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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

In support of welfare: a response to the Carleton Observer

<ently, the Carleton Observer published an article debating the merits of welfare. First, we would like applaud both the Observer’s commitment to put forward conservative viewpoints in an often overwhelmingly liberal environment and their willingness to present both sides of the issue. Yet, we feel it is still necessary to offer a rebuttal to the conservative position written by Julia Reid. For those of you who have not read the article, Reid’s position can be summarized briefly: Americans need to take responsibility for their own actions, especially regarding the decision to have children; women who are too poor to support a child should not have one and it is not the responsibility of the country to support these women if they are irresponsible.

Most Carleton students, and most Americans, can agree that both personal and familial responsibility and hard work in the face of adversity are admirable qualities. Indeed, individuals living in poverty also value and exhibit these characteristics, and yet such characteristics are often not enough to overcome financial hardships. Frequently very little sexual health education is available to women of low socioeconomic backgrounds and therefore following Reid’s maxim of “if a person is unable to care for a child, they should not bring one into the world” is not that simple. Of course, as she admits, mistakes do occur and in taking responsibility for such mistakes, many women utilize welfare not as an “easy alternative” but as one of the few mechanisms by which they can responsibly care for their family.

One does not choose to be born into a single parent family, or into a financially unstable household. And yet, according to the 2000 census, one in ten, or 121, 691, Minnesota children live below the poverty line as do about 10% of the children living in Rice County, home of Carleton College. Welfare programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (or WIC), exist to provide for these children. The WIC program delivers supplemental food to children who might otherwise lack necessary nutrients. WIC operates under the assumption that nutritional deficits and poverty go hand in hand, and that providing children with adequate food and health services at a young age will prevent some of the negative health consequences associated with childhood poverty. WIC does not provide women with cash benefits, but instead in-kind benefits through food vouchers, nutritional education, individual health counseling and infant vaccinations, all services a woman living in poverty would otherwise be unable to afford. How would the children of these low-income mothers fare without such programs as WIC.

Poverty should not be viewed as an abstract phenomenon that affects people far away from the Carleton bubble, nor should welfare be viewed as an abstract system governed only by values and beliefs. We freely admit that the welfare system has problems and that more welfare programs need to focus on how to move women out of poverty and keep them there. Nonetheless the women who travel to pick up their WIC vouchers are not irresponsible and unwilling to lift themselves out of poverty; they are making use of a program designed to benefit the current and future health of their children. Programs like WIC succeed by directly delivering aid to those very real children living in poverty and allow women to take advantage of one of the few avenues of personal responsibility available to them.

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