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WHAT is Flag Day?!

June 20, 2011

This past Tuesday was Flag Day, which meant that the SCCAP office was closed. When I came home and told my housemates about my midweek vacation they were all baffled; both because they didn’t know what Flag Day was and because they wondered why I would have the day off while they all still had to go to work. I told my mom that I had the day off and she too was surprised that people were still off for Flag Day, a seemingly outdated holiday that people no longer really celebrate. However, all this talk of Flag Day inspired some research. After looking on Wikipedia, I discovered that June 14th 1777 is the day that the United States adopted the American flag, and that Pennsylvania was the first (and only) state in the United States to adopt Flag Day as a state holiday. However, other states still celebrate the holiday with parades and various other celebrations. Essentially, Flag Day is just another patriotic holiday to celebrate the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” (We’re really hit up for patriotism between May and July, with Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day.)

Unfortunately, I had a hard time drumming up patriotism to celebrate the holiday. Maybe it’s because in the past I’d blown past this holiday because it didn’t come with the benefits of a day off from school. Or, maybe it’s because I still worked that day so I still wasn’t really feeling the benefits. I’m more keen to believe that it has more to do with the fact that I’ve been more aware over the past few weeks of the many ways the government has failed a large portion of its people. It’s hard to be patriotic about a country when you come in contact with the people that the government has repeatedly failed. Don’t worry, I am still able to recognize the great things about this country, I’m not an anarchist looking to overthrow the government completely. However, I’ve recently been overwhelmed by the hurt felt by many and the lack of government motivation to do anything about this hurt.

I’ve recently been doing some research for Emily Rice-Townsend about what the Circles Initiative refers to as the “wage gap.” The wage gap is the difference between a person on welfare’s income and their spending power. Through talking with Circles’ members, it was discovered that as a person’s income increases, their spending power decreases because they lose benefits at a faster rate than their income is increasing. For example, a person may earn 90 dollars extra for a month but they’re expected to pay 150 dollars more for groceries because they lose some of their food stamps benefits (these numbers are not actually based on how the food stamps system works, just an example). In doing this research, Emily asked that I look into how the federal and state governments are dealing with this issue, if they’re doing anything. How ridiculous is it that, when I Google searched something along these lines the only hits I got had to with Canadian governments? I was baffled by this. I’m still baffled by the fact that the United States welfare system is failing people and the government is working at glacier pace to reform the system.

Later that day, I got the opportunity to help out with deliveries to migrant families in the area with Emily, Cam, and a volunteer. As I delivered food to the families, I was glad to be able to converse with them in Spanish even though I could tell many of them were surprised that I spoke any Spanish at all. As I got a glimpse of the migrant families’ lives from the outside of their houses and their doorways, I was once again reminded of my disappointment in our government. Did you know that, for 2011, 3.6 billion is projected to be spent on border control? This year we will spend 3.6 billion, to keep out people who are essential to United States farming and various other industries. When these families do get past the border control that the government is spending so much money on, they work in jobs that most Americans would never want and are even underpaid for those jobs. Yet, the government still spends so much money on this task, instead of focusing on tasks which would be much more beneficial to our country, such as reforming welfare.

Of course, I’m probably biased. I’ve been researching welfare, coming in contact with welfare users, talking to people who welfare have failed, and spending time at the homeless shelter. You’re probably thinking: of course she thinks the welfare system is a failure, she’s only talking to the people who it has failed, she’s not talking to the successes. And if you’re thinking that, you might be right. However, I don’t think you are. As I’m doing this internship, I’m doing research for a paper I’ll be writing about the efficiencies of welfare based on people’s experiences with the system. Every time I tell this to someone who works at SCCAP they correct me and say “you mean inefficiencies.” Even the people who work with the system proclaim it as inefficient; it’s not just the impoverished people. That to me, says way more than anything else.

I have this theory that the reason the system fails people is because it focuses too much on the stereotypes of poor people and not enough on the actual needs of people. The government is focusing too much on how much welfare costs, so they are cutting off people’s benefits to save money instead of saving money by creating a system that actually works. I’m reminded of something Emily Rice-Townsend said to me, “I feel like people should be angrier about the fact that their tax dollars are going to a system that isn’t working than that they might be paying more for a system that might actually work” because let’s be real, a working system will probably cost less in the long run. Instead, people would rather waste their tax dollars on border control to keep out “illegals” than reform the welfare system to meet the needs of citizens of the United States.

Obviously, I wasn’t really feeling the patriotism this Flag Day, but it’s not because I hate the United States. It’s just because I’m really disappointed in where the government’s priorities lie. Maybe next year I’ll celebrate.

I’ll talk to you all soon!

Laura

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