By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
The “gravy train” some people think the poor enjoy is “extremely lumpy.”
On Jan. 2 2013, Some time ago, a U.S. Congressional representative posted it on his Facebook page.
“A Lesson in Irony. The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.”
The piece continued, “Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us ‘Please Do Not Feed the Animals.’ Their stated reason for the policy is because ‘The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.’ Thus ends today’s lesson in irony.”
It’s not attributed to anyone, but doesn’t appear to have been created by the congressman, as it had been floating around the Internet before that.
I wondered what some of our Joy Junction guests thought about the piece, so I asked Denis Billy, our shelter manager, to find out.
One man talked about the “working poor,” who use public assistance to feed their children. He continued, “They live a life that is anything but easy. Their ‘gravy train’ is extremely lumpy. Try walking a mile in a working poor man’s shoes. Buy food and/or shoes for a growing child.”
One woman said she isn’t an animal, and didn’t like the comparison. She said while she no longer receives food stamps, if she does get them again, it will be because she needs them.
She continued, “Many people don’t like to be dependent on the government, but sometimes we need the government to feed our families.”
Another woman staying at Joy Junction was also upset by the comparison. She said that while she is on food stamps, she doesn’t want to be. She is because she needs the assistance. She added that she never used food stamps until she became homeless.
Someone else said that while she receives an array of government help, “It is not something that I’m proud of nor wish to remain on my entire adult life.”
She continued, “I have goals for myself, my children, and my family. That goal is self-sufficiency. I also want to show my children to independent, but not to be embarrassed if they need the help.”
Another woman commented that if you receive food stamps, you should use them wisely.
“A lot of people take it for granted and think that they’re just getting free food or money. They should also do things to earn certain benefits in life,” the woman said.
A man said that food stamps are good when they’re used “wisely and correctly.”
He added, “When a family abuses it, that’s when we get called ‘dependent.’ When people abuse the program, then is becomes a joke.”
Facebook is always a good place to go for a non scientific look at what people think, so I posted the narrative on both mine and Joy Junction’s pages to see what people thought. Here’s a sampling of some of the answers.
Sandy called the sentiments “wrong on too many levels to count.”
Dawn said the comparison is “far too simplistic, adding “Every homeless person has their own story and their own circumstances.”
Someone else called it “apples and oranges.”
Richard wrote that the only reason zoos don’t want you to feed the animals is that they are afraid someone will get hurt, not that the animals will forget how to take care of themselves.
He added, “If they have people accidentally hurt by an animal, the government looks bad. It is about government appearance, nothing else. Nothing wrong with handing out food stamps to people who need it.”
Suzanne said the comparison is oversimplified, adding that human life is more important to God than animals.
She quoted Matthew 10:31, a quotation from Jesus, reading “ … you are of more value than many sparrows.”
She added, “Did you also know that God, Himself, set up a type of ‘food stamp’ program with the children of Israel? It was called ‘gleaning.’ God told those people who grew food crops to NOT harvest all of it, but leave the outer corners of their fields for poor people to help themselves to.”
Diane said it’s very sad to compare that to animals in the forest and homeless people, or people who work and earn very little just to survive.
She added, “It’s when they are used in exchange for drugs or alcohol then they should be penalized for it.”
Jay had an interesting perspective, writing that “programs without relationship build a dependent class, encouraging not interdependence, but co-dependence.”
There was no mistaking Manny’s opinion. He said, “It’s a load of crap. Right wing simplistic childish propaganda.”
My vote for the most best opinion went to the comments from a Joy Junction guest. She wrote, “They don’t close parks because someone feeds the animals. They punish the one that they catch. So, why should we all be punished because of a few bad people, when many of us are in actual need for it?”
It appears that whoever wrote the short commentary hasn’t spent much (or any) time talking to food stamp recipients, or others who without food stamps would have no idea where their next meal as going to come from.
It’s been my experience after working with New Mexico’s homeless for over 30 years that simple solutions are neither. That is today’s real lesson in irony.