Friday, December 14, 2012

Everyone has an Opinion on Welfare

The subject of welfare is often a touchy subject, and one close to home for me, because, if you've been following along, I have been unemployed for over a year now and have been on food stamps that back in August got cut down to only $16 a month. Most of the time, I have huge guilt over buying food because it means money is coming away from a bill. I struggle to pay my medical bills and to pay for prescriptions because I didn't bother to apply for MaineCare, knowing I'd either be denied or waitlisted. It's extremely stressful, to say the least.

Being in my position, it's very hard to keep my mouth shut when people voice opinions about how welfare and assistance programs should be run. And these people, 100% of the time, are securely employed with no risk of ever being in my position. I won't lie, I had my opinions, and still do about some things, but I think some people don't stop and think about the people they actually know that are on assistance, or they throw in a quick "but not you, you're different!" to assuage the situation, as if it really takes back the harm that was done. For someone as liberal as myself I have a surprising amount of right-wing Republican friends, and they always seem to be the most vocal. I hate to pick on them, but I wrote about it before that being Republican is becoming synonymous with hate, and it's a very disturbing trend. It seems so much more prevalent with social media that at times, it's hard not to tell my friends just what I think about them when they post ignorant, bigoted, biased things without real thought.

It's so easy to look at a person and say "well no wonder they're poor," or "they're so lazy!" or "look at all the luxuries this person has, and on welfare!" but let's stop and look at the bigger picture. A friend of mine shared a graphic and I thought it exemplified a point I wanted to make quite well. Yes, it's a bit glurgy, but I can relate to it. On a personal level, I have a Coach purse, a large 40" TV, an Xbox, a bluray player, and more shoes than any one person needs, as well as high-end cosmetics. My own brother-in-law tried to give me grief over these things when I was unemployed, to which I replied I bought them all when I was still working and making good money. Yes, I do have an expensive cell phone and data plan, which are a necessity, because not all of my job hunting/networking is done from home. Yes, I just got a tattoo while unemployed. Know how I payed for it? Can and bottle returns (actually, that's how I paid for the TV). So, it's easy to judge someone on the superficial things without knowing the whole picture. And when I shop for food, I paw through every package of meat and buy bare minimums to get me by, and when I can, I buy things that will freeze well. I have learned, in this past year, to make money and food stretch. It has been a hard lesson.

Am I bitter about some aspects of public assistance? I would be lying if I said no. In fact, socialized healthcare frustrates me to no end, because I feel as if I am seen as nothing more than a uterus instead of a person. Remember how I didn't bother to apply for MaineCare? That's exactly why. Publicly-funded healthcare is always doled out to women with children first and the rest after, and that's monumentally unfair. Are my health needs any less than someone who is breeding more burdens on the state? But there's me, poor-shaming and victim-blaming. But this is my hot point of contention, because one of my biggest stresses are the medical bills I can't pay (lab fees are expensive) and the multiple prescriptions I can barely afford. It's hard for me to be sympathetic to someone with insurance complaining about doctor's bills, when I pay everything out of pocket with no help.

I don't wish loss of job on many people (yes, I've said people should be fired, and meant it, I won't lie about that) but if there was a way I could have people live in my shoes for a month, with my budget, I would. Suddenly losing an income and having to live on less than half of what you were making, with no insurance or any other benefits is humbling and life-changing. You learn not to be wasteful. You learn what are necessities and what is not. You learn to prioritize. And, when you have friends in the same boat, you network. You share info about who has sales going, who's hiring, and who has prescription plans for the uninsured. And when you go on public assistance, you learn who people are, just from their attitudes. And that's probably the saddest thing of all.

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