To all my sisters on welfare*

*Edited to add this observation from Shannon:

A long time ago, a rabbi said that those who are last will be first. I think he meant those who are last in your hearts will be first in heaven. The single mother who buys hot chips for her kids with food stamps, the illegal immigrant who processed your christmas turkey, and all whose brave faces have collapsed from the strains of modern life.

The last will be first unconditionally- there will not be a case worker determining eligibility for grace. Your old junker won’t count against you- your waning and waxing energy won’t be the reason why you do not receive grace.

In heaven, there’s no court of the worthier than you to judge if your place should go to those who deserve it more. In heaven, there’s no deserve. When you’re at the end of your rope, heaven throws you one without giving you an audit of whether you measure up.

The truth is that heaven can be earth if we love the neighbors we have and who they are today. No one can deserve the mercy and grace of others- they are only to be given freely.

I dedicate this song. To my sisters who had to buy cheap toys at the dollar store, the kind that will be broken by New Year’s. To all my sisters who stood in indifferent lines to get Toys for Tots, who sold plasma to buy a meager Christmas meal, to my sister who can’t afford a tree or ornaments. This song is for you.

The Twelve Days of Welfare

On the first day of welfare
the system gave to me
A worker that never did work

On the second day of welfare
the system gave to me…
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the third day of welfare
the system gave to me…
No call back
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the fourth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
A five hour wait
no call back
no fo-od stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the fifth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the sixth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No fo-od stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the seventh day of welfare
the system gave to me…
Maximus* and Workfare
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No fo-od stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the eighth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
Phony baloney job search
Maximus and Workfair
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the ninth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
“Motivation” meetings
Phony baloney job search
Maximus and Workfare
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No-o food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the tenth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
Ten angry talk shows
“Motivation” meetings
Phony baloney job search
Maximus and Workfare
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No-o food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the eleventh day of welfare
the system gave to me
A notice of decision
Ten angry talk shows
“Motivation” meetings
Phony Baloney job search
Maximus and Workfare
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

On the twelfth day of welfare
the system gave to me…
No child care service
A notice of decision
Ten angry talk shows
“Motivation” meetings
Phony Baloney job search
Maximus and Workfare
One termination
No ben-e-fits
A five hour wait
No call back
No food stamps and
A worker that never did work

Written by the amazing moms at Welfare Warriors.

*Maximus is just one of the private, wealthy corporations that now runs welfare in Milwaukee.
crossposted at Super Babymama

Author: has written 29 posts for this blog.

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20 Responses

  1. prairielily
    prairielily December 24, 2007 at 6:59 pm |

    On the twelfth day of welfare
    the system gave to me…
    No child care service
    A notice of decision
    Ten angry talk shows
    “Motivation” meetings
    Phony Baloney job search
    Maximus and Workfare
    One termination
    No ben-e-fits
    A five hour wait
    No call back
    No food stamps and
    A worker that never did work

    I found the last part and thought I’d add it.

  2. prairielily
    prairielily December 25, 2007 at 3:13 am |

    Hey, no problem. For some reason, it was hidden in the middle, a couple of songs down.

    I’m really enjoying your posts. :)

  3. shannon
    shannon December 25, 2007 at 1:35 pm |

    Best present ever! Except for the DS, though. hehehe.

  4. Thealogian
    Thealogian December 26, 2007 at 11:29 am |

    My sister, a social worker who is working on benefits right now because the system is totally underfunded, is not a “worker who never works”–she and her mostly female colleagues often work UNPAID OVERTIME to get your benefits to you as quickly as they can. They make under $27,000 to work well over 50 hours per week and to deal with red tape and “welfare reform” of the Clinton’s/Republican Majority of the 90’s which hasn’t helped anyone. My sister’s office is supposed to have at least 12 workers on staff and for a time they had FOUR. There was a hiring freeze under a Republican Governor and thus FOUR WOMEN had to do the job of TWELVE. So, fuck you and your song about “workers who never work”–these women are working damn hard and they are committed to making sure that your children have a warm place to sleep and food to eat. So stop placing blame on the social workers–if you even remotely had an idea of how hard they work and how many rules and regulations they have to balance in order to serve their clients honorably you could never have posted that incredibly rude and hateful song. I believe in benefit programs and especially in making sure that no one goes hungry or unsheltered in this county. Your aggression and frustration is understandable because the system is set-up to be aggravating and taxing–which is why so many who could benefit from these programs don’t and why often “con” artists do effectively work the system to make multiple claims (for example of fraud) in multiple states–they learn the rules and learn how to most effectively manipulate the workers and their supervisors. But your aggression is mis-directed. You repeat “a worker who never did work” twelve times–that is the statement compounded and
    reiterated , yet it does exactly what the conservative governments of the past thirty years have wanted to achieve most–blame social workers, teachers, and civil servants and ignore the policy makers who create the dysfunction. So, fuck you, I reiterate and learn who your real enemies are–because they aren’t the workers.

  5. antiprincess
    antiprincess December 26, 2007 at 1:04 pm |

    thealogian – ever actually stand in your sister’s line? or one of her co-workers’?

    if not, how would you know, really? if your sister weren’t your sister, but instead your caseworker – if you were just one file in the gigantic pile on her desk, do you think she’d treat you with kid gloves, or even any basic human dignity, or utter bureaucratic indifference?

    as earnest and sincere as your sister and her colleagues might emerge from their degree programs, I can only imagine how ground-down and demoralized they might feel after a few years of being completely unable to actually help. If I woke up one day and realized that there was NO WAY I could actually do my job effectively, I might turn into a Worker Who Never Did Work my own self.

    I can see why you’d take up for your sister. that’s what sisters are for. that’s groovy.

    But Kactus makes good points, and aiming “fuck you”s in her direction doesn’t even come close to solving the “Welfare Problem” as it exists.

  6. annalouise
    annalouise December 27, 2007 at 1:44 pm |

    To vere this into a more productive place:
    Kactus, in your time as a welfare rights activist have you heard of or experienced any successful attempts to organize caseworkers and welfare recipients to work together? or have you experienced any unsuccessful attempts and could you share some insight as to why they failed?
    I’ve heard that in the 1970s there was some positive work done in getting caseworkers and recipients together but a lot of that was helped by policies that encouraged welfar recipipients to get college educations and become social workers. Those programs don’t exist anymore.

    It’s something I’ve been thinking of alot lately, as a woman who works in the non-profit world. The social service and non-profit fields are so heavily female and the people who have to deal with social services and non-profits are also majority female, that it seems like creating real solidarity between social workers and their clients could do some amazing things.

  7. Hayley
    Hayley December 27, 2007 at 2:36 pm |

    What about the moms who never did work? It seems you’ve missed the point of welfare reform: to keep people from ever obtaining “years of experience” with welfare. No one deserves other people’s money, and just about everyone in this country has a sob story they could share full of extenuating circumstances that validate their inability to care for themselves and their children. Fortunately for these people we live in a society that obligates people to share. The problem is that everyone thinks they are the only ones who deserve some help, and they think they are entitled to getting it as quickly as possible at the expense of everyone else. You think the government should just give people money without checking you are who you say you are? The workers who sit for 50 to 60 hours a week at a computer making sure you have food to eat and clothes to wear while you sit at home watching Oprah should always don a smile?

    You’re right…they are the front line people; people who are literally taking money out of their checks and handing it to you. Your caseworker is being taxed to pay for the social security check your child receives, the housing development in which you live, and the food stamps you just bitched about. So how about you coming in with a smile next time, and make your caseworker’s day. Tell them thank you, and I guarantee you will be the only one that day- maybe that week- to say it.

    No one can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but welfare’s purpose is to give you a leg to stand on, not to serve as sole provider for your family.

  8. piny
    piny December 27, 2007 at 9:18 pm |

    You’re right…they are the front line people; people who are literally taking money out of their checks and handing it to you. Your caseworker is being taxed to pay for the social security check your child receives, the housing development in which you live, and the food stamps you just bitched about. So how about you coming in with a smile next time, and make your caseworker’s day. Tell them thank you, and I guarantee you will be the only one that day- maybe that week- to say it.

    Taxes are not charity. They are money that a nation spends on itself–in this case, to make poverty less damaging to its children and their parents. Kactus has the right to complain when she and her family are treated with disrespect or callousness that isn’t simple fatigue–if nothing else, it’s not good for this social safety net we’re all paying for.

    If you’re really motivated by a desire to keep things running smoothly, why devote so much energy to attacking a woman for perfectly reasonable frustration? You could be volunteering, and then you could get all huffy when people don’t show you the proper gratitude!

  9. Magniloquence
    Magniloquence December 27, 2007 at 9:49 pm |

    Kactus, in your time as a welfare rights activist have you heard of or experienced any successful attempts to organize caseworkers and welfare recipients to work together? or have you experienced any unsuccessful attempts and could you share some insight as to why they failed?

    I was thinking the same thing. (I’m sure my Google-fu would be helpful here, but I’m at work and about to have to go. Do forgive me for the lapse in research… I hope I don’t say anything too stupid as a result.)

    It seems like… if not a ‘natural’ alliance (too many structural and historical factors actively pitting the groups against one another for that to be the case), then a logical one. Decent conditions for caseworkers (reasonable caseloads, reasonable hours, acessible resources, better training, competitive salaries etc.) would pretty directly translate into better service for those assigned to them. Better service, of course, would help speed people through what they need to get done, which makes it easier to get one’s life (back) together (after all, a pre-scheduled appointment that happens when it’s supposed to happen is manageable with a job; “sit in a chair for eight hours and hope to get called” isn’t), which would probably significantly reduce burnout (you’re being productive! you’ve got what youneed to do your job! people are getting helped because of you!).. and back and forth and so-on.

  10. Magniloquence
    Magniloquence December 28, 2007 at 12:36 am |

    I tend to believe that the powers that be–and with welfare reform the powers are usually faceless corporations and enormous non-profits like YWCA and Goodwill–depend upon keeping that suspicion going between caseworkers and clents.

    Yeah, I think that’s probably the case. Both because it works better if all the participants are against each other (you can say you’re providing more units of service if you overwork your caseworkers and underserve your clients; you get to look good as a corporation while saving money, and nobody can do much about it), and because those narratives of value are easily internalized.

    I also think, along those lines, that it’s built into the system. In a lot of treatment contexts, it’s built into the way services are provided that the client is by definition untrustworthy, shiftless, stupid, and so on (after all, why else would they be needing your services?). It’s built in at every level – from the paperwork you have to fill out (if there are plenty of questions about drug use and unsavory behavior, it’s not hard to start associating those things with your clients) to the required house visits (or check-ins, or counseling sessions, or drug tests…) to the way things are funded. (One of our contracts, for instance, now includes requirements for six-month checkups to secure funding (really reimbursement) for a client… in a treatment context where being able to track a client to the end of their allotted time is a rarity, let alone being able to find them after six months. If that’s what you have to do to make sure you get paid, how easy is it to slip into hating ‘those people’ for having unstable lives that make your job difficult?)

  11. a person
    a person December 28, 2007 at 5:40 am |

    the reason welfare workers and welfare recipients don’t knife each other is the same reason strippers and stripclub waitresses don’t knife each other. well, not exactly the same, but certainly pretty similar.

    the perverse symbiosis isn’t quite the same, but i trust the parallels reveal themselves.

    when you potentially make less than welfare!chick with all her benefits (which can sometimes be the case), your only comfort is that you have a degree and a job taking care of resource hogs like welfare!chick. you’re the one with dignity, self-respect, integrity, etc, etc, left. you didn’t give it all away for ‘easy money’.

    in some ways it was easier when the MSW work was solely the province of well-off women who didn’t need the token salary. women who do need the salary entering the field, in not being much different at all from the women collecting welfare– it’s just so much worse because they know exactly how close they are to being in that line, too.

  12. antiprincess
    antiprincess December 28, 2007 at 11:26 am |

    The workers who sit for 50 to 60 hours a week at a computer making sure you have food to eat and clothes to wear while you sit at home watching Oprah should always don a smile?

    I thought the main job of the worker was to figure out ways to say “no” to getting you food to eat and clothes to wear.

    The system, as I understand it (and I am no expert), is set up to make sure you get the barest minimum of help, which will diminish over time, until you get no help at all. The system is designed to give the least possible amount of help to the fewest possible people for the shortest possible amount of time, so the humiliation and punishment is built right in as a way to discourage people from even asking because the answer is supposed to be “no”.

    I’d hate to have to deal with someone who bounces out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to spend all day denying people basic human necessities.

  13. antiprincess
    antiprincess December 28, 2007 at 2:47 pm |

    in some ways it was easier when the MSW work was solely the province of well-off women who didn’t need the token salary. women who do need the salary entering the field, in not being much different at all from the women collecting welfare– it’s just so much worse because they know exactly how close they are to being in that line, too.

    maybe that’s why workers are so disrespectful/mean/contemptuous – maybe they think poverty is contagious, and so they have to put as much distance as they can between themselves and those who need help.

  14. Mmmm, indoctrination. « Feline Formal Shorts

    [...] … yeah, like that’s going to happen. This isn’t just a problem with us (after all, it’s an external sample, it just happens to look like the things we use), it’s a problem with the entire way that substance abuse (and the cluster of related problems that my agency also deals with) is handled in this country. Because of the history of the field, a lot of Christian doctrine is tacitly or explicitly written into The Way We Do Treatment. And yes, even without that, the entire way we provide services (yes, in general, for pretty much everything) is disempowering to the clients and often serves to set up unecessarily antagonistic relationships between providers, clients, communities and organizations. (Like, say, we saw in the welfare thread at Feministe.) [...]

  15. Hayley
    Hayley January 21, 2008 at 12:15 am |

    Every one of the complained about the clients–you could hear the contempt for anybody who needs welfare just dripping like venom through their words. that contempt is obvious to those of us who have spent hours sitting in those plastic chairs waiting for the benefits we deserve. It’s pretty easy to tell when people hate us.

    No one hates you. They hate the attitude of entitlement you carry with you to their office.

    When you can raise 8 kids without a job while I work all day to make it possible, I’m not gonna lie, it pisses me off. When I’m putting off having children of my own because I am so concerned with making sure your children are okay, I’m not gonna lie, it pisses me off that you can have such contempt toward me. It pisses me off that you can sit on the internet and post cutesy little songs about how I don’t work, while I am, in fact, seeing more people in one day than I’m supposed to be seeing in a month. Because I do care about your children. I guess that’s the problem. Most of us do this job because they care about your kids, not so much about you.

    Too many of us came from the same damn situations you did to worry about you.

    By the way, I got paged by law enforcement tonight. I just got back from a home where a 10 y/o boy was raping his 5 y/o sister. He was molested when he was 4 and has been through every program imaginable to deal with his behavior, but he doesn’t stop. Maybe I was too busy dealing with them to make sure you brought the correct documents to your appointment. My bad.

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