Featured Letter: Not everyone can avoid personal disaster

10/10/2013 6:00 AM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |  Workers harvest grapes at a North Fork farm this summer.

To the editor:

In last week’s letters section, a Jamesport resident asked, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and then answered that the problem was due to the “entire attitude of workers in today’s American welfare state.” He then went on to support his conclusion by citing recipients of unemployment benefits and those “on welfare” who “sit at home doing nothing except watching television.”

There is a difference between entitlement and eligibility and since 1997, when it replaced “welfare” with TANF, the government has made critical changes to shift attitudes from the former to the latter.

TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, has as one its four goals “to end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation and work.” [It] provides the infrastructure to accomplish this and also sets a time frame of 60 months, at the end of which supports such as food stamps terminate. (As an aside, food stamps represent federal money that goes directly into the local economy.)

Many food stamp recipients today are the working poor, whose jobs don’t generate sufficient income and who need food supplementation for their families to survive. Some folks receiving food stamps were once well-off, until catastrophe — a devastating illness, job loss, accident, financial setback, or any number of ways misfortune strikes — set their lives spiraling from being comfortably in control to becoming dependent on the greater community for their daily bread. Not everyone has lifetime immunity from personal disaster.

The writer of last week’s letter posits that he lives in “an American welfare state.” I live in an America that realistically understands there are no guarantees in the pursuit of happiness and, if the pursuit is ever blocked by disaster, that dignifies each citizen with a safety net.

Catherine Harper, Mattituck