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.