19 December 2014

the war is on poor people, not poverty

I remember being a kid and reading LBJ (note: this is Lyndon Baines Johnson, and if you thought I was talking about LeBron James, you should hit yourself in a delicate region for me) discuss the War on Poverty. I remember watching his speech in US History, and being enthralled with the passion of LBJ as he spoke about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and that seemed to be capable of motivation of action.

Turns out that the War on Poverty, transitioned over time, became a War on People in Poverty, which ended up being a de facto War on Marginalized People of Color in general, and a War on Black specifically. How do we do this? In more ways than you can imagine, but I'll just mention a couple of them here and now, and if I know myself, some of these will be discussed more at a later date.

Let's keep it real: people sell drugs. There are a couple of reasons behind it, and for most, it's money. You need it to live, and in a lot of places, money is hard to come by, and legitimate money is especially hard to come by. Multiple studies have indicated that, given identical applications, it harder and takes longer for Blacks to get job offers than whites, and that even whites with criminal records have an easier time gaining employment than Blacks without a record, so it needs to be pointed out that many who don't have jobs find themselves in a stacked market- well stacked against them market. And if you need money to live and you can't get a job, you have to move towards more nefarious means of generating capital, and the most effective means of doing so a lot of times is selling drugs. So in some worlds, the reason to sell drugs is a lack of options: let the baby starve or sell drugs, let them turn off the heat or sell drugs, live on the streets or sell drugs. [Note: this is not to say that I'm for drug selling, but it is to say I am for babies not starving or having to live in a car]. But in lot of states, this choice can lead to devastating implications.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 placed a small, seemingly harmless stipulation of anyone receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds would receive a lifetime disqualification for a conviction of a drug offense. This means that, if a member of a household is convicted of a drug offense, that means that all members of that house are now ineligible for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program) and for TANF (which is key to obtaining Section 8 housing- a subsidy that allows poor families to live in housing facilities- so they can not live on the streets). But remember, not everyone has access to the same marketplace, so not everyone will be eligible for a legitimate means. Also, this allows for a world where the responsible party of the house may not be involved in a scenario, but a member of the house may be. So for example, Grandma is the person who pays the bills and she has no idea her grandson is selling drugs. But when he gets popped for selling drugs, the FAMILY gets hurt. So Grandma gets kicked out of her Section 8 housing, and no longer has access to SNAP benefits. If the function of welfare is to provide some sort of Safety Net, then it seems almost criminal to, when people have been determined to be most at need, to pull the rug from under their feet. Now some might say that those who take drugs shouldn't be allowed to get benefits, and some even think that recipients should have to drug test in order to get the benefits: 1) the evidence against it's necessity is devastating, as way less test positive than the average population would if tested, and 2) it's probably illegal if really tested, as Florida recently found out.

But what does this all really mean? The implications of this are pretty devastating from a legal standpoint. When you commit crimes in this society, and you're convicted, you serve your time and once you're done, the implications of that action are supposed to go away. You've paid your debt to society. But with welfare recipients, you're doubly jacked- as they can test you to determine whether or not you get benefits (which, if you have a job, you pay into, regardless of your ability to access them- seems a lot like Taxation without Representation, and I think we fought a war over that) and if you're caught you're PERMANENTLY BANNED from accessing these benefits- so regardless of the need, you're left out in the cold. This seems to reify a cycle of poverty that we spoke of ending with the War on Poverty. Oh, I forgot, that changed to be a War on People in Poverty. Seems a minor semantic distinction, but inevitably it's huge. It also says "if you're on the margins, and you can't get your Horatio Alger on, then you're smooth out of luck- and if we catch you selling drugs, you can lose your benefits."

Prostitution. Sex Slavery. Murder. None of these will lose you benefits. But a drug felony, in your house, even if they're not YOUR drugs, can have you removed from the Safety Net system for life.

Seems like people who have gone to selling drugs might need that net more than most.

And it seems fucked to take that from them.

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