Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

What Should the Poor Be Allowed to Have?

7.25.12 blog what should the poor be allowed to have
Original photo of  a young boy playing with an Ipad. The child lives in a New Orleans public housing development and the photo sparked controversy over what the poor should be allowed to have.Photo by Rusty Constanza/Times-Picayune.

Like it or not, this question arises fairly frequently—especially when it comes to government assistance for hungry and poor people. Reporter Katy Reckdahl recently brought this issue to light in a July 17 article in The Times-Picayune that sparked considerable outrage among readers. Ironically, the outrage was not directed at the content of her article, which addressed the potential negative impacts a hotel implosion could have on residents of the Iberville public housing development. Instead, readers were indignant about the photo that accompanied the article, taken by photographer Rusty Costanza, which featured an 8-year-old boy playing with an iPad on the steps of the public housing complex.

If you’re wondering what a public housing resident is doing with such an expensive piece of technology, you are not alone. The original article received numerous comments, prompting fellow Times-Picayune reporter Jarvis DeBerry to write his piece five days later. In the July 22 story, Jarvis wrote, “I imagine that at some point or another all of us who aren't poor have decided which items poor folks, especially those on government assistance, should be allowed to have. And which items they should be denied.”

He continued, “City Councilwoman Stacy Head used her taxpayer-funded phone to send an outraged email when she saw a woman using food stamps to buy Rice Krispies treats. What right do the poor have to sweetness?”

The fact that this child is playing with a pricey gadget should not fool us into thinking life in government housing is grand. “The idea that most people in public housing are living the lush life has persisted for at least as long as presidential candidate Ronald Reagan started using the offensive ‘welfare queen,’” Jarvis added, challenging the notion that people in poverty are undeserving of government assistance.

Sadly, images like this one fuel beliefs that federal safety net programs should be reduced. Why are we not all equally as scandalized by the fact that people earning over $250,000 per year receive tremendous tax cuts, credits, and incentives? Tax deductions, exemptions, and credits cost the government over $1 trillion each year, but if lawmakers allow the Bush-era tax cuts for high-wage earners to expire, the federal government would generate $830 billion in revenue over ten years.

“It might help to think of poor people as being as fully human as everybody else and as no more or less flawed.” Well said, Jarvis. Well said.



Kristen Youngblood Archer is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.


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