I wasn’t planning on writing a post today, but after receiving an email from ABIN-PA, I felt compelled. It seem that the Department of Public Welfare for the state of PA has eliminated its cash assistance program to about 65, 000 people as of August 1, 2012. WHAT?
Before you begin a round of applause, please consider a few facts here. The general cash assistance program provided its recipients with a whopping $205 a month at most. That’s right, I said $205. Could you live on $205 a month? Okay, so let’s say your food is free, because you receive about $150 a month in food stamps…..so at least you have peanut butter, jelly, and ramen noodles for a month. Then let’s say your medical expenses are covered, because you have Medicaid too. Fine. And I will even go one far-fetched step further and assume you have free shelter…..which actually might be a homeless shelter. Okay. How are you supposed to buy soap, shampoo,….. or if you are a female of child-bearing age god forbid, tampons? Tampons aren’t cheap.From where I stand, this cost cutting measure is going to end up increasing costs to the taxpayers, not saving money. Why, you ask? Well here is one reason why.
Picture this, you are a mom in the above scenario. You lost a bitter custody battle with your ex. You are disabled with a serious degenerative disc disease in your back and declared unable to work. Because of this physical disability, you developed mental health issues which now have left you spiraling downwards without a job or a home. You rely on the few friends and family that still are in your life and they help by making appointments with professionals that can help you. You dutifully attend your medical and psychiatric appointments and reach out further to the DPW for help getting back on your feet. You are assisted with food stamps, free medical visits, reduced prescription costs (notice I did not say free), and temporary homeless shelter. But the shelter rules stipulate you have to leave the premises by 6 AM every morning and return by 3 PM to get in line to secure your spot for that evening when the doors open at 6PM. You need a few dollars for basic human necessities, like transportation and the above mentioned tampons, but you no longer have ANY MONEY AT ALL. You wear out the resources of the few people who still remain in your life, as most of us are truly struggling financially now. Your mental health is deteriorating due to your situation. You feel hopeless. Lost. A Burden. Unwanted. Suicide becomes more than a passing ideation from time to time. What would you do?
The person I know in the above scenario did the only thing they could think of…..they started “selling” their medication on the street for cash to survive. I am in NO WAY condoning this behavior by writing this, but we do have to recognize that it is a reality. Now this person has less medication than the doctor felt she needed to get back to a place of wholeness, and the withdraw effects become clear to everyone around her. In a moment of clarity, she makes the decision to go to a psych hospital where she feels she will at least have food, shelter, and the proper meds even if it is for a short time. This will give her breathing space to safely gather her thoughts and get help making a plan to get back on her feet. But before she finishes going through all the red tape involved with getting a bed in a psych unit, she gets arrested for selling her meds and winds up in jail.
I ask you, which is cheaper…..$205 in cash assistance or incarceration? $205 in cash assistance or X number of days in a psych hospital? $205 a month in cash assistance or yet another motherless child growing up in our already complicated and isolating world?
I agree that the system is broken. I acknowledge that abuse of the system exists. I am painfully aware that state and local budgets are stretched to within an inch of rupture. But is this really the answer? The people affected by this cut are our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our friends, our loved ones, our lost. Can we really strip them of this meager help without providing solutions? I guess we did. How sad.
Come on people, we can do better.
- Welfare reform results: Few jobs, few state answers, refuge in a vacant home (mlive.com)
- Cash Benefits Ending For 61,000 Pennsylvanians (essentialpublicradio.org)