Who Determines Who is Deserving of Aid

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

by Vivian Hain

When does survival become criminal? Who determines who is deserving vs. undeserving of aid? As quoted in the dialogue of POOR Magazine's play production welfareQUEENS, these are constant realities for all of the poverty scholars and cast members involved in this revolutionary production. In the last six months, the violence and crisis of systems abuse has become a dire reality for my myself and my dear friend fellow welfareQUEEN and POOR Magazine board member Laure M.

In 1999, Laure was living on welfare assistance in a small studio apartment in the Tenderloin of San Francisco that was temporarily subsidized by "Shelter Plus Care" when she had only three months to find housing. During that time, she was given a housing subsidy from a San Francisco-based non-profit Aids Foundation. With the average rent being one thousand dollars plus a month in San Francisco, Laure felt that with her new housing subsidy, she would be able to afford a new and better place for her young son.

First, Laure found a place in the Bayview, but eventually moved to the Mission District while also attending a substance abuse recovery program. Several years later, she ended up being able to join the revolutionary co-housing model known as Mammahouse, a collective housing project for low-income mamas and children launched by POOR Magazine and was able to keep her housing subsidy while participating in a one-year, full-time 35 hour a week job training program at only $11.00 an hour as a community health worker at Homeless Prenatal in San Francisco. After that year was completed, she was required to seek permanent employment, but Laure was worried about transitioning to a higher paying job as she feared her housing subsidy may be taken away from her. Yet, hopeful about the future of her family, Laure went on ahead looking for work.

In 2008, with a lot of perseverance and hard work, Laure found a full-time job with health care benefits at $37,000.00 a year. She was ecstatic and felt that she had accomplished the very thing she had worked so hard toward, successfully achieving her goal in building a better future for her and her family. Yet, at the time, she didnÕt realize that it would force her to make a choice between having food to eat or a roof over her head!

Laure told the non-profit who gave her the housing subsidy that she had found a living wage job. She thought that they would simply adjust her housing subsidy to her new income, requiring her to pay more rent, as $37,000.00 a year is still a moderately low income for a family to live on in San Francisco. But instead, she was told that she could not keep her housing subsidy with her new job and was given only one year to keep it before she would lose it. Unsure whether she would be permanently employed at her new job, she was concerned that one year was not enough time to transition off of the housing subsidy while living in San Francisco, where market rate rents easily exceed $1,300.00 a month. Laure wanted the non-profit organization to give her more time to transition than just one year, as her health concerns are detrimental for the fact that at any given time, she could become ill, even though it appears that more people are living longer with HIV.

Though Laure is currently on public medical benefits with the ability to manage her health, she is currently suffering severe stress from the threat of being cut off of her housing subsidy. Because of this, she was forced to give up her full-time job as a case worker at $18.00 an hour.

In early 2009, Laure took a part-time job as a caseworker, serving low-income communities in San Francisco. She has now been also forced to give up this job, as the same non-profit organization who gave her the housing subsidy has now also determined that her part-time income is still too high to keep it. Not only has this created extreme economic hardship for Laure, it continues to take a tremendous emotional and physical toll on her, affecting her family and their ability to survive and get out of poverty. These are the unfair and unjust choices that low-income single mothers are being forced to make in order to barely afford keeping a roof over their families' heads.

As a low-income single mother who is also going through a similar situation in my own life, I want to know why these non-profit organizations, who are supposed to be helping low-income families like ours build a better future for our children, have so much power to determine who is deserving vs. undeserving of aid like housing? How dare they call themselves "non-profits" while putting families like ours in extreme peril and despair, forcing us to decide whether to feed our families or have a roof over our head, rather than support our advancement to creating a better life for our children, who are the future.


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