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Picking up knowledge, old-dog style

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I don’t mind stealing bread From the mouths of decadence. But I can’t feed on the powerless When my cups already overfilled.

— Temple of the Dog

While it’s pretty much true what they say about old dogs and new tricks, that doesn’t stop people from trying to pass along knowledge.

Such was the case when an acquaintance whose background is in social services attempted to answer questions I had about the so-called entitlements that have drawn the ire of so many as the country’s economy wobbles along on shaky legs.

And while it’s easy enough to understand statistics — although I’m of a mind that they can be manipulated to support pretty much any desired contention on either side of an argument — I was taken on a trip beyond the numbers, one that put faces and names in the place of percentages and dollar signs.

In the end, my heart was as heavy as it was conflicted.

I asked about the frequently derided “baby factories,” young mothers who “keep popping out a new welfare case every nine months and 15 minutes.” In response, I was introduced (anecdotally) to some of these scourges of modern-day America.

One stuck in my mind.

“This girl is 17 and has four children,” I was told. “Her father started raping her when she was 9, and her oldest child is his. She’s only now starting to understand the baby-making process, and we’re working with her to try and assure she doesn’t have more.”

I wondered how so many people who seemed to be well-off enough to fend for themselves — the ones driving those clichéed Hummers to the grocery stores to load up on goodies I could rarely afford and paying for them with WIC cards — qualified to receive such benefits. One case seemed to personify the stereotype.

“This woman is 52 years old and drives a nice-looking SUV,” I was told. “Her son bought it for her just before he was arrested for dealing drugs. She keeps seven of her children’s children in a home that’s barely big enough for two people, and all the kids are young enough to need permanent attention, so she can’t work.

“Every indication we have is that she’s trying her best to take care of these children, calling in favors from friends and relatives just to keep them from being taken away and put into foster care. Frankly, I don’t think she’ll make it, but everyone who has gotten involved in her case says they’re amazed she’s held out as long as she has.”

My questions ran the gamut: food give-aways, free phone service, rent-controlled housing, educational grants, government-sponsored transportation, health care.

In each case I was told of people or families who struggled daily to survive, who would have a much slimmer chance of doing so without assistance.

I admit I was somewhat frustrated. I submitted that most people — not all, obviously — had no problem helping those truly in need, generally women, children or disabled individuals who had fallen on hard times and were in desperate straits. I noted, too, that most Southern people tended to adhere to the Judeo-Christian tenets of caring for the weak, the widows, the orphans.

But, I contended, it was hard for people struggling to eke out a living to have to either hear about or even view first-hand some of the blatant abuses of programs financed through our tax dollars.

What I got in response was a long sigh. And then, that old-dog, new-trick education.

“Are there abuses? Yes, more than you could even imagine,” I was told. “For some, it is their job. They work harder coming up with ways to beat the system than they would at a regular job. We try to weed those people out as best we can, but we’re a limited number of people, working with limited resources, with a caseload that you wouldn’t begin to believe.

“We honestly don’t want people who don’t deserve them to receive benefits. But we’re also more concerned with keeping some of these children and some of these families — and we’re talking about the poorest of the poor, people who live in such filth and poverty that it would break your heart to see them — alive from day to day. Our priority concern is for the people who need our help.”

For one old dog, lesson learned.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

gotanyfacts 2 years, 3 months ago

Carlton... I am familiar with the conflict you feel. Over fifty years ago, my family made our annual visit to Albany to buy school clothes. I remember a man, with only one leg, sitting on the sidewalk with a cup of pencils. When I dropped my coin in the cup, Dad pulled me away before I could even get my pencil. He told me to save my charity for those at home. He did not mean home as in family, but home as in community where we knew the people, their needs and their efforts. No longer called charity, due to its "negative" connotation, welfare has moved further from the community level, leaving the "charitable" isolated from the feeling of helping someone. Worse yet, the recipients no longer recognize the source of the charity and any sense of appreciation has become expectation. Those receiving benefits have no idea that the store owners, the bankers, the policemen, etc. are responsible for what the government "gives" to them. I have no solution to offer. It may be that this generation of welfare recipients so strongly believes it is owed what they have been given that to change things will be impossible. At least until the weight of carrying them breaks the mule's back!

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Cartman 2 years, 3 months ago

Carlton... Nice job at perverting reality by posing extreme situations as common situations in order to make your point. I'm sure that not every young welfare mother was raped by their fathers. Likewise, the imprisoned drug dealer who bought his mother a late model SUV does not account for the majority of new Obama-mobiles in the grocery parking lot. There have always been folks who are underwater financially and in very dire straits. You do them a disservice when you allow the government to prop them up and thereby remove all incentive for them to help themselves or receive help from family, neighbors, or the community; none of which will provide meaningful help, while someone else is doing it. You not only perpetuate their poverty; you multiply it with each generation who knows no other way of life. You aren't benevolent when you argue for public funds to be spent for daily sustenance. Benevolence is spending ones own money for charitable purposes. I also liked how you dismissively threw in the "fraud", as if it were merely a minor nuisance. It is a travesty and no one is effectively policing it. But don't fret. You will still have bragging rights. Your side is winning. Detroit economics will prevail. BOTTOM LINE: An entire segment of society has expanded to become unsustainable, making little effort to help itself. And critisism of this insanity is twisted to be a guilt trip article aimed against the segment of society which provides; produces; and props the rest of the nation or Carlton is stirring the pot to sell newspapers.

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waltspecht 2 years, 3 months ago

Didn't an artical in the Herard quote $375,000,000 in State card fraud across the program Country wide. This is from people selling the cards and claiming them lost. The State has a program in place to stop the card and cancel it when it is reported lost. Amazingly, the card balence is usually zero by the time it is reported. The last use date the individual remembers is usually when the card was full, because that is the amount the new card will contain. If these hard working individuals trying to control the system can't control this, then what do they do? Yes, there are genuine cases of need, but I would also venture there are far more working hard at not working. The ideas to beat the system are out there for others to use. Sometimes I have been told case workers will tell applicants how to achieve the maximum benefit, even involving some things that may not be correct for them to be saying.

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