Happy New Year!!! Welcome back for the continuation of my systemic oppression series. First of all, thank you to everyone who completed the survey. You all have spoken loud and clear, and I plan to honor your request. Out of all the surveys completed, 100% of you stated that you wanted to a four part series on systemic oppression instead of the three part series I originally planned. I liked hearing from you all, and this seems to be something you guys are really interested in, so I will provide you with the fourth system which I believe oppresses the African-American community. With that said, sit back and enjoy, we will be on this informative ride for two more months.
Today we will be talking about the welfare system, which has many names in America: "government assistance, public housing, general assistance, food stamps, welfare to work, medi-cal," and the list goes on and on. Not only is the welfare system called many names, it is also viewed very differently. Some view it as a crutch, others view it as unhelpful, and many may view it as a helpful system. I personally feel that it is designed to be PORTRAYED as helpful, but it actually can be oppressive for many African-Americans, which I will explain further in a minute, but first let me briefly tell you what the welfare system is for those who don't know.
The welfare system is a program put into place for low income individuals to receive some form of financial assistance from the government. This financial assistance can range from help with food, childcare, income, and even housing. In order to receive this assistance, you must meet the income requirements that the government sets, and these requirements must be below the poverty line. Sounds really great right? WRONG! And I say wrong based off of how these requirements are strategically placed to eventually work against you. Let me shed some more light on this and why I feel the welfare system is oppressive.
I asked my client in shock. This was one of those moments where I simply could not hide the emotion in my face, and that was okay and validating for my client. This was the second time I heard almost the exact same story from two completely different clients. These two clients had nothing in common, except for one important detail, they were both Black. And I was almost certain that if this happened to them, it had happened to so many more African-Americans seeking help and support. I was appalled at the unethical, and what seemed to be teetering on illegal information my client shared with me. And what made it worse? This was the same information I had heard from another client a few months prior. How was it even possible to allow someone who is actively suicidal to leave the emergency room? Not just any emergency room, but a psychiatric emergency room!
#1 - I'm stuck and I can't get out!
Many times when you begin to receive welfare benefits, these benefits are a relief and are found to be helpful. There is a sense of relief that you are able to pay your rent, get food, and/or find childcare. But as time goes on, one begins to realize that they are stuck within a particular income bracket if they want to continue receiving the benefits. The minute you fall SLIGHTLY above the poverty line, your benefits are stopped. And usually they are stopped abruptly. Now many of you may be thinking that this shouldn't be a big deal. I mean, you move above the poverty line, you should be able to financially support yourself right? WRONG! Let's think about this further. When looking at the federal guidelines and what is considered poverty in 2019, this is what I found. . . For a household size of one, a person will most likely qualify for welfare assistance if their income is $12,490 or less. To give you a range, let's look at other household sizes. For a household size of three, a family will most likely qualify for assistance if the annual income in the home is $21,330 or less; and for a household of eight, a family may qualify if the annual income is $43,430 or less. Now for those of us looking at these numbers, if we are being raw and unapologetic, it is difficult to survive in a household size of one on an annual income of $43,430. Especially if you live in California or another expensive state.
What's the point Narissa? You may ask. Well. . . my point is, if you get assistance from the welfare system and you make a mere $100 more than the poverty line ANNUALLY, your assistance stops. This is flat out oppressive! The oppressive trap here is the inability to survive under these conditions, leaving many people feeling financially trapped given the state of today's economy, and the struggle to climb up the financial ladder. If we expand our thinking a little further, a single mother with 2 kids needs to make much more than $21,330 to support herself and her children. If she happens to have a spouse, the idea of assistance can go out the window because most likely their combined income is well over $21,330. But let's look at this from the cultural stand point of the African-American community.
We all know that African-Americans often do not receive the same salary as our white and non-black counterparts, which contributes to the systemic oppression of the welfare system. Not only are we be bumped off from receiving assistance, we do not make as much money as the rest of America, so we end up stuck living in poverty. And for the record, poverty is not just the federal standards of what qualifies you for financial assistance. Poverty is trying to get to a place where you don't need the assistance and can still survive the economic inflation that continues to shoot through the roof in this country. When you're Black in America, the fact that you do not receive equal pay can literally be the difference between feeding yourself or feeding your kid. Because although you are "working class" your annual income of $30,000 to $50,000 is not enough to support you and your family in today's economy.
#2 - Nothing in life is free!
The sad thing about the welfare system, which adds to its oppressive nature, is that many times it turns out to not be assistance at all. What do I mean by that? Well, the welfare system can sometimes operate like a loan you borrowed and have to pay back. Far too many times my clients have come in stressed out about the fact that they are receiving letters requiring them to pay back several months of income assistance, all because they got a job and did not "report" their income "immediately." Let me remind you that the welfare system often requires a person to work to receive many of the systems benefits. What's even more frustrating is that when you do "report your income immediately," the welfare system does not document your income immediately. Sometimes it takes months for them to input your paperwork, which can then take weeks for the system to recognize you are making additional income. This results in the welfare system blaming the person receiving assistance for not reporting their income, all because their employees are under staffed and over worked, causing the inability to process documentation as quickly as it comes in. Although this is not the fault of the person receiving assistance, they are now stuck paying back a system that was supposed to help them out of poverty, but instead is simply putting them right back in a poverty stricken situation.
Culturally speaking, even if you have proof of reporting your income on time, or turning in required paperwork, how do you think this would pan out for the Black person who is now told they owe the welfare system? Allow your imagination to run away with me for a second. Think about the Black person who works a low paying job, where they may be experiencing microaggressions daily. Think of them trying to complete their daily routines that are separate from work: going to school, taking care of children, taking care of family members, and dealing with whatever other stressors life may bring. Do you think they will have the time to fight the battle of providing proof that they turned in the required paperwork? And if they do assert themselves and have the time to go to court and present their evidence (which is literally the process), do you really think no judgement will seep into the court room? Judgement that this is just another angry or aggressive African-American. Or worse, the believing of the stereotype that this is just another African-American trying to get over. But how are we getting over on a system that ultimately gets over on us and keeps us down? And what result do your think these judgements and stereotypes will have on their case? Just think about it.
#3 - Abrupt endings!
Now let's say one is lucky enough to report their income and it is entered into the system in a timely manner, your assistance comes to an end really abruptly. Many times you only have a month, MAYBE two, to prepare for not receiving any assistance. I was reminded of this cruel truth, and how stressful it is, when my client came in for her session one day. My client was multi-stressed, which is unfortunately the story of many Black women. She had received a notice in the mail that her food stamps AND childcare assistance would stop the following month. She was understandably frustrated, but more so frustrated about the removal of her childcare assistance, because she was "doing what they required to receive the childcare." What welfare required was for her to work a certain amount of hours in order to supplement her childcare cost, which she was doing. But now she was at risk of losing her job because she had no other means of child care. And even if she had another means of childcare, she wouldn't be able to afford it. There was no explanation for her, no way to fight for continued services, and she was a week in on waiting for a return call from her case manager. She was sadly stuck.
Her dilemma reminded me of my past experiences with the welfare system. For a quick second, I remembered being in her shoes, wondering how I would make it. That feeling of hopelessness and frustration, that lingered in my mind and took up space. How was this even possible? All because I was trying to better myself! But now, it seemed like I was being punished because I was making progress. It was such a messed up feeling, a scary and uncertain feeling, a feeling hard to explain and understand unless you had been through it. All I could do was hope that my next words would give her some encouragement. Encouragement that may sound cliché, but encouragement that rang truth. Truth that I knew all too well because I had once been a recipient of housing and food services from welfare, and was forcefully kicked off when I found a job that earned $1000 more a year. I snapped out of my inward thoughts and memories, deciding to empower my client instead of letting her fall down the rabbit hole the welfare system was presenting her with.
I encouraged her to tap into the other forms of assistance she could receive that was not related to the welfare system. These forms of assistance included help with her electric bill from the electric company, and possible assistance with her phone bill from the phone company. We made a list of resources she could utilize, such as local food banks and non-profit preschools who offered free services or sliding scale rates. I assisted her in beginning a budget, and although it was tight, the majority of her bills were paid. I encouraged her that she would be able to make it without the assistance of welfare, letting her know that it may seem impossible, but that it was doable. I reminded her of the coping skills she had learned so that she could reduce her feelings of stress and anxiety in between session. By the time she left the session, she seemed a bit more encouraged and determined.
It is this type of encouragement and empowerment that we must instill in our clients, especially our African-American clients who receive benefits from the welfare system. We must empower them to know that they are able to survive without assistance. I mean let's be honest and raw, we survived the middle passage, slavery, civil rights, and we are still surviving today. So help your client tap into their strengths, abilities, and resiliency. Be informed about local alternative resources available in your client's area, and do your research about the ins and outs of how the welfare system works, so you can help your client not be oppressed by it. Until February...
Snippet of Next Month's Topic
"I'm so glad they showed that!" I told my husband with excitement. "I think it is so good that they have used this platform to speak to this issue so that America can see how we feel and what we go through." I was simply over joyed at what I was seeing on the tv screen. I felt that it was great to air this on a local channel and a popular show. So many people so easily forget how this system oppresses Black people, and I was glad that this network supported this brief, but powerful, scene on their show. It got me to thinking even further about how oppressive the _________________ can be.
I'm very excited to announce that the 2018 edition of my newsletter is available now. You can purchase it on my website. This edition includes all of my newsletters from 2018, PLUS three brand new topics never released, IN ADDITION to an appendix that has practical ways you can be more culturally aware. So head on over to my website and purchase your copy.
It has been a while since I posted a YouTube video, but I recently talked about my cultural opinion regarding "Modern Day Jim Crow." Although I am not directly talking about systemic oppression, I am indirectly talking about the ways we are discriminated against, which adds to us being oppressed. Take a watch and comment on the video to let me know your thoughts on this topic.
Feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends, family, and colleagues.
Remind them that they can sign up for my newsletter by clicking on the green button above this text.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.