they will care for sick family members, or are being worked to death. That's where revolutions come from. There are lots of ways to create those baselines and safety nets, and people disagree about how it should look; welfare-state proponents think that this is part of the government's responsibility, libertarians think that the invisible hand will guide the social market into creating services without intervention, and so on. But the fact that the safety nets have got to be there for a society to function isn't up for debate, that's just how it is. But they also only work if people are willing to take the aid. Safety nets don't work if people are shamed into jumping over the edge of them.
Nov. 13th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Wow! You've hit every point. Wow. Brava!

It was hard for us to ask for aid (unemployment, medical for the kids and WIC), but, we did. I think it helps that my folks let my brothers and I know not to be ashamed to claim assistance. They had to go on food stamps a few times when raising us due to the nature of my dad's type of job.

We're under hard times right now, but, the aid is there to help us through the tough times to keep us and our children healthy. We'll have a very tiny Solstice/Christmas, but, we have a home and all of us are together.
Nov. 13th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
How about a bumper sticker "I went on public assistance and all I got was this lousy bumpersticker... and some Cheetos."
Nov. 14th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
Oh dude, I'll never forget your story from Krogers about "No, you don't look like someone on food stamps." ARGH! I kept trying to figure out a way to work that in, but it just wasn't fitting. =/
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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