A weary social worker writes:
I have had a ringside seat to the economic downturn this year. It is not an abstraction to me. The folks at the bottom are always the first to feel the pinch, when it comes. Clients of the agency I work at come through our doors every day requesting assistance with basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter and medications. As the year has progressed and New York State has chosen to repeatedly victimize its most vulnerable citizens, it has become more difficult to help people meet these needs. I have visited food banks with empty shelves, been told clients were ineligible for help when I knew they were and had to challenge these decisions. I have sat with clients while their applications for public assistance were reviewed by fraud investigators at social services. Our local social services department actually hired fraud investigators at the same time that it was laying off child protective workers demonstrating conclusively where our values lie and how genuinely mean spirited we are as a people. At the federal level Social Security routinely denies people eligible for benefits in the hopes that they will not reapply. Many people who receive benefits must hire a lawyer before social security will concede that they are indeed eligible. As the resources have become more limited, the level of scrutiny and inhumanity has risen accordingly.
I have, of course read about the rising unemployment numbers and the ensuing uptick in applicants for public assistance and food stamps nationwide like everyone else. It seems the chickens of Bill Clinton's (Best moderate Republican president ever)welfare reform are finally coming home to roost. We always knew that the flaw of his plan was an economy without jobs and here we are. The reform has no provision for an unemployment rate like we are experiencing now. Once again, our policy in practice serves to punish most harshly children and the elderly. Perhaps, it is time to repeal the child labor laws and begin allowing them to work 12 hour days again.
For nearly 30 years we have done our best to dismantle the safety net for the poor and struggling among us. I keep praying that we have reached the end of this folly. At 42, these policies are what I have known my entire work life. I dream about social service programs and rules that would treat people like human beings, rather than as an undesirable applicant to be culled out. I want so badly for us as a nation to stop punishing people for being poor, or elderly or a child of poor people. This holiday season was hellish as I watched scores of our clients navigate the realities of a holiday with nothing but further grinding poverty. Some days I am just weary from the strain of witnessing the suffering that goes on around me. It takes a toll that is more than physical, it eats away at the soul to see people ask for so little and receive far less.
As I contemplate how to pry a few dollars from these systems designed to humiliate and degrade my clients, already struggling with being social outcasts, chronic illness, drug addiction and mental illness I sigh audibly. I read of billion dollar bailouts and disappearing pallettes of cash as I ponder how to help a family with $400.00 so they will not be homeless in three days. I am so very tired.