After the recent news about a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives that would cut funding for #SNAP by $20 billion over the next ten years while imposing strict new eligibility standards, I'd gotten to thinking about the last year in regard to social services.
The past year has seen a steady dismantling of the social safety net in the United States. Under the current administration, a series of policy decisions have been made that come along with strict assistance requirements. These kinds of restrictions cut across healthcare, food, housing, and cash assistance and run contrary to historical evidence against mandating work requirements. Finding and securing work under stricter requirements is far more difficult, not to mention the fact that work (or lack thereof) is the reason so many people find themselves in need of such assistance in the first place. Programs like TANF, SNAP, and Medicaid help people experiencing poverty get through hardships that can make maintaining employment exceedingly difficult - like mental illness, disability, domestic violence, etc..
The false narrative that people experiencing poverty create the situation for themselves - that "poor people making poor decisions" keeps them in cycles of poverty - is harmful and deceptively reductive of a very complex set of systemic barriers to financial well-being. In fact, more than anything, the impossible choices that those experiencing poverty are forced to make as a result of ill-informed and regressive public and private policy and inaccurate myths about poverty are what traps people in cycles of poverty and precludes them from achieving prosperity. The strength and impact of this narrative has resulted in the perpetuation of negative and pejorative views of those who struggle at the margins, while creating incredible barriers to financial stability, wealth, and prosperity. And the narrative particularly and disproportionately impacts people of color in harmful ways.
Any real attempt at changing the narrative and the dynamic must begin with a foundational understanding of the complexities of poverty, its impact on family stability, child development, and economic development, and necessarily activates and leverages communities to realize the changes we need to see across the nation. In his book, The Strucutre of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn suggests that in some instances, when the dominant paradigm ceases to provide solutions to emerging and exigent questions and/or problems, the paradigm must be done away with in order to construct a paradigm that can address current realities and lived experience. It follows, then, that paradigm shifts are often lengthy and painful affairs - but this work is increasingly necessary, and it starts at the grassroots level - as we continue to watch the erosion of programs and systems designed to help and protect the most vulnerable in our population.
This is a call to action. It's time to shift the paradigm.