Budget cuts have hit the most vulnerable families. The dream of academic achievement fades with access to the education we needed to step out of poverty. Thousands of students on welfare and attending the community colleges in San Diego are left out, wondering what to do next.
Recently, I visited Public Consulting Group, a private firm that serves state and local health and human services programs, to learn what requirements students need to satisfy to continue getting benefits after the semester ends in May.
“What about if you start working?” the case-worker responded. “There are a lot of jobs out there – what if you look for one? You cannot depend on welfare all your life.”
People have the misconception that once on welfare, you learn to depend on it, you don’t want to work anymore, and life is so fun. But if you ask anyone on welfare, they are going to tell you that dependence is the most stressful condition you can be in.
Welfare is not free. It forces you to fulfill 32 hours weekly in a case-worker-approved activity. As soon as we finish a semester, we must attend workshops to accomplish the hours required to keep our benefits. The workshops are meant to prepare welfare recipients for a job once the maximum five-year assistance ends.
But the benefits we get are not sufficient to recover from the difficult situation we are in. We have to juggle to spread the benefits over a month and there is nothing left to be saved – and the circle of poverty continues.
People go to the county for help, but we get case-workers that are not happy to see us. They humiliate, degrade and insult applicants. They can hide behind a system designed to overlook their mistakes, a system that is suspicious of fraud and that limits the way people can submit their applications.
As soon as you pass the metal detector, fear, hopelessness and tension are perceived among the people who have been waiting for long hours. Warning posters that show people who have committed hang on the walls, but the fraud that is committed inside is not exposed. Millions of dollars that could go toward creating jobs are spent prosecuting fraud.
Workers don’t realize that with the economic crisis, they might be the next ones to wait in line at the welfare office. So the unfair treatment continues. Perhaps what empowers them is the sign that reads, “the caseworkers are everyday heroes.”
But for those of us that are already in a system that criminalizes poverty, getting fewer benefits means our kids are not allowed to open the refrigerator because it can affect the next day’s meal. The way things are going, households with single incomes like mine are going to end up at the same place we were in when we first applied for assistance.