Saturday, September 21, 2013

Poor Excuses

I've waited a few days to weigh in on Congresses decision to cut SNAP funds as part of trying to pass the Farm Bill.  It was hard enough to not splutter on in impotent rage on Twitter and Facebook, so a few days delay seemed like a good idea.

In the intervening days, I've seen what can only be called an assault on the poor by a lot of people on the right. One friend, Herb Lawrence, over on Facebook wrote persuasively about the need for programs like SNAP and his mentions included a number of people who generally think that lazy no-goods get all the free food they want.

I have a special empathy for poor people.  Part of it is because I work daily with people who are poor and are just scraping buy. True some of these people have issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, but most do not.  They're just people who lost a job, or are working for minimum wage and trying to raise kids.  Contrary to popular belief they're not all deadbeat people of color looking for a handout from Uncle Sam. In fact a significant part of the population I see are white. National statistics bear this out as 60 percent of SNAP recipients are white.

The other reason that I'm particularly sensitive to the issues of the poor, is that for a significant portion of my childhood, I was poor.  Not just white people poor, not able to get Nike's every 3 months, I mean government cheese poor. My parents were hardworking people who did everything they could to improve our station.

My earliest memories of my parents working was when I was 5 or so, Mom worked at Pennys and Dad was a tire salesman.  They worked long hours to put food on our table and that was supplemented occasionally by my grandparents giving us meat from cattle they had slaughtered.  We had cars that barely ran and rented places that were cheap and drafty. Mom made my velour shirts and there were plenty of yard sale pairs of pants.

Dad continued on at the tire store and mom worked at Penny's until I was in the 4th or 5th grade. Dad got a job at a corn refinery in Clinton IA, Clinton Corn, which later became ADM.  He worked rotating shifts but made a good wage and mom didn't have to work if she didn't want to.

Then came 1982 and the Farm Crisis.  Dad along with a lot of other people lost their jobs,  the economy of Clinton, IA took a massive hit.  We lived on unemployment, borrowed from family and accepted government handouts of cheese, butter and peanut butter. I remember how tormented my parents were about accepting handouts. These were proud people who felt that they somehow failed.

About a year later, Dad did get a job in housekeeping at the local hospital and mom went to work as the TV rental lady at the same hospital.  Later she hooked on as an admissions clerk at the hospital.  Total combined salary was a little over 20K per year.

The current crop of me first Republicans and Libertarians don't have the first idea about poor people.  They think and by extension their constituents think that poor people are lazy, stupid and black.  They're wrong. An overwhelming number of poor people are white just like my parents. No matter what their race, poor people are proud and hardworking but need assistance getting back to middle class, to help their kids get ahead and maybe retire before they're 90.

Stripping 4 Billion dollars a year from SNAP is a infinitesimal amount of the Federal Budget. This is a symbolic shaming of poor people for being poor.  They claim that people need to take responsibility to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  How in the world are poor people supposed to do that when like my parents they go through times that they have no bootstraps left?

Congress and especially Teaparty conservatives might see all of this as excuse making for poor people.  As my dear departed mother once said, "for being so called leaders, these idiots in Congress are a poor excuse."

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