Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Food stamp fraud or survival?

Food stamp fraud or survival?

"Food stamp fraud" brings up the image of Ronald Reagan's apocryphal welfare queen, and the Des Moines Register tut-tuts its disapproval. But they don't have tales of thousands of dollars or even tens of dollars.

Instead they exhibit the usual shock that comfortable people display when confronted with the unpretty details of the poverty lifestyle, the hoops people jump through to convert food stamp money into cash, where a jug of water is valued for its liquidity - not the liquid water but the ability to cash the bottle deposit.

Yes, some of the actions described in the article seem tacky to someone raised in the middle class. But the tone is condescending. Every example in the article is the stereotype of cash for cigarettes. But there's a few other things you can't buy with your food stamp cards. Like toilet paper. Or food for the pet that may be your only source of comfort, your only "luxury." (I've long believed that the need to live with and love animals is a deep an defining human characteristic, one that does not vanish with poverty.) Or a newspaper full of want ads. Or soap of any sort for your clothes or dishes or body. We support our weakest neighbors with just enough money to fill their bellies with sugar and starch, deny them a hand in getting a bar of soap, then look down upon them because they're dirty. We brainwash people with cigarette ads, berate them when they're too poor to sustain the addiction, and won't even pay for a patch to slap on their arms.

Instead of asking why people dump pure water to cash in a bottle, we should ask why society abandons people to a degree that they'll take such a step to meet their small needs, and how much dignity we demand that the poor give up for assistance.

2 comments:

Cathy said...

I appreciate your mentioning of Ronald Reagan whose real legacy is his calloused treatment of the poor. The true tackiness here is blaming people in poverty while overlooking the problems brought to Iowa by Big Ag and other special interest groups. I'm going to cancel the Des Moines Register this month in protest.

Anonymous said...

Survival comes to the fittest-- if they are ever to become or allowed to fit or just plain happy. Isn't that what Survival is? Love the article Deeth! Keep it up!