Marginalized News Commentary for Changemakers

In September, 2013, Michigan lawmakers imposed three mandatory requirements for welfare beneficiaries:

1)       Perform free community service or lose welfare benefits.

2)      Deny unemployment benefits for people refusing drug test required by employers.

3)      Denial of benefits for recipients whose children are school truants. 

The community service bill, which passed the state Senate on a 27-9 vote. Benefactors who receive food stamps and other welfare benefits are required to perform unpaid community service in order to continue in the assistance program.

The drug testing bill, which passed the House Commerce Committee on a 12-4 vote with three Democrats passing on the issue, would deny unemployment benefits for people who either refused to take a drug test as a condition of employment or tested positive.

I recently interviewed a young Mother for Java Hope who was totally devastated by this law because she had no transportation and no childcare.  If she failed to participate in the community service program, she would lose her benefits. Arguably, if she left her children home alone, she could face serious consequences if something catastrophic happened to them.

While mandatory drug testing and school truancy is an issue, community service for Mothers with children is a heavy handed tactic used by lawmakers to terminate women on welfare. They are aware she has children. Yet they ignore it and impose the requirement of community service. This Mother told me she was willing to perform the service, but she needed a bus voucher and someone to watch her children.

Ironically, the legalization of medical marijuana is okay if it shows up in the test. But a woman with no income, food, childcare or transportation is a definite ‘No-No!’ How can a civic minded individual justify this? We must be sensitive to the needs of this sector if we truly wish to help them transition from poverty to work. I’m sure if this Mother was their daughter, every amenity would be available to help her become self-sufficient. How odd!

Laws must be equitable and fair. Beneficiaries who receive medical marijuana are not penalized during employment drug test. But Mothers on welfare have no safety net. How they get to work, who cares for the children, and other job related problems should be addressed under the same conditions as medical marijuana. Tossing her location for community service without providing her with resources to perform the service is criminal. There is a problem here. Michigan lawmakers should re-visit their position regarding this law.

 

 

The Boyfriend

Women receiving welfare benefits often ‘host’ a boyfriend to have companionship and ‘maybe’ provide additional financial support. Unfortunately, the man is often more needy than the woman and he often needs the woman to support him!

 He usually has mental issues that significantly contribute to his diminished self-esteem. Some have criminal backgrounds and are often newly released from prison. The women rarely ask the critical questions about their ‘lovers’ past. Perhaps they fear hearing something negative and just decide to ignore his ‘life’s travels’. After all, he is there to care for her loneliness. Whatever happened in the past stays in the past. But does it?

She has a man who can father her children and give them the love and guidance they crave. He is so desperately needed to add normalcy to the family structure that whatever happened in the past is irrelevant. So for a few weeks things are great. Then slowly things start to unravel. The welfare check arrives and he needs to make ‘a purchase’ (drugs). She reluctantly gives him the money and the relationship because to deteriorate. She now lives with a drug addicted man who is abusive, angry and worse, a deadbeat. He threatens her if she mentions leaving using her children as the pawn. A few friends (who are no longer welcome at her home) warned her about him.  Her family was aspirated the moment they met him. He is the epitome of a violent conceited junkie who cares only for himself.

Why would a woman repeatedly entangle herself in a toxic relationship? Often it’s because she grew up in a toxic family environment and no one has ever challenge her to seek something better for herself. This vicious cycle is the only life show knows and understands. Deep within she knows there is something better. But she doesn’t feel worthy of pursuing a ‘better’ lifestyle.

If Government officials really want to end ‘welfare as we know it’, they must address the complexity of generational poverty. Cutting women’s welfare benefits without providing remedial psychological intervention (not community work) only exacerbates the problem. Counseling must be implemented as a necessary methodology added to the welfare exit strategy. Otherwise, we the taxpayers will continue to dole out large tax revenues with no hope of ever discontinuing a failed system.

We cannot continue to tell these women to simply ‘go get a job!’ They lack upward mobility employment skills and often suffer from mental or emotional dysfunction. They can’t envision a better life for themselves because no one has ever helped them see a brighter tomorrow.  Throughout their lives all they have ever known is poverty and welfare entitlements. They need professional help to reinvent their lives and create positive outcomes for their family.

 Understandably counseling this sector is expensive. But the basic question is do we continue to hand out entitlements or do we become proactive and take the long road in creating sustainable futures for the ‘least of these’? We must construct a new paradigm or the frustration will continue to escalate.

Finding suitable candidates for the Java Hope program isn’t difficult when one considers the state of the economy. The problem is convincing potential candidates of the ‘no fee’ program. They are very skeptical of receiving anything ‘free’ that doesn’t originate from Social Services. They have been mistreated, abused and above all disappointed from ‘so call’ people with good intentions. So trusting anyone is difficult.

 Adult instructors emphasize first eliminating the poverty mindset. If we don’t garner trust, the student attrition rate will be startling. This requires being more than just their friend. Educators must feel empathy and demonstrate patience. Most women did not arrive at their present state overnight. Many grew up on welfare and now exhibit a generational mentality towards entitlement programs. Then suddenly, the program stops. Some have never considered that one day they will be compelled to get a job and go to work. They are shocked, scared and overwhelmed. They have no job skills and very limited education. They have nowhere and no one to turn to for help.

Then suddenly there is a free program called Java Hope….of course they are skeptical. There just has to be a ‘trick’ in the program somewhere. I often ease their fears by telling them about my childhood growing up on welfare in the City of Detroit. I fully understand their apprehensions. 

However I share with them a point of intervention from a high school teacher that completely changed my life. Suddenly, they relax and become very interested in the program. Young Mothers really don’t want to be poor. They are often embarrassed and ashamed at being subjected to mistreatment inherent in the system. Yet there is nothing else to help them achieve financial stability. 

It’s normal to be apprehensive when attempting new things. Change is often difficult. But life is forever evolving. It is never static. So we create a bridge helping students to take the plunge and not fall into the ocean. They often share how they hated their lifestyle and now are proud of their accomplishment. They also frequently tell us how much this has impacted their children.

This is the metric that keeps us going when things become difficult. The children!

The GOP has proposed food stamp cuts in 2014. 1.7 million People will be affected. Tight-fisted Congressman say passing cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will slash $40 billion over a 10 year period from the current budget.
However the same proponents enjoy the following food ‘fare’ while traveling internationally:

$127.41 per day allotment for food in Argentina
$3,588 allotment for a 6 day trip to Russia!

The latter member has 21,000 constituents on food stamps in his district. A SNAP recipient in his district could eat well for one year if he had the Congressman’s 6 day Russian allotment. No one knows whether this lavish budget was from public or private funds. However a SNAP recipient could eat for 881 days! Arguably, if the Russian trip included transportation and other miscellaneous expenses (caviar and vodka), this Congressman could eat SNAP meals for 16 years!

This political jargon must stop. The mantra ‘people should get jobs and earn their food’ is ludicrous. Where are sustainable jobs for this sector?

So what are the alternatives? Well, one Congressman says Washington should not take bread from public officials and
give it to others. What if the tables were turned and public officials were reduced to receive food stamps? Would they cling to this abiding consensus? I doubt it.

There are probably ‘thousands’ of reasons why some people stick to a 9-5 job. I have many great friends who really love their job. That’s great because we need people in the workforce. However this post is addressed to the ‘thousands who have a ‘Great idea’ and are READY to take it to market’ but lack the stamina, tenacity and time to see the idea mature and flourish. They believe they will be an overnight success without conducting quality research or properly evaluating their ability to sustain the rigors of entrepreneurship.

They see the signposts along the highway telling them what they need to know about the journey how to get there. Everyone has a career compass pointing the way into a specific highway designed just for them. Some of us travel the road of employment where we work for others. Then there are the few who travel the entrepreneurial route and miss the ‘get a job’ sign. They later experience the heartache of travelling down the wrong path.

I recently encountered a student who indicated at the end of the class that she wasn’t sure why she wanted to be a business owner. I asked her when she discovered this and why she stayed in the class. She replied she had partnered with another student and they would do the business together. Of course the other student gave me a look indicating her disapproval of this partnership. I explained that the program design was to empower women to own their individual proprietary coffee cart business. I asked her if she wanted to be an employee instead of a business owner.

I then asked her why she changed her mind NOW at the end of the class. She had no answer. I reviewed her psychological test and didn’t see anything abnormal. So I went further and asked her about any challenging experiences in her life. She replied “I have never had a bad experience! I was stunned. This was totally unrealistic coming from an adult. I called the Social Worker to ask about the students test results. She said the scores were normal, but perhaps the Java Hope curriculum is her first encounter with real trauma after coming to an understanding of the complexity of business ownership. This was a ‘first’ for me. Most adults I encounter know what they want and how to accomplish it.

Everyone has a defining moment that shapes their life in a positive or negative way. Unfortunately, others shut down and choose to ‘forget’ the moment. However these events don’t simply ‘go away’. They simply wait for a suitable time to appear and render the person incapable of moving forward.
Apparently, her build-up occurred during the class and became evident at the end of the class. She needed that release and I allowed her to express it. Of course she will not go on to own a coffee cart, but she may be an excellent employee for one of the cart owners.

So what is the take away for me? I will never assume that every enrolled student will be success and to accept that the fall-out is beneficial for all.

Do you really want a better life? We all dream of a better life; more money, exotic vacations, notoriety and thousands of other wonderful dreams. But what are we doing right now to accomplish our dreams? Wishing, hoping and fantasizing are not enough to make our dreams come true. We must create a plan and take action to actualize the plan.

Sometimes people are just ‘lucky’. They hit the jackpot or win the lottery. But how many ‘lucky winners’ sustain their wealth for the long-term? Often they end worse than they started. Life was never designed to be an ‘easy ride’. We all possess inherent creative abilities which when activated help us to resolve our ‘tough’ situations. It’s in the crucible of fire that we extract our true creative potential. Consequently we grow, mature and learn how to overcome situations using creative ‘brain’ strategies.

When I meet a potential Java Hope candidate during the first interview, I ask her about her challenges and how she is responding to them. She cites some basic problems (money, employment, children and boyfriend). I listen intently waiting for the ‘aha’ response. If she does not mention the Java Hope program, I know she will drop out of the program. She has merely ‘shopping’ the program and has no verifiable goals for her life. Successful Java Hope candidates always cite the program as their opportunity to realize their dreams. They talk incessantly of their dreams and how Java Hope crystalizes their plan.

There are many opportunities available for each of us seeking a better life. If we are committed to overcome our barriers and achieve our dream, our creative brain collaboratively works with us to make our dream a reality.

We are the only barrier to achieving our dreams. There is always a way if we are willing to do the do the work and make it happen.

So what are you waiting for?

Insight, investment and impact are critical components of altering the poverty mindset. It is challenging for some Java Hope students to abandon learned behaviors and embrace new unfamiliar norms. Lifestyle changes are uncomfortable but required to escape a poverty environment.

Clyde Taulbert, the author of “Who Owns the Icehouse,” delineates the steps needed to help adult learners create personal economic change. The Kaufman Foundation partnered with Mr. Taulbert to create a powerful and sustainable program empowering students to create long-term wealth as entrepreneurs.

The objective of the program is using poverty triggers to alter and overcome barriers to prosperity. Some triggers are lifelong learned responses to poverty while other behaviors are progressive and adaptable to new norms. Cultural environment plays a major role in behavior modification.

Clyde Taulbert grew up in the Mississippi. At the tender age of 10, Clyde began working with his Grandfather (a businessman) delivering blocks of ice to his customers. The Grandfather used their time together to mentor Clyde. He taught him the value of money and ownership. During the route, he strongly instructed Clyde to amass assets because they appreciate and increase one’s net worth. He also admonished Clyde to choose his friends wisely. He believed association brings about assimilation. Clyde was like a sponge; he absorbed every word and stored it safely in his subconscious youthful mind.

Clyde had ample opportunity to ‘follow the crowd’ during his tour of duty in the military. However he chose instead to ‘listen and follow his Grandfather’s voice.’ He secured employment in the banking industry and later purchased several banks. Clyde credits his entrepreneurial success to the strong mentorship received from his Grandfather. Despite his challenges as an African American, he successfully navigated the treacherous business landscape to become a powerful resource for others to emulate.

Today Clyde Taulbert is a very successful African American businessman. He used the entrepreneurial mindset to escape poverty and create a world of abundance seldom enjoyed by people of color. Clyde Taulbert, along with Gary G. Schoeniger, the CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) crafted eight life lessons describing timeless examples of the power of entrepreneurship to overcome adversity and achieve independence regardless of one’s circumstances (Clifton Taulbert, 2010).

Java Hope is proud to have a licensed ‘Who Owns the Icehouse’ Facilitator as a staff and board member to help our students transform their lives by following the eight life principals delineated in this book. We are confident our ladies will benefit greatly from this program and become successful businesswomen.

Bibliography
Clifton Taulbert, G. S. (2010). Who Owns the Ice House? Cleveland: ELI Press LLC.

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