I promised Barney I’d write more about my ideas for welfare reform. So here goes: with apologies to Page and Plant: “…we all call the tune. Now the piper will lead us to reason”…. Or so I hope.
Let me start by sharing my own experience with the blue welfare state of MA. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I developed pre-eclampsia and was put on strict bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy. I had approximately 15 hours per week of accrued paid time off – which while planned for, seriously put a dent in the finances. We were scraping by – barely. I decided to apply for food stamps in hopes that this would help stretch the budget at least for the food. This was the ONLY assistance I applied for. After filling out the application over the phone with social services I was informed that we made four dollars a week too much to qualify for food stamps. I explained my situation again – reiterating and emphasizing my gravid and ill state. No dice, no exceptions.
However, the woman then informed me that I would be eligible for WIC assistance, but only after I had the baby. But, and here’s the kicker – we would immediately be available for assistance if our landlord evicted us for non payment of the rent. I told her we were in no danger of eviction and were current with our bills. She then told me if we wanted to be eligible we could just get the landlord to write an eviction notice. Appalled, I declined – and terminated the conversation. 1. We needed groceries, not a place to stay 2. I was not going to lie – or ask anyone else to prevaricate – just so I could get something , whether I needed it or not. This episode told me several things – all of which left a very bad taste in my mouth. The system fosters abuse and encourages deceit. We were fortunate enough to have family members that helped out with groceries and housework, and I couldn’t tell you where we might have ended up had it not been for them. Lots of folks are not as lucky as we were.
And I have to make another point here – Yes, there are those who fit that stereotype in the system. Yes, I do advocate social responsibility in regard to limiting the number of children you have when you are not in a position to support them adequately. However, there are many more who are not stereotypical – and who are using these benefits as intended. They are being painted with the same tarbrush as the “slackers” and its not fair. So I would ask that people do their research before they label someone. Broad sweeping derogatory statements are in no ones best interest. Just because you see someone at the welfare office with a Coach purse does not mean that they are committing welfare fraud. 1. it might be a knockoff 2. it might have been a gift. 3. they might have gotten it at a tag sale or at an outlet at a substantially reduced price (like I did, and no – I’m not getting assistance ). I think I also mentioned in another post about welfare recipients and cell phones. Weirdly, it actually costs less for the state to provide cells with a limited number of available minutes to folks than it does for the state to pay in terms of missed appointments and rescheduling. Apparently many folks on assistance do not have landlines. And, its cheaper to provide family counseling, health education, & hand out birth control etc. than it is to cover child rearing expenses. The welfare structure IS NOT INFINITELY SUSTAINABLE.
That said- if a person is figuratively standing with their hand out asking for help, a certain level of accountability comes with that when help is given. So, no. One does not get to spend their EBT (food stamp) money on frivolities and luxury items such as sweets, cigarettes or booze. Theres a cute little work around we’ve personally seen a few times in action here in MA if you are inclined to use your ebt card to purchase liquor/cigarettes etc. The regs clearly state you cannot use the card to buy booze or tobacco. OK – wait for it – there are ATM’s in most packies or just around the corner. EBT cards can be used to get cash at them….. I’m sure you see where this is going….Another good example of this is back in 2005 after Katrina. 2500 people were relocated up to MA to stay at Otis AFB – Camp Edwards – they were given $2000 each by the state to help get them set up with basic stuff. Some of these people decided to spend that money at local strip clubs and bars instead. That’s pretty luxurious “stress relief” on someone else’s dime, if you ask me… and we wonder why the system is in trouble. No, it certainly wasn’t every one of those 2500 people that did this – maybe 50 or so of them – or about 2% – if I had to make an educated guess from what I remember reading back then ( its 7 year old news and hard to research online as many of the links are now unavailable) Statistically negligible – probably. But, that was still more or less $10,000.00 of taxpayer money into a g-string and down the toilet..
Massachusetts forgot, in our haste to be helpful and compassionate, that once the money left our hands we had no control over how it was spent.
You’ve asked the state (us) to help you because you need it to meet your basic needs. Basic needs include healthy, nutritional food – not twinkies and a bottle of Jack. And CERTAINLY basic needs do not include lap dances. Anyway, the point I am finally emphasizing is that when it’s your own money do as you please with it. Rightly or wrongly. Yeah go ahead and get the tattoo. Just know you are going to have to go without something else to pay for it – or you’re going to get behind in your bills. Or maybe you simply have the disposable income. Regardless, you have to account for that to no one but yourself. But when you are using someone else’s money – they have a right to expect the money is being used as intended; and for the person to account for that money. In my feeble mind, that includes everyone who uses assistance – even the 2% others might be willing to write off. If all are not held accountable then really no one is accountable. Think of the system as a creditor who is not expecting to be paid back – but is expecting that the funds be accounted for. Like it or not, the taxpayers DO get to question how your aid is utilized, and should. They don’t get to judge though, at least until all the facts are in – every case is different. The state needs to do a better job of tracking and holding people accountable. It may cost more to do so when starting, but over the long run will save money.
Here’s whats right with the current state of affairs:
We cap the stipend for dependent children (its different state by state) You can only claim a specified number of dependents and receive money for them. Once you hit the number limit, the money caps. This helps address and negate that “poppin out kids and on welfare” stereotype – which unfairly is still a prevalent way of thinking. .There are a wide variety of low cost/no cost educational and vocational training opportunities available to those getting a helping hand. Voucher-ed child care is 100% paid for at a certain income level or below, and reduced fees are available for the newly employed. State sponsored health benefits (medicaid) are available for a specific amount of time after the person becomes employed – which allows their employee health coverage to kick in and no gaps in service. So far so good. (relatively speaking – medical insurance issues/woes are going to be a whole other post) Please also note that a very sizable chunk of the money available in the assistance coffers goes to seniors, and the disabled via medicaid. And, transitional assistance is also available to the newly immigrated. TANF has been working to decrease welfare dependence since its implementation in 1996. The requirement to work, is working, but its not enough.
4.1% of Americans are getting welfare assistance right now http://www.statisticbrain.com/welfare-statistics/ not including unemployment benefits. Note this number also does not include the newly immigrated. Is supporting welfare causing a burden on working and middle class Americans? No, it’s not causing the burden – but I argue it IS exacerbating it. On the other end of the spectrum we have a rising percentage of wealth gravitating to, and staying with, the top 1% of the population. Which also exacerbates the burden on the Average Joe. We now have corporate welfare issues with companies rather than just people accepting assistance. Then these same companies provide their executives with multi-million dollar bonuses afterwards. (the same pool of “businessmen” whose poor stewardship led to having to accept the assistance in the first place? One wonders…) If the company could become that flush with cash that quickly, then why was it not reinvested in the company itself to improve the work environment, increase salaries of the workers, hire additional workers, and improve the company in general ??? (like the GOP would like us to believe will happen – but time after time has NOT happened) OOPS I’m a bit off topic….. 😉 If the corporation is figuratively standing there with its hand out, then it is certainly accountable to us for how it operates.
Here’s my proposal for a resurrection of the welfare system. (at least, the non-health related part of it). We need to get more people working. I believe things are valued and taken care of more when one has to work for them. I believe that people feel better about themselves when they are working and contributing. FDR understood that. During the Great Depression ( and if we’re not careful we’re heading straight for an even worse one) he created the CCC, found meaningful work for people, and gave them a wage for their time. Why is it that the state can require cities accept a certain number of homeless individuals in order to receive state aid? What we should be doing is saying to each city and town: Here’s earmarked aid for welfare. Use it to provide and pay for jobs within your communities. To welfare recipients and the unemployed, go to the city hall and sign up for work – then go do that work in order to get your assistance check. MA is third in hourly wage equivalent welfare payments ($14.66 an hour) – only Alaska and Hawaii are higher. source: http://www.statisticbrain.com/welfare-statistics/ Not too shabby a wage, if you ask me. And, pass a drug test.
To churches sponsoring refugee immigrants: take a greater role in supporting your newly arrived members. If these people do not have a place to stay when they get here, provide them one while they wait their turn for section 8 housing. (no bumping someone else down the list because you are a religious refugee) And the state absolutely should not be providing annual round trip tickets back to the country of origin so they can “maintain their cultural identity.”They left for whatever reason, and if they want to go back and visit they should save up like everyone else. My source for this is ancedotal – based on what I was told by my Ukrainian neighbor when she was discussing the benefits she was receiving from MA. She (a lovely lady and great neighbor by the way) was astounded and pleased that MA would be so generous. That generosity translated to $1,800.00 per person for a family of 4 to go back to the Ukraine once a year. You do the math. Ouch!
To corporations asking for a bailout: Sign a guarantee that profits coming in during a specified time after the aid is repaid are channelled in to improving the company infrastructure, hiring new workers, providing additional training to current workers, and increasing wages for all employees. Bonuses should not be even considered for executive level employees for at least 3 to 5 years after the government assistance has been paid back. Because, whether an individual or corporate level bailout, it does come down to appearances (fairly or unfairly) , and us taxpayers are fed up.
So yeah, no easy answers, no glib solutions. I think we are proverbially circling the drain right now – so we need to take a careful, close look at how we are spending our money, and use both compassion and common sense to allocate our dwindling resources appropriately. By holding people and businesses accountable, we are helping to assure our dollars are spent as we intend them to be.