“Cheque day” is the only day of the month that rules some families and is completely irrelevant or unknown to others. If you don’t count the days till cheque day, consider yourself very, very fortunate.
For those not in the know, cheque day is when social assistance payments go out. This can be either through the province’s welfare (which means safety and well-being) program, Ontario Works, or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP.) These “cheques” go out at the end of the month, although nowadays most people will receive their payments through direct deposit into their bank account.
The term “cheque day” is completely taboo in the middle-class world. It’s an invisible rule to never, ever admit that you might be on some form of income assistance and that you may need help. I’m writing today to shatter this concept that you should be ashamed if you need help. With 43% of my town (Smiths Falls) living below the poverty line, I’m afraid “cheque day” culture may be hurting families in the community, stopping them from reaching out when in need.
Most people don’t aspire to live on the minimum payments income assistance provides. It’s not exactly a choice, but rather a lack of options that brings people to apply for help. Long gone are the days of steady, nine to five kind of work days. Now, instead you’ll find a plethora of part-time, contract, temporary basis, at obscure hours of the day kind of low-paying jobs that may not always cover rent.
Then there is situational poverty. You get hurt on the job and two years later your disability insurance runs out, before you’ve recovered and you can’t return to work anyways because your employer now considers you a liability. Or you get cancer, and survive. There are so many ways we can lose it all that it’s not so much a matter of if, but when.
Cheque day culture is all around us, for those who care to notice. From the end of the month, long grocery store lineups, to the dramatic decrease in school milk orders when the fourth Tuesday payment date, is not the last business day of the month. More alarming signs, like bare, sold-out shelves in the baby aisle occurring on cheque day, exist. Just imagine how many babies went without something the day before.
It is not a bad thing to need and ask for help, but rather a good thing we live in a community that can offer it. We pay taxes for things like fixing the roads, to keep people safe. Social welfare programs are designed for the same reason, to keep people safe. We perpetuate stigma when we adhere so closely to the invisible rules of our social classes, when we hide or make excuses for not having money until cheque day out of fear of getting the dreaded “look.” It’s time to break those rules. It’s time to start talking, shamelessly. No one should ever be afraid to ask for help and no one should ever shame someone for asking.