Morality and Poverty

There’s a lot of states trying to past regulations on SNAP benefit usage and I keep seeing some support for it so I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

This is your reminder that many SNAP recipients do not have easy ways to access “real” grocery stores, so gas stations and convenience stores are their only options. Maybe they don’t have a car, maybe public transportation is limited, maybe they live in a food desert. For these poor members of our community, gas station food may be their only option outside of going without. Let’s not forget that fact when we wax poetic about how potato chips and candy bars should not be allowed with the SNAP program.

(This doesn’t even touch on the fact that I don’t think it’s our job to be the moral police for the poor. But that’s another rant for another day.)

I’d like to follow-thru on my other rant.

This seems to be relevant as there have been some implications that people could afford healthcare if they didn’t buy things like iPhones. Now, of course, that was easily shot down when people pointed out that smartphones (and iPhones can be “affordable” depending on your contract, not everyone using an iPhone paid $600 for it) are the only way many people have to access online systems because they can’t afford computers or WiFi. Libraries are not accessible to everyone and CERTAINLY do not have forgiving hours of operation. So that tends to remind people that iPhones are no luxury items.

But it reminded me how much I need to rant about how it seems local governments are – more and more – trying to become the morality police for their poorest constituents. Whether it’s by policing whether or not they can smoke anywhere on the grounds of public housing or whether or not they should be allowed to buy steak with SNAP benefits. Everywhere you turn people are trying to use poverty as an excuse to enforce moral judgement on what people should and should not be spending their money and/or benefits on.

I see it when people post snarkily about the lady using WIC vouchers who was talking about just getting her nails done. Or when someone says, “I have to stick to a budget and can’t afford the nicest cut of meat and that person on SNAP just bought enough for her whole family!” We somehow see poor people and assume we have the right to judge the way they spend their money. Never considering that maybe the girl on SNAP just lost her job and she’s trying to keep up her appearances while she goes out on interviews.

I mean, in the grand scheme of where your taxes go, SNAP benefits are a very small portion of it. So trying to act like we’re “allowed” to police it because it’s “our” tax money is silly. We spend much more of our tax money on defense but we let the military decide how to spend that money. Therefore, we should leave the “policing” up to the people who WORK with recipients like social workers and leave investigation up the USDA. And if you’re using the “but we pay!” logic, then you should be judging whether or not old people eat fast food since you pay for their Medicaid or whether or not Joe Fireman buys an XBox since you pay his income or whether or not Mrs. Public School teacher gets her nails done since you pay her salary. I mean, we ONLY use this logic for the people who get the LEAST amount of our tax money.

It’s because they’re poor. And in some way “less than” us.

Breaking it down to that more general level, I just don’t get the idea that person A gets to judge the way person B spends their money simply because they make more? I mean. If person B works at McDonalds and person A works at an Ad agency, is there a valid reason why one gets paid more? Is it because the skill level? So then Person A gets to judge Person B because they have better skills? But what if it’s because they grew up in a family that could afford to send them to college? Then we’re saying the Person A gets to judge Person B because their parents had good jobs.

Do you see?

If we really try to break down the “why” of financial status and then assign moral judgement positions based on those standards the ground is super shaky because we’re basically rewarding class levels with power of morality and that is NOT the society I want to live in.

Why don’t we just not judge. And we leave it up to the USDA to monitor the food stamp program. And recognize that no amounts of cuts or increases in that small program are really going to affect middle-class households in the slightest. Maybe we consider the fact that being poor SUCKS. I mean, it REALLY SUCKS. I’ve said it time and time again, I couldn’t quit smoking until I had a stable income because SMOKING HELPED ME COPE. I also smoked pot regularly when I was poor, but haven’t had the desire since. Being poor is a struggle and if things like iPhones and steak for birthdays make you feel more normal? Then you take it where you can.

I just struggle to understand the WHY. Why are we driven to police poor people? I know people often use the excuse “to help the children” but truthfully, the best way to help kids is to dump money into free lunch and free breakfast programs. For many kids those are the only meals they get. Telling their parents they can’t buy potato chips just means they feel a little more isolated and left out when their classmates are eating Doritos by the bag in their homes. No one polices how I feed my kids. Did I earn that freedom just because I grew up in a home that encouraged me to get a college degree? I’m allowed to feed my kids pizza bites (which they eat regularly) and potato chips just because my husband learned how to program in college? I just really struggle if we get down to the nitty gritty – WHY? WHY? WHY?

But economic moral judgement has always sat wrong with me. I’ve mentioned before my theory about how when you’re poor, you live your life on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. You don’t feel safe. You have no esteem. You challenge to feel like you belong. Therefore you’re never able to reach the higher level of self-actualization. I didn’t think outside of my struggle when I was poor. I didn’t think about how to better myself or to improve my life. I was too worried about whether or not I was going to have to choose between the phone bill and the utility bill. So why do I want to FORCE poor people to try to live the BEST VERSIONS OF THEMSELVES when they’re not even living in a safe and secure environment?

I guess there’s not real order to this blog post. Hence why I called it a “rant” – I just really struggle when we break down the “But it’s taxpayer money!” argument why we feel the need to police the poor. Can we just do what we can to help ease the pain in their lives and recognize that helps our community as a whole?

Being poor sucks. More than I even remember and I used to live it. And I wasn’t even close to as poor as you could be. I had a safety net of my middle class family who would take me in if I couldn’t make it. People who come from lines of generational poverty don’t even have that. My safety net gave me the confidence to work through college because I knew another side existed. But if I hadn’t been raised in a middle class household, I might not have even bothered.

*sigh*

/end rant.

Breaking Down Legalizing Discrimination in SB 145 and HB 24

Now that the Alabama bill to allow for religious-based agencies to deny LGBTQ parents (SB 145 and HB 24) is getting more traction, I want to try to step back a little and walk through it to explain where those of us against it are coming from. Now – if you believe LGBTQ people should not be parents? Then move along. We are too far apart on this debate to even remotely approach each other.

But – if you’re undecided on this legislation for legal or moral reasons, let’s continue.

Protected Classes And Why They Exist

Let’s start first with the Civil Rights act of 1964. That’s basically where we defined “protected classes” of people who can not be discriminated against for that trait and that trait only: Race, Color, National origin, Age, Sex etc. There are other groups like people with disabilities who became a protected class with other legislation like the Americans with Disabilities act. These laws are how – at a federal level – our country takes control of BIG items to protect BIG groups of people. For example, because of the Civil Rights Act, states can’t decide to discriminate against race with things like Jim Crow laws.

Basically, our federal government acknowledged that some people’s unalienable rights were being denied for things they could not control. (Although religion is a protected class too and that’s a little tricky, but everything else is of the “can’t control” variety.) And the Federal government protects the constitution so they needed to step in. This way, instead of fighting this with tons of small state laws across the country in the judiciary, they made a larger federal ruling.

Now…let’s take those protected classes and introduce one of them to a similar situation. Let’s say a religion said that African Americans were unclean and unfit to parent white children. (Civil Rights Act was only passed in 1964, this is not that archaic of an idea to fathom.) So, obviously this religion could not send white children to those terrible black people. The government would step in and say, “No. Race is a protected class, you can’t discriminate on that basis alone.” Of course, now the agency could just say, “His home is not safe because the windows are painted shut,” instead. And essentially hide their discrimination. But at least the law would keep them from outright denying someone because of their disability.

And honestly? This happens all the time. People in marginalized communities often know there are deeper reasons when they’ve been denied something that relate more to race or sex or disability than anything else. But unless they can prove it, they have no case.

Fast Forward to the election of 2016 when LGBTQ groups were gearing up to win the white house and finally draft legislation protecting LGBTQ people in a protected class instead of constantly fighting legislation in every state trying to legalize discrimination.

And we lost.

So we’re back on the defensive again.

The one debate I would never enter, is if a person didn’t believe sexuality or gender identity should define a protected class. That’s usually where I start these discussions now that I’ve broken this law down a little. And the few times I’ve discussed this with people, if that’s where they stand, then we’re coming from two different places and while I acknowledge their stance, I could never understand it. And hopefully they can say, “Oh – we disagree on this law because we don’t even agree on who should be a protected class.” And then we walk away and can still be friends 🙂 BUT, since I believe they should be protected, then – just like how freedom of religion DOES NOT ALLOW people to discriminate against race – I don’t believe a religious freedom should allow people to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Legal v/s Moral & Ethical

BUT – maybe you would support it! Maybe you hope some day gender identity and sexuality can be protected classes. But you believe that since they are not protected now, then these laws should pass because religious freedom trumps discrimination for non-protected classes. Then we can move forward with our discussion.

Let’s step back one more step further. The Civil Rights Act was needed because there were attempts to legalize discrimination, especially in the Jim Crow South. Now, because the CRA was not in place, none of those segregation laws were illegal, but that doesn’t mean they were right. That’s why people fought to draft the Civil Rights Act…so they could attack discrimination with a giant blanket draped across the nation.

So, the next thing would be to say, “But just because you might be able to prove the discrimination is LEGAL because of freedom of religion, is it RIGHT?” Jim Crow laws were legal but were they ethical? Or moral? Because what this law would be doing is legalizing discrimination. Right now? Faith-based adoption and foster agencies can deny applications for a million other reasons if they want to be secretive about why they’re discriminating, and they DO. But once it becomes legal, they can be BOLD and UP FRONT about the WHY of the declining of applications. They have emboldened those views and every kid in that agency knows: LGBTQ are not fit to adopt or parent us. AND GOD FORBID any of those kids grow up questioning their sexuality or gender because they have been told at a young age that LGBTQ people are less than.

And yes – LGBTQ people can go somewhere else – but do you know how long it takes to work through the application processes? And what if they are trying for a specific child who would be a good match. Maybe even trying to legally adopt a relative that is in the foster care system, or a friend of the family. What if the specific child they want is being cared for by an organization who is legally allowed to turn them down? And why should they have to go somewhere else? Should the black family go somewhere else to avoid the racist agency?

So I would allow you to maybe argue the legalities of it since LGBTQ people are not protected yet on a federal level, but I would not understand why you could support it on a moral level. I’ve allowed you to say, “But it’s legal!” And acknowledged that you are right, in a way. I still don’t think it’s moral or ethical and since people fight against laws on the ground of morality and ethics all the time, we can agree that stance is nothing new. Look at all of the Pro-Lifers, they argue against the legality of abortion all the time on moral and ethical grounds, there’s plenty of precedence.

The Necessity Of Laws

Then I also ask: But is it necessary?

Show me some statistics where faith-based agencies denying LGBTQ families has helped the children? A lot of times legislation is drafted JUST to please constituents, NOT because it’s necessary. This is one of those things: These representatives can come out on the side of Religious Freedom which is the big rallying cry – even from the President right now. If your state went D.T. this election, then “religious freedom” legislation is totally going to win you favor with all of those voters. I live in one of those states where if someone can run and say, “I passed SB 145 or HB 24 which was a religious freedom law!” then they win tons of bonus points.

But is it necessary? I mean – with and without this legislation – which hurts the children more? If we leave things as is and faith-based agencies have to hide why they’re denying LGBTQ couples? Or if we make it LEGAL for them to point-blank deny based on sexual identity or gender? In which situation do kids get harmed the MOST?

Obviously the answer is that if you legalize denial for gender identity and sexuality, then the children lose most of all. Either because they’re denied a possible opportunity at a safe and loving home, or because they grow up believing LGBTQ people are somehow less than. So even if you can argue the legalities of the law – stop and ask yourself, “Who is it hurting and who is it helping?” No children are harmed when a faith-based organization can’t discriminate against LGBTQ people, so we are passing a law that is not necessary to protect children, and can actually end up hurting them by removing loving families as options in their adoptions or foster homes.

My family

I don’t know my kid’s plans in life. I know he wants to get the hell out of Alabama when he graduates in May. So this probably won’t affect him. But damn, he’d be a great Dad, and the bottom line of all of this is that I find it terribly unjust that someone could deny him and someone he loved the right to foster or adopt simply because they were in a homosexual relationship. I can talk a powerful legal/moral/ethics game and can argue protected classes versus religions freedom until I’m blue in the the face. But in the end? I’m just sad that someone wants to make it a legally protected action to tell my kid – the kid who practically helped raised his siblings – “Nope. You can’t adopt or foster this child because you’re gay.”

Civics at 41.

I’ve always felt a little late to the “politics and civics” game as I didn’t really take away much usable knowledge from my elementary school career and I got pregnant right out of high school. Fun Fact: It’s hard to pay attention to the world around you when you’re trying to raise a tiny human, get a college degree, and pay the bills. The Clinton/Lewinski scandal and fallout is just a blip in the background of my memory of a very challenging chunk of time in my life.

They first election I guess I voted in was Gore/Bush and I was unhappy my guy lost, but I didn’t really keep up with much else. 9/11 occurred just a few months after I graduated college and got a “real” job – giving me much more practical peace of mind allowing me to explore current events and politics a little more. I guess that’s where my “learning” started. I was more involved in the Kerry/Bush election but I’m not entirely sure I really started to understand our Executive and Legislative branches until the 2008 election.

Let me break it down for you: I think maybe that was the first year I really understood the whole Senators/Congressmen thing. Like who represented me and the power they had at the Federal level.

IN 2008.

(This level of honesty is difficult because y’all – THAT IS SO SAD.)

Since 2008 I’ve definitely been learning a lot about what’s going on at the federal level. I keep up with legislation and learned how much a bill can change as it works it’s way through committees and negotiations. I find that the most depressing part of all of this. It’s hard to 100% support something no matter WHO you are because if it actually passes (meaning it had to have at least a tiny bit of support from the opposition) then it has amendments tacked on to it that go against the wishes of the party pushing the legislation. So, depending on what side you’re on, you either find a bill you supported become tainted, or you suddenly find yourself wanting to support a bill you hate. It’s never as easy as, “Senator X voted against Veteran’s Assistance!” because there might have been a tax added to that bill that would have angered his constituents or there might have been an amendment that took away freedoms he vowed to protect or SOMETHING. I became very jaded the more and more I learned about how legislation actually got passed.

2017 – however – is the year I learn about state/local politics. Did you know we have state-level senators and representatives too? I DID NOT! I AM DUMB! Well, now I do. I’ve actually spent time digging into maps to find the ones that represent me only to find out the MAPS LIED and I was wrong. I finally got my new voter ID card and now I officially know my districts so I can find my state senator/representative. I went to a delegate forum the other night and met many of them from this area. I took Nikki too, in hopes that maybe she’ll learn to understand this at a younger age than I did.

I have registered at this site to monitor legislation in my state. I have built email lists of committee members. I following lobbying groups who are taking citizens to events at the capital. At age 41 I finally have an understanding of how legislation works in my state and THAT IS SUPER SAD.

I’m just letting you know that it’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to get involved. It’s never too late to start attending legislative forums and lobbying Town Halls. Don’t be scared! Find issues that matter and find the big lobbying groups for those issues and get on their email lists and follow their Facebook pages. Human Rights Campaign has an Alabama office that is currently fighting against legislation allowing for discrimination of LGBTQ parents for foster/adoption and I post actions regularly on my Facebook page. I think our outrage helped stall the House version of the bill, but the Senate one is still on the move and we’re hoping today’s calls/emails will stall that one.

At 41 I’m finally getting involved at every level that I can. It’s never too late.

Bringing Humanity Back

I don’t argue with the idea that maybe we need better ways to monitor/protect our southern border to prevent undocumented immigrants from coming over. I get that, I really do. Especially living in Alabama. That’s not a debate I jump in on unless it involves building a wall, because I will NOT stand for that ridiculous expense. No way.

BUT.

I do feel like I need to bring the humanity back to the people living here illegally. I cringe at discussions of people in my community like they’re vicious animals or hopeless criminals. Some of the discussions I’m seeing indicate people have stopped thinking deeper than the surface “CRIMINAL!” label of their undocumented neighbors.

I keep seeing phrases like, “Just come over here the right way like millions of others do.” Or, “There are legal ways to become citizens, do that.” And I just feel like it demonstrates a lack of understanding out our undocumented immigrants from South of our border end up here.

First of all, many are uneducated and poor and living in crime-riddled communities or in war-torn countries. The “right channels” that people from other countries use to get here, usually involve college admissions or job applications. Or maybe travel visas. There is no way our poorest neighbors to the South can find any foothold that “right channel” way. But many are desperate, many have family already here, many know FOR A FACT that if they can get here and get to a community of Mexicans or Latinos (depending on their country of origin) they will be exponentially safer. And many have chosen that path instead of the “legal” path of just staying in put where they’ll die crime or in poverty. Across our border they see hope. They see safety. They see a future.

So of course they come over illegally.

You would too.

So that’s how many have gotten here…a decade ago in some cases. Many have had children here who are citizens. Or, many came over with small babies in tow, babies who are now in high school and know no other culture but ours. Many fear being deported (or worse, stuck indefinitely in some sort of ICE detention center) so they stay hidden. They don’t seek medical assistance if they’re sick and they don’t report crimes.

These are the undocument immigrants that people are thinking of when creating Sanctuary Cities. They are basically saying, “We know you’re here and you’re undocumented but – for the sake of our community as a whole – we want you to seek medical assistance and report crime. So, we won’t come after you simply for being undocumented.” And despite accusations people like #45, There’s no evidence that sanctuary cities see an increase in crime. Sanctuary cities are simply a way of saying, “We have more important things to do right now that waste resources on hunting down people who have committed no other crime than just coming here illegally to try to find a better/safer life.”

Looking at undocumented immigrants like they are criminals is being pragmatic, sure. I mean, they are, right?

But let’s look at them as HUMANS. Imagine what you would do in their shoes? If you knew someone already here who could help you get set up with a job, wouldn’t you rather come here than stay in the crime-riddled, poverty-filled, dead-end situation you’re in before? I just feel like we’ve lost our empathy when discussing undocumented immigrants in this country like they’re animals.

This is not about keeping people out, like I said, that’s a different debate. But people who have been law-abiding while they’ve been here, why are we using resources to get them out? I guess if you really wanted them to leave, the more humane thing would be to punish the people who hire them so that they don’t settle into our country as easily. But, just sending out raids to hunt them down and send them to ICE detention facilities – some who will stay there for SIX YEARS before being deported – seems contrary to the good of the community or of humanity in general.

I just think we forget to look at actual stories. Just like with “Welfare Queens” we tend to take the worst example and paint with a broad brush and assume everyone is like that worst example. And they’re not. I’m not saying there aren’t criminals and there is valid debate on what to do with undocumented immigrants – even in sanctuary cities – who commit minor crimes like driving without a license. In some states, profit was being made by jailing these people in cases of racial profiling. Others became burdens on an already burdened immigration court.

I don’t think this topic has any easy solutions, but I do think it’s important not to forget that something like 60% of undocumented immigrants have been here over a decade. They’ve escaped crime and war and poverty for 10 years and then we’re making it a priority to kick them out even if they’ve done nothing illegal after entering our country? Or at least nothing illegal not connected with being here illegally? They’re not voting no matter what #45 tells you. They’re just trying to keep their families safe and enjoy a better quality of life than they were previously destined for.

Which is really what we’re all trying to do, right?

I just don’t like humanity being ignore in any conversation. I don’t like personal stories being overlooked. Most of the people here illegally were just screwed by being born into poverty in a war or crime-riddled community. And they saw a way out. I can’t imagine a way we wouldn’t all have done the same. So I have a hard time with the judgement of these people as criminals who need to be banished when I see them more as people quietly looking for safety. I just don’t like the conversations like these people had other options to do it the “legal way” – because our “legal way” of being here legally caters to the educated and to people with money. Most of the people here illegally come here so their kids could be educated, and if their kids being a classroom with my kids teaches my children about empathy and diversity? We’re all better for it.

The Story Of Rich Kim v/s Poor Kim

Nikki has been doing some practical math exercises in school that prompted her to ask to go grocery shopping with me so she could practice calculating things like: “Which is cheaper per ounce, big box or little box?”

Now – before you grumble about how irritating it is to hear your friends subtly reference their smart kids…know this: She really just wanted a free cookie. Also? She got bored after the first calculation.

BUT!

That first calculation prompted a conversation about how often you can save by buying in bulk. And that’s when I jumped at an opportunity to give a lesson about poverty. I honestly jump at these opportunities a lot, which is why I thought I’d share my basic story with you.

The Story of Rich Kim & Poor Kim


When it was just me and your brother back in my college days, sometimes I would go to the store with $20 to buy all of the groceries I needed for the week. That’s when I was Poor Kim. I almost ALWAYS noticed that it would be cheaper to buy the bigger size of something: Milk, Cereal, toilet paper…the necessities…but I never could. I only had $20, so I bought the 4-pack of toilet paper, the half gallon of milk, and the small box of cereal.

[Edited to add: Poor Kim always bought generic. Big K brand was Poor Kim’s jam.]

Now…think about that over, let’s say, a whole year. I could have saved 45 cents in about 2 weeks if I could have bought the bigger box. What about the bigger milk? And the bigger cereal? How much could that have saved me in two weeks to buy a bigger size? Or in a whole YEAR? So take Kim from 1998 (Poor Kim) and Kim from 2017 (Rich Kim) and look at how much money they each spent per ounce of cereal, per gallon of milk, and per roll of toilet paper and what will you find? (Not accounting for inflation, of course.)

You would find that Poor Kim spent A WHOLE LOT MORE on cereal and toilet paper and milk over the course of a year than Rich Kim did. Rich Kim spent LESS than Poor Kim. Think about that.

THIS is what I mean when I say, “It’s a lot more expensive to be poor.”

Poor Kim never could fill up her gas tank when the prices were low. Hell, I never filled up my gas tank at all. At most I would have a half of a tank unless my Dad had come in town and filled it up for me. [Edited to add: Poor Kim had it good because she did not suffer from generational poverty. Many people never had parents who could fill up their tanks.] I also didn’t have the time or the energy to shop around for sales. I also didn’t have the time to cut coupons. And if I did have time? I was too tired and too depressed from being poor all of the time.

Also – things like tylenol for fevers? That’s something everyone has to buy for their kid at some point. Even if I bought the generic version, it was $4 out of my $400 paycheck. That’s 1% of my paycheck for Tylenol. That’s A LOT. The average person in Huntsville brings home $1100 on a 2-week paycheck. For that person 1% would mean the same Tylenol cost $11. But it doesn’t, it still only costs $4 for that person too. The person making the average won’t have to stress so much about buying the Tylenol, but when your brother was little? It was a tough thing to need.

So compared to percentage of your income, being poor is A LOT more expensive than even being average, or middle class. Not only can you not take advantage of bulk pricing or sales at certain times, but everything is a bigger percentage of your income so you’re probably going to have to make tough decisions about whether to pay bills on time.

Remember how we went to Shoe Carnival when they were having the Buy One Pair Get The Second Half Off sale? So you got TWO pairs of shoes for $60 instead of $80? Well…Poor Kim couldn’t ever afford to do that so instead I would buy one $40 pair and just wait until they fell apart and buy another $40 pair. So, same amount of time passes, same amount of shoes worn out, but Rich Kim spent less than Poor Kim because Rich Kim has enough buffer in her budget and income to take advantage of sales.

Just think of the few ways I’ve explained right now that Rich Kim can spend less money in a year than Poor Kim. And these are just a few of the ways. There are many more. And how is that fair? Poor Kim is the one that needs to spend less, but she spends more.

And this is why Rich Kim pays her taxes and smiles. Rich Kim doesn’t mind being in a higher tax bracket than poor Kim because Rich Kim remembers how much it sucked being Poor Kim. Rich Kim knows “Fair Tax” isn’t actually fair, so she supports a tiered tax system so that she shoulders more of the burden of paying our police and for our road repair than Poor Kim has to.

It’s the least that Rich Kim can do.