As a public benefits attorney, I read with interest a post about the new Pew Research Center survey that found that more than three-quarters of self-identified conservatives – and almost half of all those surveyed – believe the poor “have it easy” because they can “get public benefits without doing anything.”
Every day, I work with clients who are wrongfully denied public benefits. Who gets this assistance? A woman with disabilities whose Social Security benefits keep her from becoming homeless; a 10-year-old child whose Medicaid pays for his leukemia treatments; a working parent whose food stamps supplement her low-paying job to help feed her children; a worker who gets unemployment when he loses his job due to company lay-offs.
While these programs could be improved, it is painful to hear that so many Americans believe public benefits make life “easy.” In addition to the substantial negative impacts of poverty on health, safety, education outcomes, and interaction with the criminal justice system, applying for (and keeping) public benefits is a challenge all of its own. Applicants face long lines, confusing application forms, low benefit amounts, and improper denials and terminations of public benefits. Legal Aid and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute released a report last month documenting these challenges in the District.
I would urge anyone who has doubts about the impact of these programs to spend an afternoon at Legal Aid. Meet our clients and learn about their lives: try telling them that their age, disability, unexpected job loss, lack of job opportunities, or inability to afford groceries is “easy.”
My colleagues and I work every day to ensure that individuals and families receive the critical public benefits they are entitled to. Your support of Legal Aid’s Generous Associate Campaign makes our work possible.