Blogging While Blue is a progressive Democratic site that invites civil dialogue and discussion among readers. The views expressed by contributors to this website do not necessarily reflect our views however occasionally we share other opinions in the spirit of free speech. The post below is from a contributor who offers an interesting view on a bill currently before the Georgia legislature.
The Georgia State Senate this week passed a bill (SB 312) requiringrecipients of food stamps to complete certain “professional growth activities”, to be determined by the Georgia Department of Human Services. I became aware of the Senate bill in a phone conversation with my wife who was outraged by the bill.
My wife and I are committed liberals, but I fancy myself much more of a pragmatist. She was concerned that members of her family and those people with whom she has been close in the past were to be subjected to some form of humiliation: grovelling for money from the state and having to submit to GED classes in order to receive their pittance. It was the idea of adding insult to injury to which she objected.
I was much more sanguine. I believe the social safety nety is of tremendous importance. It historically has kept many millions out of abject poverty and has prevented the children of the working poor from going without the basics of food and shelter. With that said, I and my wife are first-generation middle class, as are most of the people I know. For this reason, we have known those that are a little less engaged in the outcomes of their lives because they have the safety net to fall back on. That is not to say that they are lazy or unenterprising per se. It’s that a culture has developed around poor schools, low opportunity, and disaffection that makes life on public assistance palatable.
From my perspective, it seems appropriate for the state to insist that some set of reasonable efforts be made to break the cycle of poverty and reliance on state aid. It is important to stress that this is not said to denigrate the working poor as it is an unassailable fact that those who request assistance, in the vast majority of the cases, really need it and are not inclined toward abuse.
My wife, at first blush, thought of her grandmother who is an 65 year old immigrant that speaks some english. My beloved spouse said, “there is no way my grandmother is going to do a GED class. She is 65!” That’s true. But as it turns out, she won’t have to. The criteria for which “professional growth activities” are required, being between the ages of 16 and 59, able-bodied, free of mental disability, working less than 30 hours per week, and not having obtained a high school diploma, don’t apply to grandma.
Her brother, who developed diabetes in his early twenties and is currently on disability, is a different case. While not able to perform manual labor, he does have the capacity to do productive work. His problem is that of the aforementioned cycle of poverty. He is in need of something to change the paradigm in which he has existed for most of his life. Maybe if the incentive structure were changed for him, he would make a different set of choices. It is possible that he could spend his time learning to be productive in the information economy.
It is possible that strengthening his reading and math skills will provide him the confidence to pursue work that has previously been beyond his reach. More broadly, it is possible that for those who have relied on public assistance that job training can provide them with the skills necessary to better compete in a world that seemingly has left them behind.
I think my wife’s initial concerns were actually with the bill’s authors and the Republican Party’s thinly veiled efforts to punish the poor with drug tests, forced abstinence classes, and other forms of public humiliation. It is difficult to separate the message from the messenger at times, but I take the bill’s authors at their word.
Purportedly, the bill’s authors want to help those on public asssitance by giving them incentive to pursue higher education in the hope that, in time, public assistance would no longer be necessary. With any hope, the bill will be implemented in a way that encourges those that have been left behind to aquire the skills to better compete without inflicting further degradation and humiliation.