a medical mask on top of a pile of money
Photo Courtesy of Flickr.

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I

must hang around with a cynical bunch because when we first heard about the proposal for stimulus relief checks due to the COVID-19 crisis almost all of my friends were skeptical as hell. We just didn’t believe that the government would be so benevolent to care enough about the working poor and the problems that they would face in the coming weeks. 

To recommend that people shelter in place and stay home for an indefinite period goes to show that some officials are simply out of touch with what it means to be a working-class person in America. 

It’s a no-brainer for those who have the resources to consider complying and staying in. Many people are being paid to work from home. Many people were telecommuters in the first place, like my sister who hasn’t worked from an office in 20 years. Many people were retired with sufficient incomes and investments to hold them off for months, if not for the next year or so.  

But the working poor and their families still go from paycheck to paycheck, living in fear. And in an effort to provide the basics for themselves or their families, they don’t have the luxury of staying home indefinitely. 

They‘ve got to choose between getting sick and losing everything real quick. A lot of people, including this writer, never had the kind of safety net needed to make it through what is starting to seem like months of sheltering in place. So we are forced to roll the dice. But rolling them not only gambles with our lives but the lives of the unsuspecting members of the public we may come in contact with. 

So when I heard about the stimulus package I listened with a discerning ear and being a skeptic, I said this may be too good to be true. So at every chance I listened, waiting for the other shoe to drop.   

The conditions laid out for receiving a check changed daily during the deliberations on the bill. When it was all said and done it looked like a Christmas miracle for those of us who struggled financially even before COVID-19. 

There was a lot of talk and debate about creating something that would be inclusive and making sure no group would be left out. Congress went back and forth about who would be eligible based on income and it seemed they were headed in the right direction. I talked with many people who would be above the income requirement and would receive no stimulus check and I was so happy and proud to hear many of them say that if they didn’t need it and were given a stimulus check they would give the money to charity. 

As the days went on more and more people I had contact with got very excited and enthusiastic. Knowing that they would be getting a significant contribution from the federal government with supposedly no strings attached. After debate, Congress settled on $1,200 for anyone whose income was less than $75,000, with the only requirement that they file a tax return for last year if they didn’t file one for 2018. (And the IRS made a free website for people who don’t normally file a federal tax return to provide their information and claim their check.)  

But I sensed from the beginning it would be virtually impossible for Congress to pass a bill that would include help for everyone without being prejudicial, judgmental and biased. It wouldn’t be America or the Congress not to leave someone or some group out of some legislation that would benefit people during a crisis. 

In this crisis, the powers that be have decided the trap door would fall open under the feet of those who owed child support, which may be withheld from our checks or eliminate some from receiving one altogether. It’s a moral judgment by people who haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of people who have been faced with this dilemma, and that would include me, yours truly. We are still Americans aren’t we? We pay taxes and some of us may have even put their lives on the line serving this country.  

But this is America, where certain states will still deny help to those in need based upon a moralistic view of their past behavior. Stopping them and their families from getting the same help that others have access to because their life’s journey was different. In some states, if you have drug charges or have been in prison, you are not eligible for food stamps or public housing.  

The powers-that-be have passed moral judgment on those of us who have struggled with executing our roles in society as mothers and fathers financially. But they do not take into account that many of us have rebuilt our lives and have become involved in our children’s lives and contributed financially for years to their well-being without it being officially a child-support payment. 

Shame on you Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, for allowing a trap door in this bill to eliminate any group of people from the help many Americans need to make it through the challenge of living through the COVID-19 crisis. 

Wendell Wiliams is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.