To say that the past two weeks have been a little crazy would be like saying Ronald Reagan “squeaked by to win reelection” in 1984. I had my first television interview, I’ve appeared on countless radio shows, and was featured on The Blaze, National Review, and I The Associated Press ran a story about me throughout the country. Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Dana Loesch, Mark Levin and Howie Carr all gave my blog post either a shout-out or an on-air discussion. To say I’m floored would be an understatement. This has been the most exciting week of my life.

One thing I’ve noticed amongst all the media attention was that somewhere in between the 14th and 16th of December, the focus of the story changed. The story was no longer about the abuse and fraud of the welfare system that I had witnessed while working at Walmart. The story became something different: me. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is completely beyond the point. One impassioned columnist encouraged me to go visit a homeless shelter. Others instructed me to go work as a social worker for a year or two. Still others were calling me out for everything including the size of my arms and color of my hair. Others told me they loved me and proposed. While the proposals were lovely and flattering, I’m still not the story. This shouldn’t be about me. The abuse of the welfare system is the story. That is what we should be focusing on. We shouldn’t be focusing on a 20-year old college student with a laptop and a story to tell.

I wasn’t condemning all welfare recipients, as one website’s twisted headline suggested. I wasn’t condemning the disabled nor the homeless. I was condemning those who make a career out of welfare. I was condemning those who make extravagant purchases with state aid such as those who use aid to purchase items to fund a party (as two boys buying three 24-packs of Mountain Dew one night with EBT announced, “Yeah, we’re having a party tonight!” as the state paid for their beverages. Lovely. Also, I’ve heard Mountain Dew is horrible for your teeth…). I was condemning those who are essentially stealing taxpayer money to use on things for which it was not intended. People should be upset about this.

Those who seemed to actually read my column (as opposed to the AP summary or other article) agreed with me. I had several friends say that my column was the first time they had ever agreed with me politically.  They understood the point I was trying to convey. Nobody likes seeing deductions from a paycheck going to taxes, and it’s reasonable that people would get upset if they found out their taxes were being spent on lobsters, steak, beer, slip ‘n slides, and WWE figurines—things that are absolutely not essential for survival.

Others got distracted by use of language such as “welfare queens” and attacked me based on that. I had one radio host point out that the majority of people on the system use it correctly, and that the amount of fraud reported is very small. This is absolutely correct, and I’m not going to dispute that. To that, however, I say: a newspaper will never report that 5,000 planes safely took off and landed on time. They will, however, report that a plane has crashed, or that a plane just barely landed safety. People using welfare correctly aren’t a story. People taking advantage of the system are the story, and I witnessed numerous instances of such abuse.

I’ve received near-unanimous praise from my former coworkers. Many of them thanked me for telling a story they’ve been dying to tell. They’re upset about the abuse of the system that they witness daily. I’ve heard stories beyond my wildest imaginations in the past two weeks. My mother used to work in the electronics department. She watched customers pay in cash for expensive electronics, and then turn around and buy food with EBT. My aunt was a cashier at another supermarket, and she told of how people would buy glass jugs of milk with EBT, dump the milk outside, and redeem the bottle for $1.50 to spend elsewhere (Maine has a bottle deposit on most beverages). It eventually got to the point where the store had to limit the amount of milk a person could purchase per transaction because the milk was being wasted down the sewer. That’s despicable. Another woman shared a story of one of her customers asking her young daughter where “the card you were playing EBT with yesterday went.” EBT is not a game. Welfare should not be treated as a game. This is how generations of dependency start. If a child grows up thinking receiving governmental help to buy food and other items is a normal, expected thing, and never sees her mother work, she has no constructive example of how to improve her situation. That’s not what I want to see in Maine. That’s not what conservatives want to see nationwide.

The Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, recently released figures showing that Maine has more people receiving welfare than paying income taxes. That scares me. A state cannot continue functioning if these statistics persist. Mainers are compassionate people. We want to help others. Our desire to help others, however, is going to destroy the state unless reasonable reforms are taken. LePage proposed removing all non-citizens (regardless of their legal status) from Maine Care (Medicaid) benefits. One concerned citizen asked if this was a fair thing to do. LePage countered that we need to ensure that Mainers are covered before we extend the benefits to others. I agree.

The Portland Press Herald reported on December 24th that a woman had been arrested for stealing more than $10,000 from the state via food stamp-fraud. She had been reporting that her children lived in her house when they did not. This type of abuse isn’t possible to observe from a cashier’s point of view. If my article inspired anyone to turn in a neighbor/friend/relative who was committing fraud, then I’ve done my job as a reporter. That’s the real story here, folks. As one commenter said, I wasn’t painting a picture of abuse; I was describing a photograph. Just because you may not like what the photograph reveals does not mean you have to attack the person describing the photo.

Regardless of her hair color.

Christine Rousselle // Providence College // @crousselle