Sep 6, 2007

The "type" of people who get public assistance

On Tuesday Casey Elliott of the Athens Messenger completed a three-part series delving into the lives of three families receiving public assistance in Athens County, Ohio.

There are about 1,400 people receiving such assistance in the county, and though this series featured only a few, it demonstrated an undeniable fact about the type of people who receive public assistance:

There is no "type" of people who get public assistance.

This myth about poor people--that they're lazy, unintelligent, uneducated, self-serving, or any other negative descriptor--is not only an inaccurate and unfair generalization. It's also, from what I've experienced and from what Elliott has demonstrated, usually the opposite of characteristics visible in those who've found themselves in poverty.

Countless unforeseeable events can and do lead intelligent, generous and hard-working individuals down paths that end in destitution. A serious injury, a plant shutdown, a sick family member or a house fire are just a few examples of extenuating circumstances that push families from "just making ends meet" to sucking up their pride and asking for assistance.

This is often the hardest decision the head of a household ever makes. Many view seeking public assistance as an admittance of failure, a recognition that they can't take care of themselves or their families. Would you be able to walk into Job & Family Services and ask for money? Would you be willing to jump through the hoops that welfare reform established, the work requirements and probing questions that are designed to prevent fraud but also make it extraordinarily difficult for deserving families to get assistance?

We at Job & Family Services see the faces of poverty every day, and can vouch that the circumstances that bring them to our door are numerous. Those who live in poverty do have some responsibility for where they are and where they’re going, but their situations aren't entirely within their control. Poverty has been pervasive in this region for decades, and the scarcity of good jobs, lack of affordable health care, limited education opportunities are just a few problems that fuel this persistent issue.

We applaud Elliott and the Messenger for putting names and faces to the often anonymous and overlooked poor families in Athens County. Her objective description of these families makes it a little more difficult for welfare opponents to make sweeping generalities of those on assistance that invalidate their needs and further stigmatize them.

Reanna Stoinoff, community relations intern

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here, here! Reanna Stoinoff, my hat goes off to you. Personally speaking, I know as a former professional person involved with children and families, determinations of disability, involuntary hospitalizations of individuals being part of the process in determining their care via their guaranteed individual rights and obligations, and many other legitimate considerations in a society eroding civil rights and civil liberties certainly requires 'the body of thought' involving an "ethic of care" in recognizing that anyone from all stations in life may experience a time of distress. To never allow a voice of distress reach my ears in vain nor allow a hand seeking aid to go without a response is finding good in every obligation we have to one another. I appreciate you Reanna and your object of a 'critical thinking' journalist to provide insights into the Truth.