DSS visit provides insight

In my last column I wrote about being a liberal who lives a personally conservative life and my wish that everyone would judge people on character instead of using political labels. My opinion generated quite a few reactions, and some demonstrated my point about stereotypical judgments.

Even though public assistance benefits were not mentioned, one reader assumed that I “believe in confiscating the hard earned money of working people in the county in order to redistribute it to other able bodied people who refuse to work,” and another guessed that I “live in the rich section of Lumberton and don’t get out much anywhere else.” I was told that I am “out of touch with people, out of touch with morality” and to spend time at the Social Services Office to see that “the majority are ‘able bodies’ that refuse to work and are looking for a hand out”.

As it happens, I have spent quite a bit of time at the Social Services Office in another county over the past few months while trying to arrange long term care benefits for an elderly relative. At my last appointment I saw several people come in for assistance and, given the comments I cited above, made some notes about what I observed while I was in the waiting room for about 30 minutes.

Most of the people who came in asked about Medicaid assistance. Nearly everyone I saw was either elderly, had a visible disability or obvious health issue, or brought a very young child for whom they were trying to get health coverage. There was an elderly couple who was trying to get emergency assistance because their power was about to be turned off, and a pregnant woman was there for nutrition assistance. One woman was dropping off paperwork to ask for transportation assistance for a handicapped relative, and another woman was also there on behalf of a relative in a nursing home.

I asked the caseworker if it was a typical day, and she said yes, but that it is usually busier at the beginning and end of each month because of emergency assistance requests. She told me that in her many years of social work she had seen some people who just wanted the system to support them, and more who thought they had no option other than public assistance, but that most people hated to ask for help.

I asked about fraud, and she said that although it does exist and is difficult to prove, investigators were doing a good job of minimizing it. Given the amount of time and the paperwork I have done on behalf of my relative and the investigation the agency has done to verify it all, I can believe it. It is not an easy process, nor should it be. There may be people who are cheating the system to get benefits, but you cannot tell that by just looking at them. I wonder if people who saw me at the Social Services Office made the incorrect judgment that I was there because I refuse to work and was looking for a handout.

Taxes are a cost of living in America, and I willingly pay my share. I accept that I have no control over how that tax money is spent or the wrong things that other people do, so I refuse to be bitter or complain too much about it. When it comes to public assistance benefits my beliefs are clearly liberal. I know that there are sick and hungry children and needy people and believe that a society as rich as ours can afford to help them. I doubt many people would choose to have to live on government benefits, and I am thankful every day that I don’t need them.

I also believe that anyone who steals will answer for it in God’s time, and that the only way to completely stop fraud is to end the programs. To do so would harm all truly needy people, and I find that morally unacceptable. My opinion about public benefits is also affected by the amount of time I spend at the hospital and nursing home. Most of the people who reside in nursing homes receive Medicaid assistance because Medicare and other insurance do not cover long-term care.

As for those other inaccurate comments, I actually live on a working farm way out in the country and, while I am rich in many ways, it is certainly not monetarily. Since I retired from teaching, I don’t get out as much as I used to when I went to school every day, but I am not out of touch. More importantly, I am quite in touch with my own morality, which is biblically based and includes rules such as not calling people names like “dirt bag.” Even when they act like one.


Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.

Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.