The Dole, Relief, Welfare, Safety Net…
The series of articles beginning with “Occupy the Safety Net” [Jan. 2] and moving from topic to topic on that theme was exceptional. I enjoyed every sentence. The thing I found most amusing was an advertisement on page 45 for a T-shirt with The System Is Not Broken. It’s Fixed printed on it. A fantastic way to close the magazine for the night. Well done!
The articles in your “Occupy the Safety Net” issue make it strikingly clear that the recession has forced many thousands of people to rely on public assistance.
Having to ask for welfare is very demoralizing. In the early 1930s my father was unemployed for several months. (We were poor, although so were nearly all our neighbors.) By 1934 he had located another job. It involved hard work and long hours and didn’t pay well, but he did earn enough to provide clothing and food and to keep up the mortgage. Many of our neighbors weren’t so fortunate; but the creation of the WPA in 1935 did provide work for a minimal living wage for most of them. Even though they worked for that pay, the people in the program were looked down on by many for taking “government welfare.”
Through the years the safety net has helped families keep their heads above water. I found a poignant example of this in an essay written by a 21-year-old student at the University of Nebraska, in 1994, which appeared in the Daily Nebraskan. Today she is a newspaper columnist and book author. I have included it here [see below]. Politicians who believe their duty includes eliminating the safety net should read it.
WILLIAM J. WAYNE
Omaha, essay in the Daily Nebraskan
Sometimes I think they can tell. “They” meaning everyone, meaning you probably. “They” meaning professors and friends and prospective employers. Sometimes I think it shows in everything I do and say. In the way I walk and dress. Sometimes I think they smell it. Beneath my perfume, seeping out from my well-soaped skin.
Sometimes I think no matter how hard I study and smile and struggle, the poverty is still in me, rotting in my breath, devouring my stomach, burning in the back of my throat. In my eyes. And sometimes I think they can tell.
Because it’s still there. It will always be there. Keeping me on the run, making me think that if I sit still it will catch me again. It will catch me and hold me for good this time. That it will turn off the heat and take away my shoes. That it will empty my refrigerator and make my mother cry.
And so I run. I excel…. Out of fear. Fear is my motivation and drive. My muse. Because if I make everyone happy and pass every test, they can’t send me back. They can’t.
But it can. It can catch me. It can catch me, and it can catch you. Don’t ever think you’re too smart or too clean. Don’t ever think you’re too hard working.
“I don’t like welfare,” someone told me yesterday. I don’t like welfare either. I hate it. But I don’t know where I’d be without it…. My mother went on welfare when I was 8. My father left us—three kids, a pregnant wife—on a farm in eastern Nebraska. A farm with no phone. No car. No heat. No electricity. And a few weeks before they turned off the water. No nearby family to step in. No benevolent private sector.
We needed a safety net. And I thank God—and this state and this nation—that there was one. Being on welfare was hard. Harder for my mother than for me. The monthly check was hardly enough for a family of five…. But we were warm and safe and fed. Above all, we were together.
Now…for the first time in my life I’m not wearing used shoes, and I own more than two pairs of jeans. I’m two semesters away from a degree. I have a decent shot at being middle class. After a few years on the job, my taxes should pay back those welfare checks, food stamps and school lunches.
I’m hearing more and more about welfare. I hear important men and women talking about trimming the fat from the budget. About setting loose welfare queens and cheats. About the government’s role. About waste. About orphanages. Welfare, it seems, is dragging our nation down.
But Aid to Families With Dependent Children saved my family. Welfare gave me a chance. Most people on welfare aren’t lazy. Aren’t dirty. Most people on welfare are children, children neck-deep in poverty. Children who already face more obstacles than they should.
And I don’t want them to fail. I want them to have the same chances I had. The same hope that maybe someday they’ll crawl out of poverty. That if they work hard enough they can get away. That if they study and smile and struggle, they will rise above it, beyond it. And maybe no one will ever know.
Spying on Eleanor
Beverly Gage’s “The Real J. Edgar” [Dec. 19, 2011] suggests that President Franklin D. Roosevelt admired the director’s “talents” at sleuthing, but I’m sure FDR would have been appalled to learn that his personal correspondence from his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, found its way into FBI files.
While researching the treatment of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War by the Army during World War II, I found the following memo in the files of the head of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade:
…FBI AND DIES [Martin Dies, chair of the House Committee on Un-American Activities] HOUND [deleted] IN GOVERNMENT WORK – WE ARE DEVELOPING A GESTAPO IN THIS COUNTRY. IT FRIGHTENS ME. —ER”
PETER N. CARROLL
Re Mark Hertsgaard’s “The Keystone Victory” [Dec. 5, 2011]: Oklahomans opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline shared in the national relief at President Obama’s decision to delay the pipeline. But for us the “victory” is short-lived. We are already threatened by plans for another pipeline, which could transport tar sands from Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries on the Texas coast—without needing administration approval. A company like Direct Energy could apparently accomplish this with little regulatory hassle by using an existing easement.
The problems with the whole tar sands cycle—mining, transport, refining—have not gone away and still need our attention. Destruction of the Boreal Forest for tar sands extraction robs the Northern Hemisphere of oxygen and carbon storage, and pollutes water on which the lives and culture of First Nations depend.
In “Pentagon Drawdown” [Jan. 30], we said Pentagon spending has roughly doubled since the late 1990s, not counting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should have said it does include the cost of those wars.