Photo: Livia Gershon
Ask Livia Gershon why welfare recipients crave booze and cigarettes, and she might respond by saying it’s because they dull the pain of poverty. A recipient of government assistance herself, Gershon, who lives in working class Nashua, N.H. and blogs about people she meets on Open Salon, knows what it’s like to “live in a state of acute or prolonged crisis.” She qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit last year, which is reserved for low-income workers.
Yet Gershon can’t wrap her head around why people judge cash recipients for blowing money on junk:
“Many of the people I talk to for this blog—at least the ones who get food stamps or housing subsidies or some kind of other assistance—are facing much bigger stressors. Take Nicole, who’s raising three kids with a mentally ill boyfriend on a budget so tight that she has to worry about how to pay for both soap and shampoo. She pays for basic cable because she doesn’t want to be left out of conversations about what’s going on in the news. Should I judge her because I don’t have cable?”
The other problem, she argues, is the way we judge people who pay with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card:
“Welfare isn’t just cash benefits or food stamps, or something,” she told Business Insider. “We don’t shame people who receive Earned Income Tax Credits, she says, so why shame the ones on cash benefits?”
Gershon spoke out on her blog when she heard that William O’Brian, speaker of New Hampshire’s House of Representiatives, suggested the state pass a law to prevent people from frittering their benefits on lottery tickets, booze and tobacco.
When “upper-class health-minded experts tell poor people they ought to eat better,” it doesn’t help, she wrote. Rather than micromanaging how the poor use their benefits, Gershon says what the government should do is “reverse its backward policies” that make “ultraprocessed snacks the cheapest thing you can buy.”
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