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MARK OF DISGRACE

An editorial review of “a Case for Stigma” by Daniel Hart

 

Daniel W. Hart is an Assistant Attorney General for the Iowa Department of Justice Human Services Division or as he aptly puts it, “a lawyer for welfare bureaucrats.” He is also the executive committee Vice President of The American Association of Public Welfare Attorneys. The AAPWA is a pool of lawyers who represent local governments and oversee public assistance programs. According to the AAPWA’s website, the aim of these collected attorneys is to, “provide for cordial exchange of experience and knowledge related to the development of public welfare policy.” While the tone reflected in the former statement may suggest amicability, Daniel Hart’s article, “A Case for Stigma” seems to the contrary. Published by the American Public Human Services Association, the brief editorial offers a stark view of the negative cultural attitudes that prevail within the infrastructure of The Department of Human Services.

    Stigma: What is it? Webster’s 2nd College Edition New World Dictionary of the American Language defines stigma as, “a prick with a pointed instrument”, “a distinguishing mark burned or cut into the flesh, as of a slave or criminal”, “Something that detracts from the character or reputation of a person, group, etc.; mark of disgrace or reproach”, “a mark, sign, etc. indicating that something is not considered normal or standard.” (Webster’s 1399).

    Legislation has passed several laws to; supposedly, safeguard the public, but what good are laws to those who have no power to enforce and uphold them? Add to that, political motives, complicated inter-governmental contracts, conflicting incentives, and an honor system in place of oversight, the potential for corruption seem limitless.     Although there may be slight variations from county to county and state to state, in my experience, the general attitude towards people on “welfare” within the administrative context is, more often than not, derogatory. The word welfare, in contrast to its original definition, is generally stigmatizing today. It evokes an American stereotype that often characterizes poverty as a product of choosing to be lazy and/or incompetent, prone to deceit, fraud, unplanned pregnancy and/or criminal behavior. The consequential result of this “blame affect” succeeds to diminish efforts towards individual self-sufficiency in favor of punishment, achieved by denying access to specialized services, weakening civil rights by not building welfare recipients an equitable grievance system with practical routes for legal remedy. In the end, the discriminating process of eligibility screening is arguably more expensive to operate than to not provide at all and the system essentially defeats itself by designing an improbable labyrinth of contracts, authorization, utilization and quality assurance that requires costly, extensive employee power in order to maintain a system that swallows up public funds for administrating services that, ultimately, exist more in a figurative sense than in practice.

Originally, welfare meant, “[T]he state of being or doing well; condition of health, happiness, and comfort; well-being; prosperity”. (Webster’s 1613). With this in mind, a statement such as, “everyone will want the help we used to call welfare”, loses its power to insult and begs the question, does not each one of us want and deserve welfare?

Hart’s argument is a bitter look at the widening disparity that is shrinking the American Middle Class. As a political strategy, his methods demean the notion of public service, begging the question, “Where is and who represents the Greater Good?”

     “A Case for Stigma” is convincing evidence for the case against stigma. What is ironic about Mr. Hart’s argument is that for all of his attempts to elevate himself above the disgraceful welfare recipients, no argument succeeds to disguise the fact that he is just as reliant upon the welfare system to survive as the persons he determines to deny access to it. A coin is still a coin no matter which side it lands upon, choosing to judge, rather than count its worth causes devaluation instead of refined calculation

    Overall, it is difficult to understand what motivates an article such as this. On the surface, the only goal seems to be to perpetuate pejorative images of people who utilize human services. What is Hart trying to prove? As with most discriminatory attitudes and behaviors, the answer is not so clear. Political and/or financial ambitions likely fuel Hart’s distorted appreciation for stigma since such a perspective is incompatible with the concept of a caring community and public service.

 

WORKS CITED

“Legal Notes – Iowa’s Dan Hart on A Case for Stigma.” Policy & Practice of Public Humann Services: The Journal of the American Public Human Services Association. 67. 2 (2009): 22.

Lunsford, Andrea A. and John J. Ruszkiewicz. everything’s an argument. Bedford/St. Martins: Boston, NewYork. 2007.

Marx, Karl. Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Progress Publishers: Moscow, Russia, 1932. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marxs/works/1844/manuscripts/preface.htm.

Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language Second College Edition Deluxe Color Edition. William Collins Publishers, Inc. 1980.

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  1. By Mark of Disgrace Pinki Tuscaderro Speaks on 16 Jun 2010 at 11:49 pm

    […] for welfare bureaucrats. He is also the executive committee Vice President of The American …More Here var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_localize = { Share: "Share", Save: "Save", Subscribe: […]

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