I Love Government Cheese

Having grown up in a household that had to sometimes rely on the generosity of Uncle Sam, I was unknowingly grateful for that big orange block of chemicals that would magically appear in our fridge from time to time. I say unknowingly, because my mother never told us until we were well into adulthood that she shamefully had to depend on government assistance when we were kids.

My mother was a very proud and hard working woman. She worked her butt, and her very last nerve, off raising 4 hellion children on her own. She worked midnights as a nurse and exhaustedly came home to the chaos of 4 kids, with an age gap of 7 years, who whined, cried and fought their way off to school everyday.

This is when she could start her second job as the house keeper. Like Cinderella, she did the chores, mended the clothes, and, if she was lucky, find a few hours to sleep before the next wave of terror would charge through the front door signaled by the ringing of the school bell. That’s when her third shift started managing to feed and entertain us and get us tucked into bed so she could start it all over again.

She sacrificed her whole life, happiness, and sanity for a rowdy bunch of brats who never appreciated the sacrifices she made for them. We always wanted for more as our neighbors and friends always seemed to have more than us, but she always tried her best to make us happy.

Having an irresponsible ex-husband who unreliably paid the court ordered pittance to support his offspring, my mother reluctantly turned to the government for help when there was no where left to turn. She didn’t do it because she was lazy, she didn’t do it to take advantage of the system, she did It because she had to care for her family. I can’t say that I grew up in poverty because I was much more fortunate than so many millions of people who try to provide for their families on far, far less. I do, however recall feeling the burden that my mother was under during my whole childhood. If I were in the same situation today, with the social programs available to poor families or families on the brink of poverty, I can honestly say that there is no way I could survive.

As I was discussing this topic with a friend, he said he didn’t know about government cheese. I was kind of shocked because I thought it was common knowledge. Today, Government Cheese is a term that’s synonymous with getting a handout from the government in the form of housing, cash and/or food assistance; aka welfare. But the origin of government cheese comes from 80’s when, then President Reagan, wanted to artificially increase the demand for milk. They turned the milk into cheese, butter, and powdered milk that was stored in 150 warehouses across 35 states. It was then distributed in generic boxes to people who needed food assistance. The cheese itself arrived in a nondescript generic box that contained a huge 5 pound slab of bright orange ‘cheese’. What was actually in it was a mystery, but it melted nicely, it lasted for a long time, and as far as I remember, it was pretty tasty.

Over the last 40 years, welfare became a 4 letter word in this country. When the welfare system was created during the Great Depression there was no shame to be had. It was a humanitarian effort to provide for the basic amenities for people in need. Most people who were on assistance were given the help they needed to get back on their feet and provide for their families on their own and later thrive because they were able to bounce back without first having to dig themselves out of a hole.

Since the great days of government cheese, the social safety nets that were put in place to protect the needy have slowly been dismantled to provide less assistance to less people. This has had a disproportionate ripple affect to people of color as they are more likely to experience multigenerational poverty. Where people of higher economic standing have wealth to pass on to future generations, people who live in poverty have nothing but debt to pass on to their heirs. This creates the large communities of families who are homeless or barely making ends meet with no hope of ever escaping.

As we are now on the brink of another Great Depression, maybe even a Greater Depression, millions of people who have never given a second thought about financial security are looking to the government to help them get through this tragedy.

Though I’m grateful that the government has stepped up to provide during this national/global crisis, the national crisis started when the government started and continues to cut social programs for people in need; all people in need, all the time. This is why I wrote a few days ago in my post ‘I Love Pandemics’ that I see this crisis as a gift.

It’s now abundantly clear the gaping holes that are present in our social safety net. It’s saddens me that it’s fine to let people live in poverty or homeless on the street when the economy is doing great, but when the middle class and rich are affected, all of the sudden the maximum unemployment amount is insufficient, we need to send everyone a stimulus check, and provide bailout money to keep the country on life support. Could this be considered reparations of a failed government? Perhaps these types of reparations should be revisited again in the near future to help the poor and homeless people in this country all to a life that is livable and affordable.

As a result of insufficient government planning, and lack of social support programs, the spread of the coronavirus had a much more devastating effect compared with other countries who have good social support programs for their people. Where in Europe, people knew they would be able to survive and pay for food and bills when asked to stay home. In the US, even under the threats to the health and lives of themselves and their families, people continued to work long after the virus was hitting the nation hard because they were more concerned about receiving an overdue notice than they were for the well-being of themselves and others. This just shouldn’t be possible in the richest country in the world.

Politicians have long used the pitiful excuse that people on welfare are lazy and all they want to do is sit on the couch all day and watch tv. They do this as justification to cut social programs so they can cut taxes. As we have all been equalized to a simulated state of being on welfare, can you honestly imagine spending your whole life getting a check to watch tv?

We as humans have hopes, dreams and goals to live the best life we can live. Isn’t it fair that everyone should have equal opportunity to experience a fruitful and fulfilling life? I’m sure there are such people who want to binge reruns of Friends for the rest of their lives, and I think they should have that right if they want. But I truly believe that if everyone in this country never had to worry about food, shelter or education, the American dream would come back to life again.

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