U.S. Welfare system – Blessing or Curse?

I’m trying to understand why some of my conservative friends are so opposed to government welfare to individuals. In my view, welfare is a necessary and humane way of helping people in need to get their basic needs of food, shelter and medicine met. While charities and religious organizations can help in these areas, federal and state governments can provide help for the greatest number of people in as fair a manner as possible. Does abuse of our welfare system occur? I’m sure it does. Reforms need to be made to make America’s welfare system better. We can make our system better through change, not by destroying it.

Having stated my view, let’s explore the reasons why some people oppose welfare to poor people. First, giving people welfare makes them dependant upon the state for their income. I’ve listened to stories of people living off welfare their entire lives, their children living off welfare and so on down the line. I’m not sure how common this is. I would like to see statistics if anyone has some. According to one source:

<< The average welfare mom is 28 years old and has fewer then 2 kids (1.7). Her husband/significant other left her. (Those are the stats. Seems wrong but it’s true.) She stays on welfare less than 2 years. Her “welfare benefit” in my state is about $450 a month. She gets a little more for food stamps but there is little subsidized housing. She only gets child care if she’s working or in school. >>

This suggests that a many, if not most, welfare recipients only draw government funds for a relative short period of time until they can get back on their feet. In an ideal world, no one would need welfare funds for more than a short time. This seems like a good argument for providing more job training, urging employers to pay a better working wage, and providing daycare and adequate medical coverage for people who need it.

A second proposed problem with welfare is that it promotes laziness. This is based on the premise that medium to long-term welfare recipients are too lazy to go out and get a job.

I’m in favor working hard and achieving “the American Dream”. I have gotten to a point in my life where I earn enough money to pay for my home, food, healthcare and more. I had quite a bit of help along the way from my family and others. Not everyone has the luxury of growing up in a middle class home, like me. I’ve heard stories of people from the welfare ranks that have gotten an education or joined the army and led successful lives. I applaud those individuals. Unfortunately, it can be a very difficult battle that not everyone can achieve in our current society. There’s not enough education, jobs in the military and good paying jobs to accommodate everyone. I don’t believe that most people on welfare are lazy. Many just don’t have the same opportunities as people with more money. Other people may not have the ability to hold down a job.

A third argument against welfare is that it creates a robin-hood scenario within the government. A friend of mine told me how she earns her money and wants to keep it as opposed to paying taxes to the government. Should a taxpayer have to have a portion of their money to support the welfare of others? Let’s examine this more closely. How much of our federal budget is spent on welfare? According to the article I quoted above:

<<We’re talking less than 2% of the federal budget for welfare (including child care and food stamps). ALL of that money goes to kids. You don’t get welfare if you don’t have dependent children living with you. You cut off all support because the mom “doesn’t want to work” you cut off all support to the children too. That isn’t fair to the kids. >>

At two percent, I contribute about $80 a year to help families with children that need food and shelter to survive. That seems like a small price to pay to help my fellow man. Could charities or churches do the same or a better job of helping people in need? If so, I would welcome them to take that responsibility.

In summary, our American welfare system helps many individuals. Some, few, people abuse the system. Is government welfare for needy people a blessing or a curse? Should we continue to use our tax money to help people in need? Does our welfare system need major reforms or to be scrapped altogether? Does our welfare system reward laziness or provide people in dire needs with the basic necessities of food, shelter, and medicine? Are people opposed to welfare afraid that they too may find themselves on skid row? How much more money is spent on corporate welfare than on individual welfare? I have lots of question that I would like answers to.

I’m not a big fan of welfare, both on ideological grounds and from personal experience.

I moved to the US with my mother in late 1993, when I was eight. We lived off welfare for several years until the benefits were cut back and my mom (a programmer with almost 20 years of experience on the other side of the pond) got a job. While on welfare, my mom dragged me into the Church of Scientology, which thoroughly ruined my health. I would contend that we would most likely be much better off on many levels if welfare had not been an option; we would have had to take initiative and deal with the situation right away rather than years later, and probably would not have been involved with Scientology and all that shit. The remote possibility of starving to death might have existed, but Social Darwinism is an equal-opportunity view, and to be honest, a slim risk of death is far better than a likelihood of adverse consequences for a lifetime.

You’re content paying eighty bucks a year toward helping hungry people, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not the sum that clashes with ideology, but the fact that it’s forced. One person’s needs should not supersede another’s property rights, and this principle holds for a penny or a million. Helping the needy may be a good thing, but it should be an individual’s prerogative, not the government’s.

A brief stint on welfare allowed my mom to go to college and get the training to be a well-paid computer systems analyst- not the waitress she was before. It made her able to earn enough money to raise her kid, and put me in an educated environment. Welfare broke the cycle of poverty for us.

Most people on welfare are not lazy. Some are in a temporary bad position. It only takes one layoff, one fight with a spouse, one illness to send most of us over the financial edge. Others are lifers, but mostly because they have mental or physical illnesses (I know one lady who was raising three of her sisters’ kids while battling cancer that regularly broke her bones) that make working impossible.

Part of living in a nation is taking care of your nation. In this nation we choose not to have to ward off child beggars and trip over TB cases on the street. It’s a reasonable thing to expect from such a prosperous nation. The money spent on welare is a good investment in our nation, and it should stay that way.

Wow, $80/year? It seems like at that price we could make it voluntary. Say, a little check box on your W-4 that said “Check this box to have $1.54/week from your pay put in the welfare fund and enable you to receive assistance if you become destitute.” or something. Surely no one would really want to save $1.54/week that bad. It seems like disqualifying yourself from the program would have to the potential to be much more costly. Although the only real benefit of it would be diffusing complaints about it being forced.

Before weighing, lets get some facts straight. 2% is incorrect, being ridiculously low. I don’t have the patience to look up the numbers, but I’ll give you some things to think about if you want to make the case that welfare is “cheap”:

  1. IIRC, most welfare payments are made at the state level, so looking only at federal programs is missing a big chunk of the picture.

  2. Medicare/Medicaid are also part of the equation (as well as their state counterpart).

  3. Social security is nothing but welfare for senior citizens. Gotta count that, too.

Forget the % oif the federal budget. From this week’s NYT Magazine article:

That’s percent of teh GDP, not percent of the federal budget (and this doesn’t include state spending).

You seem to be attackin the Conservative stance on the wrong basis.

As a whole, conservatives aren’t against welfare.

Most conservatives support supplemental income and medical benefits for people that are seriously handicapped. I mean, we don’t expect people with certain disabilities to just “pick themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Conservatives also have no problem with things like worker’s compensation, unemployment and et cetra. Employer’s and employee’s both pay into payroll taxes to sort of create the fund for unemployment and worker’s compensation. So when someone goes unemployed and receives unemployment it is not a governmental “gift” it is rather you getting your money back from the fund you have been paying in to.

It’s basically government forced unemployment insurance.

When the welfare issue starts to get a bit murky is when we get into people who are actually living completely off welfare.

Certain situationals I’m okay with. Single mom has 3 kids, cannot raise them on her income, give her some money to help raise the kids. But in that case I do not support say, giving that mom an income on top of money for the kids. I think the mom in that case should be expected to work.

And the father should be expected to pay child support, obviously.

For me, if you can afford to clothe, shelter, and feed your children, you don’t have any business claiming them as a reason to be on welfare. Just because they can’t get the prettiest clothes or the newest toys, I don’t think that is an excuse to start making people finance your life.

You have to remember that many of the big problems conservatives had with welfare have been addressed through the years (many by the Clinton administration.)

Part of the problem years ago was it really was very easy for people to defraud the system (the number of people that are fraudulent is small, just like with insurance fraud, but the effec tis pretty significant) and it was very easy for people to get on welfare and just stay on it forever.

:frowning: But it looked so good!

I basically regard welfare as a necessary evil. On one hand, I really don’t like the idea that the government takes money away from working people, many of whom are barely getting by themselves, to subsidize non-working people.

I definitely think that the welfare system needs to be retooled. Right now, the way it is set up makes it very difficult for working people who need aid, such as food stamps and Medicaid, to get that help. You will probably have to take off work just to make an appointment to see a worker, often low-income workers make too much to qualify for aid, largely because the figures used seem to be based on the idea that such things as apartment rent are about 1/3 less than they actually are (at least in Vegas- to for a medical card with Clark County Social Services, you get an income adjustment of about $400/mo to account for rent, but it’s hard to find an apartment for less than $600/mo).

I think that welfare/income support should be there for those who need it, but only for those who truly need it. Ideally, private charities would take care of these things, but realistically, they don’t have the funding to take care of all the poor.If a person is disabled and unable to work, I don’t have a problem with taxpayer money being used to support them. If someone is not disabled, then they should be able to demonstrate that they are trying to help themselves, either by pursuing an education, working a certain number of hours a week, say twenty-four for someone with children under the age ten, or who is taking care of an ailing/disabled relative, and thirty-two for someone who has no such dependents. If they are unable to find work, then they should perform some kind of community service, doing volunteer work, etc.

I also think it should be easier for the working poor to get aid, either by being able to apply by mail, phone, or the Internet. Welfare offices should also be open probably until 8:00 in the evening and on Saturdays to facilitate working people being able to see a worker if they need to. As I mentioned, working people who need aid frequently have to take off work to apply and see a worker, which means a further reduction in income, and the potential for job loss if the situation creates difficulties for the employer.

Also, if the person can be demonstrated to have such luxury items as a cell phone, manicured nails and hair extensions (I’ll leave out jewelry, since it could have been received as a gift), then the worker could figure that the person must have more income than they are reporting, and thus disqualify them.

Also, right now, a person has to have a minimum amount of money that they donate to charity before they can start itemizing deductions on their income taxes. I think this is, quite frankly, bullshit. Lower income people who give what they can to charity, but can’t afford the- is it $3,000 a year? can’t deduct their gifts from their taxes, but wealthier folks can, which basically creates a “double tax” on lower income people who give to charity. If a person is able to provide documentation of charitable gifts, whether over the course of a year, they gave $100 or $1,000,000. And I think that the charitable giving that supports organizations that provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to people in need should be deducted from a person’s total tax bill, rather than simply being an adjustment in taxable income.

I think that as it stands, the welfare system seems biased to favor those who simply want to “work the system” and against people who are trying to make an honest go of it and make their own living. I’m not saying that most people who are on welfare are lazy people who just want to suckle at the government teat. I’m sure that these are in the minority. I’m just saying that the system is set up in such a way that those who have the time to sit in waiting rooms for hours to see a worker, or stand in hellishly long lines, then make an appointment to go back and do it again are going to have a big advantage over people who are working jobs/ going to school and are barely getting by.

I once knew a fellow who in all seriousness believed no American citizen should have to pay for: 1) Housing, 2) Clothing, 3) Food, 4) Education, 5) Medical Care, or 6) Child Care. Admittedly, he farther on the nutty left side of politics than most left leaning folk, but if he had his way all the necessities would be granted on the Government dole. In 2000, a Green party web site promoted many of these ideals, and any one with an once of respectful Yankee self-reliance would reject such Government give away schemes out of hand.

While such schemes fall outside what is might normally be considered Welfare, such ideas are first cousins at least, and the difference murky to those footing the bill. Such extremes only harm the rational and well thought out Welfare system ideas and implementations.

Government goodie payments strike me as fundamentally wrong to my instincts. Logically, I can see the need for a superficial Welfare system, one that can’t burgeon into something insidious and insatiable. (The Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid seem to be growing in that direction unless considerable measures are taken to combat its upcoming insolvency. The book Running on Empty by Peter Peterson highlights some of the dangers.) Welfare must simply be curbed and never allowed to grow or expand, lest the we get bogged down with another insatiable beast of insolvency.

If America must have a Welfare system, then it must the barest of bare bones dire circumstance for a limited time only kind of deal. Just say No to the Dole. No Free Lunch.

Unlikely I’d ever be there, but if that happened I’d work for a few weeks (or months) as a no-questions-asked day laborer. Usually only recent immigrants want these jobs, but every now and then a skid row type is standing there. (At least that is the way it is on some corners of Arlington, Virginia.) From there I’d build my way up again. I may not ever own a house again, but I’d make do.

It wouldn’t work. I wish I had your faith in humanity, but I don’t. I have a feeling that the vast majority of Americans would pointedly ignore that little box.

Charity cannot support the poor. It never could, and it never will. Only a relatively small amount of charity monies go to the poor as it is. Many people donate to their churches or to groups like the Sierra Club or Save the Whales.

It’s unfortunate, but it appears that supporting the community must be compulsory. If it weren’t we wouldn’t need welfare system right now-- if charites were able to do the job, they’d be doing it.

Nor do I buy the argument that if more money were freed up by lowering taxes that more would be given to the poor. (I wish I had statistics on how much charitable giving increased after the Bush tax cuts.) They’d just stick that extra buck-and-a-half per week in their pockets and think nothing more about it.

I don’t consider this a big risk. Most other social programs which have gotten so large have pretty big constituencies. Welfare recipients don’t have a strong voice when it comes to advocacy, lobbying, etc. Those social activists who would champion their cause don’t seem to have a big foothold, either. If anything, the trend is as noted–smaller programs, less help, money tied to following a plan to future self-sufficiency.

What U.S. welfare system?

Did you mean “***which ** * welfare system”? Surely you aren’t implying there is none. There are a whole slew of them, and not all of them aimed at the poor-- probably not even most of them.

By the standards of other industrialized democracies, the U.S. has no welfare systems worthy of mention, with the arguable and dubious exception of Social Security.

Nothing worthy of mention? How much money has to be spent before it’s “worthy of mention”? This article contains some good summary numbers.

I’d like to note that none of that goes to able-bodied adults without dependents. I know because I have been in dire straights and found there was no government assistance at all unless I had a kid. We are quibbling about helping children (who don’t have a say in being poor), the elderly (who used to be taken care of by their families) and disabled folks.

Even our programs for families are being dismantled. “Welfare to work” sounds great in theory, but the way that it is implemented now does not provide people the chance to get on a productive, upwardly mobile route. Instead it encourages people to use welfare recipients as disposable, exploitable labor. If we don’t want these people and their children to end up right back where they started, they need more than a dead-end dirt poor job. “Welfare to work” also does not take in to account that childcare is often more than a minimum wage salary, and someone has to raise these kids. Leaving our poor kids to raise themselves while their parents work at McDonalds isn’t going to give these kids a chance at a better non-dependent life.

I think there are a few answers. We need to make applying for various programs easier. It took me hours and hours and hours to find out what was available for me, and I have professional reseach skills. I can’t imagine trying to make sense of all the different programs without research experience or Internet access. We need a central clearing house with workable hours and a non-hostile staff (you think the department of motor vehicles is a nightmare? try the welfare office).

We need to provide basic support for everyone in need. I know you all are opposed to government handouts, but that lady supporting her drug-addicted sister’s kids while her bones are breaking isn’t going to “get off the system”. And it’s not right for her kids to suffer for it. Those kids are going to be raised on whatever the government gives them until they turn sixteen and can work for themselves (and they will…welfare does not provide enough for prom tickets, yearbooks, graduation gown rentels etc.) These kids need a place to stay, food, clothing, and medical care. And as long as we believe families are the best places to raise kids (and they are- our foster care and group home system is abysmal) that means we will have to provide some support to their gaurdiens. We have no problems giving handouts to foster parents to raise kids. Why do we freak out when we considering giving a little help so that kids can be raised by their own families?

But we also need to provide incentives and help for people to make the transition into the working world.

Hopefully our central clearing house can help set people up with job training- there is a lot of programs available but actually getting the relevent information to sign up for one is hard. And by job training, I mean actual skills that lead to reasonably paid jobs with chances for advancement. Right now we mostly provide busywork classes where people do “practice interviews” over and over again and are then forced to work at Burger King where they learn valuable skills like showing up to work on time. These classes exist not to help the poor, but to make us feel satisfied that they are properly humbled and “working for their dollar”.

We also need to provide information on college. Nothing teaches a kid the value of education (and breaks the cycle of poverty) like having a parent in college. And older adults that go to college tend to take their studies very seriously and get a lot out of it. There are so many programs for poor college students that paying for college isn’t the impossibility is is made out to be. But most poor people don’t know about these or the college application process, and just assume that it’s not an option for them.

Then we need to take away the disincentive to work. Previously, any work at all automatically cancelled your benefits- even though the work often paid less than the welfare benefits. Now, we just take away all benefits at a certain point no matter what. What we need is a graded system that gives people a financial incentive to work but ensures a basic standard of living.

Finally, we need at least an acknowledgment of the childcare situation. We don’t want neighborhoods of poor kids raising themselves.

Now that I’ve solved the worlds’ problems, I’d like to address a few points:

So, um, who raises the kids? Who makes sure they are doing their homework and not doing drugs? Who takes them to museums on the weekends and teaches them all the sex education we now say shouldn’t be taught in schools? If the mom is lucky enough to have a job that runs close to school hours, it can work. But if the mom works evening shifts, or a couple jobs, or whatever, we are going to have a problem with these kids and they are going to end up in the same bad situation. Encouraging people to work is good, but we must at least acknowledge the childcare issue.

Heh. Me and everyone I grew up with agrees that our lives would be better if our Dads took some financial responsibility. But you can’t squeeze blood from a rock, especially if that rock is known for violence and hasn’t been seen in a few years, anyway.

Nobody can live a totally asture life for their entire lives. Everyone is going to give their kid a new pair of sneakers once, or a taste of steak on their birthday, or a Christmas present that isn’t some bizarre castoff from the secret santa program. While we shouldn’t finance the absurd, people on welfare shouldn’t have to live like they are constantly repenting for some horrible sin. What we need to do is encourage good financial decision making- which means saving for luxeries, meeting your monthly fixed expenses and planning for the future. Welfare does not provide enough money for many luxeries- we got new shoes once a year, the occasional non-thrift store dress for easter sunday and a dollar here and there to spend on water baloons or a candy bar. But these extravagences were few and far between, and always eagerly awaited to provide a bit of relief from a life of food-bank dented creamed corn.

Yur plan is very reasonable except this part. A cell phone seems like a luxery to you or me, but you don’t know these peoples’ lives. When you are looking for a job, a reliable phone is essential. But if you are not in permanent houseing, cannot trust the people you live with, or work several jobs and are rarely home, a cell phone is a neccesity. Lord knows how many jobs I’ve missed out on because I couldn’t afford to stay in the home that has the phone number that is printed on the hundreds of resumes I’ve sent out.

Unless you know a person well, you don’t know their lives or why they have made the decisions they have made. We will just waste a lot of time if we start examining every inch of welfare recipients lives looking for something that isn’t strictly neccesary to nail 'em on.

Umm…if there is no free lunch, than these kids, old folks and disabled people arn’t gonna get any lunch. Are you sure your okay with this? Have you ever had a hungry kid beg for food from you? Ever seen an old person die of a preventable disease? Whens the last time you ran into a guy with no legs pulling himself along on the ground because he can’t afford a wheel chair?

Why didn’t I think of that! Of coure Labor Ready wants a bunch of 100 lb single mothers to dig ditches and build retaining walls. And with the $800.00 a month they make (assuming CA minimum wage and 30 paid hours a week- these places send you out to jobs as they come in, and there is always some unpaid idle time waiting) they could move to a nice safe house, buy a car that would allow them more access to jobs and education, and start buying those $100.00 college textbooks so they could better their lives.

If it were that easy, more people would be doing it.

Aside from receiving Social Security Disability for a few years, I haven’t been a welfare recipient. It sounds like you went through some pretty tough times when you were younger. I wouldn’t with the Church of Scientology on anyone. The remote possibility of starving seems rather nasty. What are the adverse consequences that last a life time that you referred to?

I would agree that it seems unfair to be forced to pay something that I don’t like. This is why I vote for politicians with whom I most agree. I would prefer not to have my tax dollars go towards excessive missiles and star wars type programs. I would just assume that my tax dollars wouldn’t provide tax free benefits for religious organizations. I support the idea of spending money for basic defense, roads, national forests, keeping corporations in check, and caring for the common good (which includes forms of welfare). What would happen in we only paid taxes for very basic governmental services? I would imagine we could look for examples in the 1800’s and before. Society has changed and government needs to change too.

Now, that’s a situation I can understand. I’ll spot 'em the cell phone.

I don’t think anyone here disagrees that the welfare system needs to be retooled and geared toward helping people lift themselves out of poverty. I think what we disagree on is how to go about doing it.

You know, as I read this, I thought of a woman I know. I’ll call her “Sarah.”

Sarah has a very similar situation to the one above. She has three kids, and a husband so worthless she might as well be single. She is on public assistance, and cleans houses “under the table” to try to scrape together a living.

What’s holding her back is what holds back a lot of women in her situation: child care and a lack of education. One of her children is severely hyperactive-- to the point where most child-care workers refuse to take him. The only person who will watch him while she works is Sarah’s sister, but she’s extremely unreliable. Even if she found a good-paying job, there’s no way she could keep it.

Secondly, she only has a high-school education, and, honestly, isn’t what I’d call super-bright. The most she could ever reasonably hope for is a factory job, or other position in the charmingly-named “unskilled labor pool.” Around these parts, she could probably expect to get paid about $7-- less than what the daycare providers cost.

No one could ever say that Sarah is not a hard worker. She charges $10 an hour for cleaning houses, and is worth every penny. The problem is, she can’t get away for long enough to actually make a living out of it. The most she can work is about five hours a week.

She tells me that some months it comes down to a choice between paying the rent or buying her son’s medicines.

Last month, Sarah’s sister, in a fit of spite, called the welfare agency to report on Sarah’s under-the-table income. Sarah was terrified she’d lose her benefits, because, as she told me, “If I lose my benefits, I’ll lose my house.” She barely survives as is.

This struck me as incredibly sad. This woman is doing the best she can-- hell, most people would applaud her ambition and hard work, but if she’d been proven to have been getting the extra income, she would have lost what pittance comes from welfare. That just seems wrong to me: she’s being penalized for trying to do the right thing, for crying out loud!

The worst thing about Sarah’s circumstances is that they’re unlikely to change. Things really aren’t going to get better for her. She’s going to live and die in poverty.

What’s wrong with reporting welfare fraud?