Welfare -- Not!: A Former GA Recipient Tells Why He'd Never Go Back on the Dole
It was a cheerless afternoon on October 31, 1991, at a local bus stop. I was on parole for writing bad checks and wondering where I could get a job that would provide me a sufficient income so I could afford my $350 rent, plus my utilities. I was existing on the meager monies I brought in by serving papers and by occasional freelance telephone installation and repair jobs. In a nutshell, I was trying to figure out how I was going to live my future as I was accepting personal responsibility, finally, for all my prior criminal deeds. To pass the time, I began chewing the fat with a woman when she blurted out, "Tomorrow is payday!" "Where do you work?" I casually queried. "I don't -- tomorrow I get my welfare check," she replied. "That isn't a paycheck!" I graveled, thereby bringing to a close any meaningful conversation. I have been on General Assistance, a childless adult's equivalent of AFDC, three times in my 39 years. It has been a losing proposition every time for me. In my early post-high-school years, when I was on GA, I was living at my parent's Carmichael home. At that time, I was unskilled and unmotivated. I had been in jail for some type of offense and was blaming the world -- you, her, him, everyone but myself -- for where I was at in my life. Since the GA program required me to work, the GA officials ordered me to report to offices in an outlying area from my town to do janitorial work. At that time, the local Regional Transit had not yet established the fine, multi-need transit service that exists today. I was unable to perform those tasks, as there was no public transportation to get me home at night. So, with the public transit system bearing the brunt of the blame, I was subsequently denied GA for failure to participate. About eight years and scores of life experiences later, I again found myself on GA. I resided at the Berry Hotel, an establishment that rents by the week. The hotel would receive my monthly GA check -- then about $280 -- cash it and give me my remaining $9 dollars back. It was that, plus some $70 in food stamps and a bus pass, that I had to survive the month with. In exchange for the loan, it is presumed that GA clients will become rich and be able to repay their stipend -- something that is not required of AFDC recipients. I performed the required hours of cut-rate labor to the county, dutifully applied for 25 jobs a month (none ever came through) and filled out forms. And were there forms.I estimate that the paperwork required just to get started "in the system" requires at least 20 human-hours of review by the appropriate staff. You had your "County Relief" application, food stamp application, residence forms, medical forms, past job history forms, etc. Then you saw a screening clerk. He made sure that you completed your forms properly -- that's all. It probably would have been quicker for him to help in the completion of the forms. Somewhere along the line, you saw a food stamp eligibility worker. He would ultimately tell you that you qualified for food stamps. He did that with a cursory review of your forms. After that, you saw your eligibility worker. He would tell you that you needed to go to the nearest Employment Development Department office to sign up for employment and check on your -- get this -- unemployment benefits. Yeah, right -- as if I'd be at the "last resort for the indigent" if I had worked the required five quarters in a square job to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Give me a break already. After a bunch of hurdles had been successfully passed, I somehow was "awarded my grant." But, after some bumps in the road I finally "fell victim to a circumstance" that denied me GA for failure to participate.I somehow -- with the help of my parents -- landed in San Francisco. It was there that I learned the joys of horse racing. What I didn't know was that from those joys, I would quickly learn about the tribulations of horse racing as I began to learn the hard lesson in the addictive powers of gambling. It wasn't long before I had lost my job, opened up myriad bank accounts, from which I bounced checks all over the region, and landed on GA again. After being sentenced to state prison a few times for bum checks, and getting tired of paroling with plans for failure, I found myself sitting on that Sacramento bus bench in October of 1991. As far as political philosophy goes, I am a conservative and a Republican. Basically, I determined that GA, as well as welfare -- for most recipients -- was simply a crutch. Sort of an enabler to allow the "client," whoever he or she may be, to maintain a dependency upon the state. I had also figured that if I was going to succeed, it wasn't going to be with the crutches of the government, as I did not want them in my pocket anymore. While I was sitting at that bus bench, I was certainly able to qualify for GA. But I had finally learned that I could not blame others for my ills. What I could do was blame myself for putting myself in the position to become dependant on "the system" in the first place. The restrictions and responsibilities placed on GA recipients -- and to a lessor degree, AFDC recipients too -- are far too burdensome for someone who really wants to go forward. For example: If I am standing in line at the GA office -- and that is what the system is all about, Hurry Up And Wait -- I could be missing a $45 telephone job. It only takes 4.7 telephone jobs to equal the equivalent of a GA check. Until transportation problems grounded me in October of 1996, I was grossing between $600 and $1,000 a month doing telephone jobs and occasional private investigation or process-serving work. But even then, as I was sleeping in my car, I was not going to become dependant on the government again. I eventually persevered and was able to land a job. But only because I had not thrown away my school years by being irresponsible. It wasn't GA that got me into a job. It was my change of attitude, my willingness to accept personal responsibility for my past criminal deeds. But that willingness to accept personal responsibility is the reason I am working today. I look around and see "welfare moms" who were well on their way to welfare dependency long before they are out of school. They're barely out of their teens with two, maybe three babies; the oldest at best is 4 or 5. Is that the responsibility of the government? I would say no.Personal responsibility is a terrible pill to swallow.