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My brother Kenny and I, me on the left walking sister Rhonda to school on her first day.

Welfare Anecdotally

I was born to  parents who were alcoholics; my earliest memories were or dysfunction and poverty. One of my earliest memories was watching my father beat my mother while my eight-year-old brother; Gene could only stand there with clinched fists and gritted teeth. My journey didn’t start in beauty.

My mother’s last straw with my father was when he tried to pimp mom out to make some money. My mom may have been an alcoholic; however, she wasn’t a hooker. When I was four years old my mom left my wife abusing, father– Excellent!

Mom, my two brothers and two sisters boarded a greyhound bus in Las Vegas and headed to my grandparents home in San Luis Obispo California. California had a wonderful program to help people like my mother out called Welfare, a safety net to help families in need.

After we lived with my grandparents for a year, my exasperated grandparents moved out, and let us continue to live in the house. White privilege if you will.

My mom told us not to tell anyone we were on welfare. I didn’t see any reason to be embarrassed because she had a good reason to be on it. I was proud of my mom for leaving my dad.

The years went by ~

The state of California sent my mom to school – excellent! Soon she had a high school diploma. After a while she obtained an AA Degree. This is when I believe things started to go awry.

Between welfare and the free rent from my grandparents my mother became comfortable and secure in our poverty. She had, in effect, married the state of California. Senator Phil Graham once famously said: “our safety net has become a hammock,” and my mom was auditioning to become the poster child.

In 1963 a wonderful man was trying to romance my mom, Gordon Bell had a ranch and with regularity took all us kids to spend time on the ranch. Gordon also often took us fishing, and to do other things.   Mom wouldn’t marry Gordon and also, didn’t need to, marry this wonderful man who wanted to be our dad.   When you are rebuffed enough you move along. Gordon did continue to take us kids on outings for years after.

Men would come and go, she wouldn’t marry them because then she would lose her welfare and the free college ticket for disadvantaged women. She got her BA degree in ornamental horticulture, at which time she concluded there was no money in arranging flowers, so she continued to get a Masters Degree.

Great right? Not so much. By the time she finally got her Masters Degree, all the five kids were all out of the house. This policy of unending education and the continuity of a welfare check insured we were in poverty in perpetuity.

What would have been better for the family would have been for the state to make her go to work after obtaining her AA degree. In the 1960s an AA degree could provide meaningful work. Any job would have moved us above the poverty level.

Oh you say, who would have taken care of the children? Well my older sister, nine years my senior, did until she got married at which time I became in charge of us latchkey kids at eight years old.   When my mom wasn’t in school she was in her social network in Alcoholic Anonymous.

We thrived as latch key kids, I at eight I could cook simple meals for my younger siblings, in that day and age we could do what we liked as long as we were home by the time the street lights came on.

Better than food stamps, EBT cards are a disaster.

In the early days welfare was just a check, later the commodities program came along. I understood it was free food for poor people and I didn’t expect much and was quite excited at the generosity that peanut butter and jelly was included. Unlike many welfare recipients of today, I got it. I didn’t expect any more than to keep us reasonably fed.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest men ever once said: “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.” My mom proved him right as millions do every day.

It took me decades of reflection to realize this; in the mean time, many in my family followed my mom’s example into public assistance, and now her great grand children are in poverty on welfare. My two capable brothers easily conned their way onto disability this gave them the extra time to live irresponsible using and cooking meth for the children of others; lives that led too both of their early deaths by drugs.

My mom did eventually go to work, she put her masters degree on a shelf and went to work driving a taxicab as her welfare finally ended. I bet she could have started driving that cab in 1964.

It is a shame that those in need are baited into the trap, then become dependant on the bait, then metaphorically marry the provider. The provider, who only wants a vote in return.

Free isn’t free, the price is poverty.

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