Section A:
 Longing for a New Welfare System
(Longing for a New Welfare System)
A welfare client is supposed to cheat. Everybody expects it. Faced with sharing a dinner of raw pet food with the cat, many people in wheelchairs I know bleed the system for a few extra dollars. They tell the government that they are getting two hundred dollars less than their real pension so they can get a little extra welfare money. Or, they tell the caseworker that the landlord raised the rent by a hundred dollars.
I have opted to live a life of complete honesty. So instead, I go out and drum up some business and draw cartoons. I even tell welfare how much I make! Oh, I'm tempted to get paid under the table. But even if I yielded to that temptation, big magazines are not going to get involved in some sticky situation. They keep my records, and that information goes right into the government's computer. Very high- profile.
As a welfare client I'm expected to bow before the caseworker. Deep down, caseworkers know that they are being made fools of by many of their clients, and they feel they are entitled to have clients bow to them as compensation. I'm not being bitter. Most caseworkers begin as college-educated liberals with high ideals. But after a few years in a system that practically requires people to lie, they become like the one I shall call "Suzanne", a detective in shorts.
Not long after Christmas last year, Suzanne came to inspect my apartment and saw some new posters pasted on the wall. "Where'd you get the money for those?" she wanted to know.
"Friends and family."
"Well, you'd better have a receipt for it, by God. You have to report any donations or gifts."
This was my cue to beg. Instead, I talked back. "I got a cigarette from somebody on the street the other day. Do I have to report that?"
"Well I'm sorry, but I don't make the rules, Mr. Callahan."
Suzanne tries to lecture me about repairs to my wheelchair, which is always breaking down because welfare won't spend the money maintaining it properly. "You know, Mr. Callahan, I've heard that you put a lot more miles on that wheelchair than average."
Of course I do. I'm an active worker, not a vegetable. I live near downtown, so I can get around in a wheelchair. I wonder what she'd think if she suddenly broke her hip and had to crawl to work.
Government cuts in welfare have resulted in hunger and suffering for a lot of people, not just me. But people with spinal cord injuries felt the cuts in a unique way: The government stopped taking care of our chairs. Each time mine broke down, lost a screw, needed a new roller bearing, the brake wouldn't work, etc., and I called Suzanne, I had to endure a little lecture. Finally, she'd say, "Well, if I can find time today, I'll call the medical worker."
She was supposed to notify the medical worker, who would certify that there was a problem. Then the medical worker called the wheelchair repair companies to get the cheapest bid. Then the medical worker alerted the main welfare office at the state capital. They considered the matter for days while I lay in bed, unable to move. Finally, if I was lucky, they called back and approved the repair.
When welfare learned I was making money on my cartoons, Suzanne started "visiting" every fortnight instead of every two months. She looked into every corner in search of unreported appliances, or maids, or a roast pig in the oven, or a new helicopter parked out back. She never found anything, but there was always a thick pile of forms to fill out at the end of each visit, accounting for every penny.
There is no provision in the law for a gradual shift away from welfare. I am an independent businessman, slowly building up my market. It's impossible to jump off welfare and suddenly be making two thousand dollars a month. But I would love to be able to pay for some of my living and not have to go through an embarrassing situation every time I need a spare part for my wheelchair.
There needs to be a lawyer who can act as a champion for the rights of welfare clients, because the system so easily lends itself to abuse by the welfare givers as well as by the clients. Welfare sent Suzanne to look around in my apartment the other day because the chemist said I was using a larger than usual amount of medical supplies. I was, indeed: the hole that has been surgically cut to drain urine had changed size and the connection to my urine bag was leaking.
While she was taking notes, my phone rang and Suzanne answered it. The caller was a state senator, which scared Suzanne a little. Would I sit on the governor's committee and try to do something about the thousands of welfare clients who, like me, could earn part or all of their own livings if they were allowed to do so, one step at a time?
Hell, yes, I would! Someday people like me will thrive under a new system that will encourage them, not seek to convict them of cheating. They will be free to develop their talents without guilt or fear — or just hold a good, steady job.