A discussion online, regarding whether or not assistance to Black people is a form of racism that holds them down (and yes, it was compared to slavery), has me thinking about my personal experience using government assistance to fund my education. In particular, about the systemic racism I saw within that experience.
Now, what I’m going to be talking about doesn’t have to do with the Democratic party. This is my personal experience, as a white woman who had a suburban childhood followed by two decades of poverty. It seems to me that programs for assistance do not pass through government without being revised in order to receive support from the opposing party. Changes to proposals always happen, adjustments are always made to accommodate the other side. This one of the ways racism gets worked into the system, this is why we are talking about the system itself.
This was about a decade ago and there have been changes to the program. I’m not up on the current situation. In fact, I hear that the program I am about to mention lost funding completely, though I’m sure something similar took its place. Similar issues plague all forms of assistance.
First of all, you couldn’t get assistance getting into school unless you proved you couldn’t get a job any other way. You had to turn in proof that you were meeting job hunting requirements, and if offered a job, you had to take it. Even if you had a family to feed, and it was only minimum wage. This is under the assumption that a minimum wage job was preferable to the strain on taxpayers of sending someone to school so they could afford to feed their children.
Minimum wage was designed for teenagers who live with their parents, it is not designed to help support a family. You can’t work hard at a minimum wage job and raise the money to send yourself to school if you have rent to pay and mouths to feed. And it might not be saving taxpayers money to keep you in this situation. You will likely be receiving food stamps, utility, and other assistance the rest of your life without that education.
So, once you prove to the people handing out the school funding that you are looking for a job and can’t find one without an education, then you are sent to a program that will pay your tuition at a community college so you can get a two year degree or certificate, as long as it’s one of the approved programs. These programs were limited to mostly the health care field and social work.
To be in this program, you were required to stay on campus every week day. If you were not in class, you were required to go into a supervised study hall, where you were monitored to make sure you weren’t goofing off on the internet, instead of doing your homework. Even if your work was done and you were making straight As, you were still required to study. There was massive implication that if you needed this assistance, it was because you were lazy and untrustworthy. Your poverty was obviously your fault, regardless of circumstances.
Once you were accepted, the program paid your tuition for you, and helped you get the supplies you needed to get started. It was made known to you that the way the program was paid back for their generosity was if you remained on the program the entire two years. Sometimes, students started getting financial aid based on their grades and left the program. When that happened, the program did not get funding and that put them at risk for not being able to help as many people.
I myself left the program and used financial aid instead, but I had intended to stay out of the feeling of obligation the program instilled. However, I had a social worker at one point tell me incorrect information, that I was allowed to switch majors after school started. He had told a lot of students this, and had been moved to different department because of it. Turns out, it was a federal offense to change majors. I was told I could continue with the program if I wished, but I was afraid at some point someone would come along and say I was told I had committed a felony, and I chose to keep committing it. I left, but felt bad that the program would not receive funding for me.
However, leaving the program freed me up to take psychology instead of social work, previously not allowed because you could only take two year programs. You were not allowed to pursue a four year degree. I understand the theory that you can then use your two year degree to work your way through a four year degree, but it means your options were more limited. You couldn’t choose to do what I did, remain on the program until you could pay for schooling with financial aid, allowing you to get started on a four year degree right away and not waste your time with extra schooling.
There is no reason to limit that option unless you just want to add additional control on the people using the assistance out of spite. If they had the option to leave the program once financial aid came in, the program would only have to help you for a semester or two, less investment in you overall. Instead, you were pressured to stay for two years, with people controlling your lives to a large degree, seemingly just to enjoy insulting you with their red hoops and the implications they hold.
It was, as they say, problematic. But it does not hold for me the lesson that assistance is a form of slavery by not letting people empower themselves. Rather, it speaks to me about how more funding for higher education, with less racist hoops to jump through, is a thing that needs to happen.