Deserving Poor – Guest Post by Dr. Barbara DiPietro
Posted on September 7, 2018
I am thrilled to bring back my great friend and Senior Director of Policy at the National Health Care for the Homeless Council for another guest post. I subscribe to the Council’s Mobilizer action bulletin and when I saw Barbara’s short article, I want to make sure you all read it. She does a brilliant job addressing one of the convenient misconceptions behind many of the policies that exacerbate issues such as homelessness and poverty. You can catch both Barbara and me at the Council’s Training Symposium in Phoenix on October 1st and 2nd.
It’s a curious phrase—the deserving poor. The Cambridge dictionary defines the deserving poor as “people who are poor but have good qualities and are not responsible for having little money.” Naturally, this begs several questions: deserving according to whom? What are “good qualities?” And who is responsible for people “having little money?” Answers to these questions are increasingly being framed around employment status, and we are seeing more public policies at the federal and state level that require work in exchange for basic human needs like health care, housing, and food assistance.
The values driving these questions—that people do not deserve help if they do not work—are increasingly becoming normalized in our policy discussions. This should concern us all. Certainly our American public policies have rarely viewed basic needs as human rights, but Congress, the Trump Administration, and—increasingly—Governors and state legislators are moving to further separate the “deserving” from the (presumably) “undeserving” by adding work requirements and other barriers to more public programs. Promoted using the rationale that people who are low-income should know “the dignity of work,” these policies only perpetuate stigma, hardship, and poverty.
Find out what’s happening in your state related to work requirements in Medicaid, SNAP, housing, and TANF. Continue to push back against harmful and inaccurate stereotypes by holding conversations with policymakers and elected officials, testifying at hearings, responding to public comment periods, writing letters to the editor, protesting, marching, and being active in any way possible. Push back against the growing view that some people deserve assistance and others do not. Human rights are about dignity, equity, and freedom—for everyone.
We all deserve better.
Find out more about the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and Dr. DiPietro’s work here.