Sunday, April 9, 2017

Myths about Welfare / DO NOT DRUG TEST WELFARE RECIPIENTS by Cassie K

Welfare includes SNAP/food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), tax credits for working families, and Social Security, and other programs. Actually those same people that say welfare needs to be cut, do not realize that they also may be benefiting from welfare/social programs.

The most famous myth about welfare may be the one begun by Ronald Reagan of the "Welfare Queen", but she didn't exist. Even if there was such a person that existed, this isn't the reality of welfare recipients. There is a notion that poor people that receive welfare are abusing the system by committing fraud when it is actually the wealthiest people that commit the most fraud.
Likewise, there is a growing popular opinion among Republican conservatives to drug test welfare recipients because it is believed that all poor people do drugs. Although the research has proven that only a few percentage of recipients are using drugs, so it is too costly to require everyone to be tested. For example, in July of 2014, Tennessee began testing their welfare applicants, showing that 1-in-800 people that were tested showed positive for "illegal" drugs. And Florida applicants that showed positive was a meager 2.6% of applicants. Once again, drug testing costs taxpayers much more money than it saves.
 Furthermore, this myth comes from the belief that people are poor because they are addicts or alcoholics. But alcoholism and addiction are not limited to poor people because using drugs is found at all levels of the society. Any welfare recipients on drugs may be the most needy when those on drugs may be suffering more from other life issues where welfare could alleviate stress or pain. Alcoholism and drug addiction are mostly likely the result of the stresses of poverty, but again addiction often depends on availability so addictions of poor people are limited by income while rich people probably do use more (expensive) drugs. This rhetoric about illegal and legal drugs in an age of marijuana legalization and Big Pharma needs to continue to be challenged.

There are many additional myths about welfare recipients that are listed further. Often these myths come from racist attitudes like Reagan's Welfare Queen. One being that undocumented immigrants are all on welfare, when in fact they are not eligible for any benefits except emergency medical care (which may be reversed now under the new administration.) Also, the Social Security Administration says that even though half to three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay taxes (billions in Social Security taxes), they will never see a penny of these benefits. Approximately 40% of food stamp recipients are white; and 30% of TANF recipients are white, 30% Latino, 30% are Black, with other racial groups making up the remaining 10% of recipients.

One other myth is that welfare/social programs have failed because poverty and homelessness have grown in spite of the trillions of dollars provided to the poor. This is not true. The fact is that these programs have succeeded in getting people out of poverty and homelessness. When Lyndon Johnson began the "Great society" program, the increased welfare payments reduced poverty from 20 in the 1950s to 12% of the population by the end of the 1960s. Whoopi Goldberg, Carol Burnett, six members of Congress, Bill Clinton and many other successful people used welfare when they were in poverty. Of course there is a growing number of people on food stamps but that was a reaction to the Great Recession.

Another myth is that taxes coming from working class Americans is all going to welfare. While it may be true that working class Americans pay more in taxes than the rich, but most people don't realize that the US budget spends half on the military, meaning that the majority of American's taxes is going to funding war. Welfare programs like TANF and food stamps (which are the the largest items of the welfare budget), only account for 1-2% of the US federal budget. What is actually financially burdening Americans is the fact that welfare/social programs are getting cut while more money (especially now under Trump) goes to the military, including the the rising percentage of American wealth gravitating to the top 1% of the population. While there is also a notion that welfare recipients do not work, there is also a belief that they are lazy. But even if a parent receiving welfare for their children did not have a paying job, being a parent in itself is work. Moreover, many people who work full-time are eligible for welfare because those jobs are low-paying wage like those at Wal-mart. The majority of people on welfare have been in and out of the work force, returning to the welfare rolls when they lost their job or there was an illness, accident, house fire, or other crisis.

The people I knew that got food stamps was a man who used them for a year, and then stopped when he got two jobs at Lowes and Dominos. Now he barely sleeps and all of his money goes to his phone for work, his car he uses for work and could not get a tax credit for using for delivering pizza, insurance for the car and health, and paying off of his car loan. A woman I know that was on food stamps because she was working and going to school and had a baby. Another woman I know that is on food stamps currently is my grandmother, and her church friends that are her age, also get food stamps. Another woman on food stamps that I know, works in construction and grows food while raising three kids with a husband that works under the table. Other people I know on food stamps is a couple that both work and have a baby, but they are low paying jobs because of the skill level which is related to their different abilities. This is an aspect government officials forget: that differently abled people exist and may not have the ability to work. Even a middle class family that works but has a child that is differently abled may not be able to work, and so they need extra money for their care. My brother who is diagnosed with Autism may never work and he's never been on food stamps but may need to in the future.

For years I was living off of savings after I quit my job to start a food forest garden. And it wasn't until someone suggested I get on food stamps that I ever considered that option. When I did, I felt shamed by the experience when I applied. There were so many personal questions that I felt uncomfortable and I felt like I was revealing a lot about myself not just to one person but the entire office because anyone could see me in the interview. Other people I talked to felt the same. But it was worth it when I was able to buy food for myself while I went back to college and I was able to use food stamps to buy fruit trees and vegetable plants and seeds. When I was on food stamps, my budget was $5 a day for myself equating to $1.50 per meal if I ate three meals a day. I usually ran out of food stamps by the third week of the month. In other words, the food stamps provided is not even adequate enough for one person let alone a family. I have heard this rhetoric over-and-over (mostly from Republicans) that will say that women just have more children so they can receive more welfare, when in reality a family only receives $70 per month for each additional child. You cannot raise one child on $70 a month!

These government politicians do not believe that there are people that actually live without running water, heat, a proper bed. The extent of poverty isn't just lack of food. Hell, even I grew up in my teens without a bed. I slept on the floor with siblings or shared a bed with my parents. I grew up with mold all over the walls or ceiling in bathrooms, or holes in the ceiling or floor. I knew a family that lived in their trailer without electric, internet, and plumbing for a year before they could get help. This is the striking contrast to growing gap between the rich and poor. There are 157 billionaires and about 2 million millionaire while there is 100 million homeless people (15% living in poverty in the US.) This is also insulting to the poor when you consider the food wasted in America, and yet Americans spend 5 billion dollars per year on diets to lower their caloric intake. In the US, the wealthiest 1% of all households claim 40% of all personal wealth; the wealthiest 20% of households in the US receive over 50% of all income, whereas the poorest 20% receive less than 5% of all income.

If you want to decrease taxes, then take it out of the military and prison industrial complex.What often does not come up in the conversation by the government officials that justify cutting welfare because of the myths listed, is that those who need welfare programs often don't have access to them.Why don't those same government officials bring up this issue of access? It's because they have set up the system to make it hard for anyone to get access with the many rules and leaps and bounds you have to take to get them. Because I received food stamps, I know what the rules were: and one of those was that I had to have an address, an ID, SSN, and I had to have a written statement from someone outside of my family to prove that I had no income. A homeless person alone in this world with no way to update their ID is not even eligible for food stamps. The bottom line is: do not let people continue to propagate myths about welfare, myths about the poor, and do not let your government officials use tactics to take away help from the poor in order to justify tax breaks for the rich.

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