“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”-The United States Declaration of Independence
“B” of The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness insists that once public funds are “given”, they are “given” to be spent as the recipient sees fit. I disagree. Last year I received about a thousand hits the day I responded angrily to the idea that someone should be encouraged to use their public assistance check for a Gibson Guitar. (For the record – WHAT THE HECK?!?!? I still say NO!) Often I issue funds for specific reasons (Books, clothing, transportation) and I expect them to be spent accordingly and receipts returned to me. As a citizen, I expect the cash we hand to other citizens to be used responsibly as part of the business deal they entered into when they asked for help.
This is not to say that I think that poor people should live lives of drudgery and misery and that every waking moment should be spent in the pursuit of self-sustaining employment and safe, secure housing. Happiness, or the pursuit of it, is essential. I only work 40(ish) hours a week. As a social worker I only ask clients to spend 32-35 hours a week working, looking for work, or in community service. This is hardly 24/7.
The deal is this “temporary financial assistance” is issued through the Department of Public and Social Services. “Financial Assistance” is supposed to “assist” you to meet “basic needs”. Trips to Universal Studios, nice restaurants, , guitars, cigarettes, alcohol, acrylic nails, hair extensions, new car stereo, TiVo or Cable subscriptions do not fall into these categories. If you are receiving financial assistance from taxes (SSI, SSDI, Disability, Unemployment, General Relief, TANF) then these are not the items the funds were intended to procure for you. However, as gifts from other people – okay – I get it. Who doesn’t deserve a good manicure (especially if you are being treated ?!?)
Can the impoverished have nice things? Of course. Should those things be used against them for qualifying purposes for public assistance ? Only to the extent that the laws and rules allow. Your house (and car if you live in it), burial plan, wedding rings, etc are not counted as saleable items you should have to spend before asking society for cash, food and medical insurance.
Historical sidenote from your geeky author – Ben Franklin asked Thomas Jefferson to amend the phrase “pursuit of happiness” from its original statement that mentioned accruing real property because Franklyn thought property was a luxury that needed to be taxed to support the society.
Everyone should be allowed happiness and specific periods for having fun. Trips to Museums are free with proof of CalWORKS enrollment. The County of Los Angeles also has a Toy Loan Program for children whose families can not afford to buy them new toys. Time with family – just reading, playing, and bonding is worth more than any amount of money.
I want to see people of all income levels laughing, loving, thinking for themselves and enjoying life. I don’t think that lack of funds requires a lack of enjoyment – I just think that the HAPPINES you are having should not be the main use of any aid you receive.