I Don’t Believe in “Welfare Queens”

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20 Dec 2011

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Many of us read Christine Rousselle’s blog post about working at Wal-Mart. While my initial reaction was angry and disheartened, I decided to turn this into an opportunity to respond in what I hope will be perceived as a constructive manner.

Dear Christine,

You and I are somewhat similar. Both of us are college-educated young women from Maine who have worked in the service industry. Granted, it was several years ago that I scanned items at Bud’s Shop ‘n Save but I too remember customers buying food that with little nutritional value or “luxury items” such as lobsters. Like you, I encountered customers who were confused about what could and could not be bought with a WIC check.

The similarities end there. Rather than choose to use judgmental anecdotal evidence to support an argument for welfare reform, I choose to look at state assistance with a bigger perspective that doesn’t include the terms “questionable clientele” or “welfare queen.”

I don’t disagree with you that reform in government-run programs is often necessary. Most organizations in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors struggle to find a system that ensures efficient use of resources and a balance of accountability to inhibit a client from potentially taking advantage of the system. This isn’t a new issue and there’s rarely an easy fix. That said, there are plenty of people who use state assistance appropriately. For you to ignore their stories does a great disservice to those who rely on WIC to feed their children, MaineCare to stay healthy and temporary assistance as a means of staying afloat.

As a student at Providence College, you have been afforded an educational opportunity that many people in Maine will never have the chance to enjoy. Instead of making disparaging assumptions about people in your home state who need help, I challenge you to do the following:

-Visit a local homeless shelter. Shelters often need volunteers for a variety of tasks, especially during the holiday season. Bring your questions as many staff members are happy to discuss homelessness and who often needs shelter and why- I bet you’ll be surprised.

-Talk to a domestic violence advocate. Violence caused by a partner is a huge problem in Maine. When someone is struggling to leave a relationship where he or she has been abused, state assistance can often provide temporary financial stability and opportunities for freedom and a new life.

-Take a tour of your local DHHS office. People need assistance for a variety of reasons in their lives, many of them out of their control. Witnessing this firsthand can be enlightening and sobering at the same time.

Lastly, I challenge you to reserve your judgment. I know how frustrating it can be when you witness people misusing funds. Unless you know them personally, it’s doubtful you know the whole story. Biased assumptions only undermine legitimate arguments about reform. Positive change requires time, energy, and an open mind but the result is a better understanding of the challenges Mainers face and how to address them in a socially and fiscally responsible way.


Emily Wagner





52 Responses to I Don’t Believe in “Welfare Queens”


Don’t Shoot the Brunette Messenger – The College Conservative

December 29th, 2011 at 5:50 am

[…] and gentlemen, is completely beyond the point. One impassioned columnist encouraged me to go visit a homeless shelter. Others instructed me to go work as a social worker for a year or two. Still […]



December 29th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I shop for food like most people, buying a mix of everything. I don’t care what other shoppers are buying, and if your state assistance allows you to buy lobsters and you like lobster? Go for it.

Why do we suddenly become nutritional cops when someone is using food stamps? I’d rather see you maintaining as “normal” a lifestyle as possible.

Isn’t that what all parents try to do when things go south? Preserve the sense of “normal” for their kids, their families, and themselves?

I have never been poorer for generosity – of time, spirit or finances. If someone is in need of help? I provide the help they need if I am able. All the abuses in the food stamp program combined cost less than one small nuclear warhead. If I want to protest a misuse of funds? I’ll probably start with something like that…