Don’t Feed the Poor

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South Carolina’s Lt. Governor Andre Bauer made some totally asinine statements at a town hall meeting the other day. Because I can’t believe what he said, I have to quote it verbatim:

“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

He then continued:

“I can show you a bar graph where free and reduced lunch has the worst test scores in the state of South Carolina. You show me the school that has the highest free and reduced lunch and I’ll show you the worst test scores, folks. It’s there, period. So how do you fix it? Well you say, ‘Look, if you receive goods or services from the government then you owe something back.'”

AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain
AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain

As examples of what people should have to do if they receive public assistance he cited having to attend parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. That sounds reasonable until you consider that it’s the rare person who is receiving straight welfare these days. Food stamps and free and reduced lunches make it possible for many working parents to make ends meet (if that). My children qualified for reduced lunches when I was holding down a full-time job. And since I was working the graveyard shift and sleeping during the day, I couldn’t make it to parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t involved in my children’s education.

People who hold views like Bauer’s assume that people receiving public assistance are sitting around doing nothing. Or worse, doing drugs (Bauer also said that they should be required to take drug tests). He stereotypes them as uninvolved, uncaring parents. It never occurs to him that it might bother them to be on public assistance. He implies that they are ungrateful and that they don’t feel a sense of obligation to make the most of their lives, that they just needed a leg up for a while.

Bauer might insist that he meant people who don’t work at all, who have plenty of time to attend parent-teacher conferences and who shouldn’t have enough money for drugs in the first place. But usually when people on public assistance don’t work at all, it’s because they can’t. It makes me crazy when people seem to think that welfare recipients are just like them, only lazy. That they have had the same start in life and the same resources (access to education, adequate food, shelter and clothing, health care). That all they need to do is straighten up and fly right.

They don’t realize that those who receive goods and services from the government do so because it’s the only way to give them a decent chance to better themselves. And that usually doesn’t even mean reaching the level of the middle class. Even with help, they still make up the working poor and the lower middle class. These are not people who are buying houses in your neighborhood. They’re lucky if they can get any housing at all.

They’re also lucky if they get enough to eat. But to hear Andre Bauer tell it, we should give them even less. Then maybe they’ll die off and stop being such a burden on society. Bauer apologized for his remarks but said that they were taken out of context. I say that they were poorly-thought-out but truthful glimpses into the mind of a man who doesn’t deserve to be in public office, let alone governor of South Carolina. I hope the voters make their outrage known when they go to the polls. But that’s assuming that they are outraged.

God, I hope so.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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