Yesterday, as I hopped onto my laptop to bust out some early morning work, I was greeted with a rather unpleasant article: Lewiston Mayor Wants to Publish Names, Addresses of People on Welfare. (For reference, you can read his Letter to the Editor, where he outlines what he’d like to see happen, here: http://www.twincitytimes.com/columns/enough-is-enough-mainers-have-a-right-to-know-how-their-money-is-spent)
Are you fucking serious?
Now, maybe my outrage was caused by a little bit of bias; growing up “underprivileged”, I’ve seen the struggles of poverty first-hand. I was fortunate – even in the toughest of times my family somehow managed to pull it all together. None of us are raging alcoholics, drug addicts, and for the most part we’re all doing okay. We’ve managed to make due with a life of little, and come out alright.
I guess you could call us an ideal welfare family; we received benefits because we actually needed them, and used them accordingly. But that doesn’t mean that things were easy.
Having little, and relying others does irreparable damage to your self-esteem, your self-worth, and your pride. People make assumptions about you, treat you like a second-class citizen. You feel like a second-class citizen. At best, you’re judged and looked down upon; at worst you’re harassed, bullied, and belittled.
I honestly feel like a large majority of people view those in poverty as birds – as in Please Do Not Feed the Birds. That we’re relying on handouts, that we’re lazy and opportunistic, and that if you give us even the tiniest crumbs, we’ll become a never-ending nuisance.
It’s obvious that the Mayor of Lewiston has a Please Do Not Feed the Birds mentality about those in poverty. We’re nothing but a nuisance to him. We’re not people, we’re birds – mooching, resource-hungry birds – draining public resources and doing no good. His solution to his bird problem is to publicly shame and humiliate those receiving benefits, in the hopes that it will inspire them to make changes in their life.
He’s fucking wrong.
So many people in poverty are there because of shitty luck – or shitty choices – and are trying their damndest to redeem themselves. And so many are born into poverty, and don’t know any other way of life; they need education and motivation, not humiliation.
When you’re already lower than low, and you already feel worthless, the public humiliation and potential harassment that would come from his proposed website will do nothing but make things worse. People who are in poverty are already twice as likely to suffer from depression – do you really want to cast them as some sort of pariah, humiliating and ostracizing them? That’ll be great for their mental health.
The same way that screaming and berating people who are overweight won’t motivate them to lose weight, humiliating the poor isn’t going to motivate them – it’s going to enforce the idea that they are second-class citizens, and is just going to make them less ambitious, less motivated, and less likely to succeed. It’s not a public service to the tax-payers, listing the names and addresses of those on welfare; it’s a public punishment for those who need help.
Unfortunately, the Mayor of Lewiston doesn’t only want to punish adults who receive assistance – he wants to take it out on their children, as well:
Additionally, we will be submitting a bill similar to one in Massachusetts, prohibiting the state from paying benefits for any additional child born after the recipient has been accepted into General Assistance.
Let me get something perfectly clear here: It is never a child’s fault for being born into a bad situation. Children should never go without simply because they were born. All this will do is stretch resources, leaving the entire family (and the child’s siblings) in a worse situation, and doing irreparable damage to the child’s psyche – no child should ever feel like a burden.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone on welfare is a saint, and these mindsets are completely unjustified. Yes, there are people who do cheat the system. People who take advantage of it because they’re lazy, drug-addicted, or irresponsible. And maybe they deserve the public shame.
But, as a person coming out of a rather difficult life, I know the mental and emotional damages that those in poverty already deal with on a regular basis – especially people who try their hardest, but just can’t catch a break. It’s emotionally draining, and strenuous, to go through, regardless of whether you’re an adult or a child. We’re already downtrodden, already ashamed, already feel like a burden; adding to it will do nothing but break us down more.
It’s not motivating, it’s degrading. And fucking wrong.