There is a vision of what an average welfare recipient looks like. None of it is pretty. Very little of it is accurate. When I tell people who I advocate for – people with autism and with intellectual disabilities, reactions usually come close to “oh that’s so noble..” it’s clear people believe it is a “good” thing to do, or someone tells me their own personal connection – their daughter teaches autistic kids or their neighbor has a son with down’s syndrome….you would be amazed how many families are touched in one way or another by developmental disabilities.
You might also be amazed that many of these folks rely on funds that flow through the welfare department for the services and supports they need. Need, as in, to survive. By services I mean a place to live, someone to help them with basic physical needs if they don’t have a family to care for them, or if their needs are more significant than their family can manage on their own. You might also be amazed that many of the same people who agree that working for people with disabilities is a “good” thing waver when they realize that good thing is directly connected to state dollars, as in, their taxes.
Our state’s been in the news a lot lately, for their “amazing” work on welfare “reform.” The story that isn’t being told is that among the thousands of people who have been trimmed “off the rolls,” thousands are kids; thousands are people with developmental disabilities who never knew there were new forms to fill out or a meeting to attend in the first place. Rather than respond with support or assistance, the state points to overworked social workers and a backlog of paperwork. Those facts are probably true, but they aren’t justifications for stripping a lifeline from someone in need. It all feels Darwinian and cruel.
There was a movement a few years ago to change the name of the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services, because that’s what it IS. Mental health, intellectual disabilities, drug and alcohol services, child care, home-based services for people with physical disabilities and people over 60 who aren’t ready for nursing homes… all of these lifelines are funded through “Welfare.” That’s a very different picture than someone waiting in line instead of working and getting handed cash. Cash assistance, or TANF, accounts for the tiniest percentage of Welfare dollars. Yet, that is the image that people point to the most.
I really, really appreciate this project, and the fact that Dresden is pulling together real people to tell their stories. And that these stories might change one or two minds about what welfare means, why its needed and the thousands of people and families it helps.
m. blogs about infertility, life after loss, the pursuit of parenthood at www.themaybebaby.com. Sometimes other topics, like this one, pop up too.
She tweets at http://www.twitter.com/MaybeBabyBlog