Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's the deal with government assistance?

I know about as much about government assistance programs as I know about the logistics of squid sex, but something was brought to my attention the other day and I feel the need to make an uneducated rant about it.
My friend at work was telling me about the house her sister rents.  It has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a basement and a fireplace.  It's located within walking distance to freakin Target and Kohl's and Food Lion, and 5 miles to the highway.  Monthly rent is $1400.

For comparison, in Baltimore County, the $1400 townhome is in an okay/up-and-coming area, or you can rent a fully renovated 2 bedroom apartment in a really nice area, or you can rent a whole single home with a yard and a few abandoned cars and kittens in a shitty area.

Section 8 gives you something like $1200 a month toward rent.  $1200.  That's a nice mid-sized apartment in a nice area, a really decent townhouse in a decent area, or a house with room to ride your Big Wheels in a shitty area.  Or you can pay more on top of that $1200 to live in an amazing house or in an amazing area.

The part that bothers me is the part where someone who, for whatever reason, can't support himself is living in a sweet house with The Works for free or damn near next to it while someone like myself, who is not far above the income eligibility for government assistance, is living in an unfinished, leaky house and no money to even put up some walls in our useless upstairs bedroom.

Now, I'm aware that I made the choice to buy this house instead of renting an apartment in an even cheaper area and saving a few hundred dollars a month (if I was lucky).  And I also don't want anyone who needs assistance to have to live in unsafe conditions.  But it seems to me that assistance programs shouldn't give one a lifestyle superior to that of someone barely supporting herself.  Otherwise, where's the incentive to move up in the world and get off assistance?

It's like someone is trying to make their own ice cream, but they don't have any cream.  So then someone comes up and is like "Hey, I see you could use some cream!  How about I give you this whole freezer full of Ben & Jerry's Everything But The instead?  I'll keep giving it to you every day, but only until you can get some cream.  Then you'll have to go back to making your own plain vanilla ice cream."

Fuck vanilla that I have to work for, I want free, delicious Everything But The in me.  (I almost went with Chubby Hubby instead because it would have sounded sooo much funnier, but Everything But The is actually relevant *sob*).

So then the other problem is people figure out how awesome Ben & Jerry's is, and they figure, "I give my fair share of money to the grocery store every 2 weeks, I'm entitled to some of that Ben & Jerry's!"  And they start lying about their income to the government agency people.  I know this because more times than I can remember, if I've been complaining about being poor, I've had people ask me, "Why don't you just lie and say you're single and then only use your income?"

First, I don't even fucking understand how this is possible.  I forgot to pay my AMEX for a few months and it eventually went to collections.  I'm phone-anxious so I ignored all the calls, so they tracked down and called my different-last-named sister in Bumfuck, Montana.  When they finally got a hold of me, without telling them one single bit of information (not even my goddam name, I swear), they knew exactly who I was and where I lived, where I work and how much I make bi-weekly, what bank I use, and all sorts of other creepy mofo information.  You mean to tell me this collection agency knew all that about me, and whenever I'm on a new website it has ads for Baltimore-specific things waiting for me, and the US Army could find Saddam Hussein in a fucking hole in the middle of the dessert, but the welfare line can't take 5 minutes to confirm residency and marital status and income?  Seriously??

Second, have people no pride?  We have at times gotten pretty desperate for money, and I have indeed considered faking a separation with Joe so that I'd be eligible for food stamps.  But then I'd think about how Joe was a smoker, and how we have cable and internet, and I had an iPhone, and all sorts of other insignificant things that add up, and how there are people who are living in legitimate poverty and aren't eating dinner just so their kids won't go hungry, and how I'd feel really guilty taking money that should be going to them.  I just don't get the sense of entitlement people have.  Instead of keeping up with a lifestyle we couldn't afford, Joe ditched the cigarettes (side note: FINALLY!  GO JOE!), I ditched the smart phone, and soon we may ditch cable (but never my beloved internet) and one of our cars.  I can't be dishonest and take government hand outs when that money could be feeding another child or buying a school a textbook.

Anyway, like I said, I don't know how it all works.  Maybe $1200 for housing is a fair amount and I was just living in seriously underpriced rental units my whole renter life.  Probably the part I'm more annoyed by is that people so openly work the system with no qualms about it.  Even more likely, I'm just jealous of that dirt cheap, sweet ass three bathroom house (all the potty trained people in my family could be pooping simultaneously!).

Still, something is wrong when it is not at all difficult to cheat the government out of a significant monthly check.  Or worse, when the government apparently doesn't really give a fuck who they're giving money to or for what (because I noticed the crab shack down the road takes food stamps... if they start giving out gas too, Joe and I are getting "divorced").

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