“As Easy As Picking An iPhone:” How Those in Power Deflect Responsibility From Themselves

Jack and I waiting at the Department of Social Services back in 2015.

Whenever a current event comes around that clearly impacts the less fortunate, I start to think about myself when I was in need. When I was at the very bottom and required assistance. More often than not, I realize how often people in power try to frame the misfortunes of the poor in a way that points blame and assigns fault.

That does not under any circumstance mean we shouldn’t be held accountable for our decisions or situations, but there are times when the situations we are in are created by the environment we exist in.

House Republicans recently released the healthcare plan they are seeking to replace the Affordable Care Act with. Needless to say, no one is happy with “Trump Care.” It is set to take existing insurances that have been made possible by the Affordable Care Act away from millions of people who, prior to the ACA, had little to no coverage at all.

Seriously, no one likes this plan.

Yet, when the expected swarm of questions from the media came to the GOP about the plan, the responses deflected any kind of responsibility away from those who had created the bill.

We’ve heard Paul Ryan talk about the “savings” they’ll offer and many others explaining that it’s a much more “personal” alternative to what Obamacare has offered over the years. But most notable was the quote taken from Jason Chaffetz. During an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Chaffetz stated:

“Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.”

They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.

The irony is that quote states the obvious, and it’s the very reason people have been ripping his quote apart. He has since retracted his statement, trying to state that it was simply a quick comparison to promote responsibility. And yet, the GOP have yet to seek any responsibility for the ramifications this will have if and when the bill is passed.

Before I was able to find a secure job and a reliable program to help me pay for a babysitter, I was on welfare. Instead of finding myself and having a “gap year” following my college graduation, I was five months pregnant with my second child and raising an 18 month old primarily on my own. While I had a great source of friends who would offer their help and taking care of my children whenever they could, they had their own duties and jobs to go to. I did not know about any reliable childcare providers in the area and I was lost. Without childcare, I would not be able to work the amount of hours it would take for me to pay for my bills. And my bills went as followed:

Car: $314

Car Insurance: $100

Phone Bill: $100

Rent: $760

Gas for Car: $40 Weekly (or $160 Monthly)

Diapers: $20 Weekly ($80 Monthly)

Without few options at my disposal, I applied for welfare. I sat in the office with dozens of others around me (mainly people of color) in the Department of Social Services filling out my papers for welfare, food stamps and health insurance. Like the people around me, I too, had an iPhone or a smartphone of some sort. And I distinctly remember not using my phone while in the office. I did not want to be like “those people” that were possibly “cheating the system.” I did not want to risk my chances of getting the help I needed by showing I had a luxury that some people believed I did not deserve.

Then I started to remember my laptop (a MacBook) at home. The SmarTv I had in my room. I started feeling guilty for the things I had. Did I deserve these things?

I had bought my laptop with money from my Gates Scholarship. My SmarTv too. Had I not deserved that financial aid either?

Was I being punished for having children too early? For not having my life sorted out?

Then I started looking around the office and noticed something. The same thing I noticed every time I have to go visit that office. Mugshots of people of color who have “cheated the system.” On the pictures, it shows their name, date of birth, how long they’ve been sentenced to jail, the crime the committed and how much money they took away from the state through their fraud. Anywhere there was a line or a place to sit, you were forced to look at these photos.

Personally, there was this fear in me to fill out the form with complete accuracy. Or, more significantly, to try to get the least amount of money from the program as possible even while consciously knowing that at that very amount I need a LOT of help. For me in the state I was in, it was “don’t ask for that much money or else you could wind up in jail.”

It was the same propaganda that was used by Reagan in the 80’s to negatively portray those who needed help. The infamous “Welfare Queens” line went into full force and this tale of accountability was born. The same tale that has influenced many politicians to degrade those who are of low-income into believe it is their fault for their lack of affordable resources.

People like Chaffetz.

I was on welfare for a little over a year and a half. They gave me enough to cover my rent in welfare cash aid, enough to cover my groceries in food stamps and my children got insurance through MediCal. I partially was cut off because I never renewed my papers but partially I knew I didn’t need it. After a year and a half of government help, I was able to land a full-time job, find affordable daycare through the program Crystal Stairs and ease up my rent expenses thanks to a good friend who allowed me to live with them at a lower cost.

Six months after being completely off welfare, I have finally saved up enough money to go apartment hunting for a place entirely my own.

I am not denying there needs to be regulation with the way that welfare is offered, distributed and provided to people. The same goes with health insurance. There should be policies laid out so that those who are crucially in need are completely covered, while those that can manage to pay a premium can do so at affordable rates.

Of course there are people that take advantage of the system. Yes, there are people who have welfare and also have Gucci bags. I work at a dental office and deal with people who have MediCal but also park their expensive cars outside our office. I’m aware of this reality. But I’m also aware of the patients who are in their 30s or 40s who were finally able to get MediCal in the last eight years who come in to see a dentist for the very first time. So really, what do the materialistic possessions of people have to do with providing affordable healthcare to those that actually need it? Especially when that is your job and their financial expenses are slim compared to what the federal budget is primarily used for.

What I, and many people around me, are saying is that there are also people like me who temporarily need extra support as they try to get on their feet.

Or perhaps they need it a bit longer.

Or maybe they just want to actually see a dentist or a doctor and not worry about how they will pay for it.

The notion that people are living in poverty due to their desire for luxury items such as phones, or TVs or their daily dose of Starbucks is problematic because it dismisses the fact that we are living in an age of stagnated wages, stalled upward mobility growth, and unprecedented cost of living increases.

Even if someone did forgo an iPhone, she would not be able to cover the costs of insulin for two weeks let alone an entire health plan.

While it’s true that people can find more effective ways to minimize their daily expenditures- including phone related costs- the responsibility still falls on Congress to present their constituents with a healthcare plan that won’t drive families into bankruptcy each and every time they fall ill.

And so far, Congress has fallen short.

Christina Martinez contributed to this article.