Unfiltered: ‘I know I’m on welfare, but I’m also an American.’

Unfiltered: ‘I know I’m on welfare, but I’m also an American.’


JONI HALPERN: I always used
to wonder, welfare reform– the people who passed it bragged
about how it was going to bring about self-sufficiency, right? And I ask myself, how can you
engender self-sufficiency? How can you empower people
to be self-sufficient? If from the very start of
their relationship with you, you take away their
dignity, you rob them of of their self-esteem,
what little they may have left. You convince them that by
applying for public assistance they have revealed themselves
to be morally and ethically flawed, not deserving of
the same consideration that we would give to
others in our society. My name is Joni Halpern. I call myself a
lawyer for the poor because I have served low
income families and individuals my entire career now. I started work at the
ACLU just as welfare reform was kicking off. [MUSIC PLAYING] When a person applies
for public assistance they naturally have to verify
every conceivable thing about their lives. And if there’s an consistency
or suspicion than it’s normally being referred
for investigation by fraud investigators. But Project 100% was
a so-called extension of the eligibility process. [MUSIC PLAYING] The trigger for the
surge under Project 100% was that your
application was innocent. You met all of the
requirements for eligibility. You passed all the
verification requirements. You overcame all the obstacles. You did the
face-to-face interviews. You showed up with
all your documents. And you came out eligible
for this meager little bit of public assistance. And Project 100% said, we’re
not finished with you yet. We need to do a walk-through and
re-interview inside your house. The kinds of things that I
was seeing as Project 100% rolled out were that their
houses were being ransacked. It wasn’t like a walk-through. It was like they
were being ransacked. The investigator
comes out and finds three toothbrushes in
a household that said there was a parent and a child. I don’t know, what’s three
toothbrushes doing there, you know? Medication– prescription
in the medicine cabinet that had been left by the
parent when he took off, you know, the
father of the kids. What’s it doing in there? What are you doing with
Victoria’s Secret underwear? You’re not supposed to
be able to afford that. Looking at their mail. Making them dump their
purses out on the bed. It’s an unannounced,
unscheduled, home call designed to catch you in the act. It eats at you. And your children see it. And when the welfare
investigator comes and they see how they talk to the parent. The investigator
was intimidating and condescending and
denigrating and encouraging them to sign withdrawals
of their application because, you know, it looks
like you’re committing fraud and the kinds of excesses
that you say in your gut, well for sure the Constitution
can’t think this is OK. Well I was wrong. I know I’m on welfare,
but I’m also an American and I have a right to
keep people out of my home that I don’t want in my home. [MUSIC PLAYING] In “Sanchez,” the investigators
not just went into the house, they went everywhere
in the house. This was not being done
by a social worker. It was being done by a fraud
investigator who was charged with the work of finding fraud. It wasn’t about rehabilitating
anybody from poverty. It’s like about what can I
see here and finding fraud. [MUSIC PLAYING] It’s shocking, I
think, for anyone of us who has been raised to
think that there are certain minimum
thresholds of decency that the Constitution protects. That if you haven’t shown
yourself to be committing a crime or they don’t
suspect you of a crime, then surely those would
be among the persons the Constitution would protect. I mean, that feels
American, to me. But I don’t know
how they could parse it out and find a different
result than what the court did. [MUSIC PLAYING] I’m not a person who has a
gripe against government being government because I think
that at the bottom government has a mandate to take
care of its people. It has a mandate to
hold people accountable. It has a mandate to, you know,
to try to keep us honest. So if you want to
keep your jobs, great. But how about if we do this? How about if instead
of doing 10 searches a day of parents’ homes whose
applications are profoundly innocent, how about if you
devote some of your manpower to consumer protection of
all the ways that low income people get taken advantage of? [MUSIC PLAYING] We don’t have a clear picture
of the cost benefit analysis here because I don’t think they
want a clear picture of it. I don’t think it exists
because if you’re the head of an organization and
you want to know whether this is really worth
the money, you find a way to break out every
little thing and track it. If it’s not being done, it’s
not being done because someone doesn’t want to know that. [MUSIC PLAYING To think about ending my
career with the same problems that we see for decades,
there’s a sadness in that. While we are a nation of
the prize is independence and independent thinking
and ambition and all the good things, you know– capitalism,
whatever– the driving forces of individual
creativity– we prize those. And well we should, right? But you can’t live
your entire life with only that as your
mantra and the other side of that coin, saying to people
who don’t do as well as you– personal responsibility. You haven’t taken
personal responsibility for your poverty, for your
hunger, for your homelessness, for your cancer,
for your whatever, for your need of whatever. And to say that to them is the
back side of that statement about independence
and how much we prize it is a lie because
we’re human beings and we need each other. And when you do
well, I do better. And when we feed
the kids properly and we educate the kids properly
and we let their parents develop skills they
might not have had, we lift ourselves
up as a country. And I don’t know how it is
that we ever forgot that. I don’t know where we left it. Where on the trail
did we leave it? Until now we’re
shouting at each other and pointing fingers at each
other and hating each other and hating the poor. Why? What good has that
ever done our country? [MUSIC PLAYING]

3 thoughts on “Unfiltered: ‘I know I’m on welfare, but I’m also an American.’

  1. Public assistance wouldn't be needed if 70% of the babies weren't born out of wedlock. The liberal lawyer here, should give 75% of her salary to a low income woman. Put you money where your mouth is… You are also an American who is free to gain stable employment and need not have children before you are equipped and ready in every way. I work extremely hard… leave my tax money alone!! Go get your own cash….

  2. This 100% project should be cancelled. If a cop cannot come into my house without a warrent then neither should some fraud investigator.

  3. These bleeding heart liberals kill me. If I asked for the government and taxpayers for help i should be investigated. Nothing in life is free and this is the price.

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