We Need To Expand The Social Safety Net

We Need To Expand The Social Safety Net

Or at least make it more efficient.

Jake VP.
Jake VP.
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One thing that has surprised me the most as I have been studying social work has been what a patchwork system we have to help people. When I had heard "the Welfare system" before my classes I had always imagined, well, a system. A complete end-to-end program which was in itself equipped to help whomever with any problem, from food insecurity to unstable housing, to mental health concerns, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I thought that the "Welfare system" was equipped to handle a person with multiple needs. As you can imagine, if you are struggling to pay rent, buying groceries can't be going to well either. People often have more than one problem. What has become quite the realization is the fact that we do not have such a system.

Instead, it is a mess of some government aid, non-governmental social services, the government "contracting" out to other non-government agencies, plus churches, and people acting neighborly. And as much as I would love to embrace the mess, the sad truth is, many people fall through the cracks because of this patchwork system. But the system is how it is for a reason, and I think that comes from some misconceptions about welfare, some misconceptions I had myself until studying it.

So for one thing, what most people refer to as "welfare" is actually only the TANF program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. As in, TANF is the program which provides families with direct cash assistance. But it isn't quite so simple. TANF became what it is in 1996 when President Clinton signed a bill reforming welfare, leading to a variety of changes, '"Most of the money went directly to cash benefit for families," says Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Now states can spend in all kinds of ways," including job programmes and childcare, but also transfers to other state programmes, like foster care payments and child protection services.' Also, as the name implies, TANF is temporary, and "there are now also stricter requirements about what percent of aid recipients needed to be involved in some sort of work activity" which does not include getting a college degree, although some short-term training count.

When it comes to, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (you might know it as food stamps). Its use during recessions shows that "a $1 increase in SNAP benefits ... is estimated to produce an additional $1.70 in economic activity." Although the list of restricted items is too much in my opinion, restricted items being "Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco Any nonfood items, such as: pet foods ,soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines, food that will be eaten in the store, Hot foods." Hot foods even including a rotisserie chicken you can buy at Jewel, a meal I know my family always found convenient on days both my parents worked, and they needed to feed their 3 kids something for dinner. And notice how it said medication isn't covered? Well for that you need Medicaid, specifically plan D, which hopefully you enrolled in when you first eligible, otherwise, you have to pay a late fee - keep in mind this is a program for people in poverty, and it's charging people a late fee.

All of that isn't including going to a township for rent help, and trying to find affordable childcare. Every new problem involves going to a new agency to fill out another form and needing to jump through whatever hoop they have as an eligibility requirement. It makes you wonder if it would be better just to take all the money spent on this and give it to families below a certain income directly. But whatever the solution, no one can look at this and think it's a system which is working as effectively as it can to provide the best support to families. Something must change.

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Austin Alexander Burridge, Volunteer Advocate, Shares 3 Great Reasons to Volunteer and Help Others

Austin Alexander Burridge is an avid academic who studies Environmental Science at Winona State University and believes that work in the service of others is a key pillar to personal development.

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Sometimes it's easy for someone to adopt a "me, me, me" attitude. While focusing on oneself, a person may feel nice in the moment, but serving and helping others will bring lasting benefits. While there are many great reasons to serve and help others, there are three universal truths that resonate with volunteers around the globe.

Austin Alexander Burridge's 3 Reasons to Volunteer:

1. Accomplishment

Often, people fall into a trap of focusing on themselves when they are feeling down. Maybe someone did not get a job they wanted. Or perhaps a person gets dumped by an expected lifelong companion. Maybe someone feels they have underachieved after looking at Facebook and seeing great things a high school classmate has accomplished. When feeling down, helping others is a proven way to improve one's mood and attitude, and it can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. The act of giving to those in need is an inherently good action and leaves people with a wonderful feeling of joy.

2. Gratitude

One can become more appreciative of life by serving others that have less. Whether volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living center, or helping families after a natural disaster, service enables people to be grateful for what they have. Seeing people who have fewer advantages, especially those who are spirited and thankful for small things, allows one to realize just how fortunate he/she is in life.

3. Friendships

Volunteering is a great way to build meaningful friendships, not only with other volunteers but also with those who are served. One of the most profound and fascinating aspects of these relationships is how volunteers will learn from those served and vice versa. As these special bonds are built, they lead to impactful connections that last for years to come.

Of course, these are just a few reasons to volunteer and serve others. One can never go wrong by helping others as opposed to merely focusing on oneself. Volunteering invariably and inevitably contributes to personal growth, development, and satisfaction.

About Austin Alexander Burridge: Helping others has been of paramount importance to Austin, and as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Austin gave back to the community around him. He also has participated in annual peanut butter drives, The Minnesota Sandwich Project for the Homeless and collected canned goods for local food shelters. Additionally, Austin has a passion for the environment, which he pursued when visiting the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and the Amazon Rain Forest while studying at the School of Environment Studies, which investigates ecological systems and their sustainability

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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