Let me preface this post by saying that I do not fault anyone for asking for and receiving help they legitimately need. Many of us go through things in our lives that are beyond our control and cause us to have to ask someone else for help. For those people, I encourage them to do so, without shame, until they are able to get back on their feet through their own hard work and sacrifice. For those that are not in need of assistance but choose to get it anyway because they do not have the necessary motivation or ambition to labor for the things they need and want, I say, grow up and think about what you are doing and how it is affecting others. We are not responsible for the consequences of your poor decision-making skills or carelessness.
Since the “War on Poverty” was enacted, several decades ago, our country has begun a free fall that is going to be impossible to recover from if we don’t change now. The government assistance that was aimed at ending severe poverty has, in my opinion, backfired. Instead of creating a group of citizens that get a helping hand to climb out of that poor neighborhood or rut they landed in and become self-sufficient individuals that are able to sustain their own well-being, we have gotten a larger than expected group of people who have become dependent on that assistance. No longer do we see people living in poverty, struggling to make it on their own and doing without things they want in order to break free of that struggle. Now, we have been faced with a growing number of government dependents that have grown accustomed to getting funds each month to supplement the money they are, in many cases, unwilling to work to get. Why work hard to have an iPhone, a big screen TV, cable, internet, a decent vehicle, and name brand clothing and shoes when you can work a little bit to get the things you want and let the government pay for the things you need? This era of dependency is a turn in the wrong direction and not what the initial program was intended to do.
I believe there are some things we can do to help discourage the growing number of taxpayer dependency and increase the number of people who take pride in doing things for themselves and feeling the sense of accomplishment in that success. It will be difficult to enact change as the money being given away is like a drug that has overcome each person receiving it.
My opinions on this topic will probably anger a lot of people in a particular ideology that believe every person has a right to receive money from the government in order to elevate everyone to the same financial status. However, as someone who has been in poverty, received government assistance in the distant past, and struggled to get out my own ruts, I feel I have a right to disclose truths and solutions that I believe would be helpful to those who are still addicted to government money.
Past and Present Welfare
In the beginning, welfare was intended for people who were working hard but just were not able to make ends meet. It was intended to fill the gap between income and expenses to survive. Those receiving welfare were given just enough to support their needs and the need of their family. Receiving welfare did not mean you could stop working or stop trying to support yourself; it just meant that if you couldn’t make enough money for your family to eat or to pay the rent, you had it as a backup plan. The people who needed welfare to support themselves and their family, in most cases, felt embarrassment that they had to present food stamps at the checkout, paid their rent with a government issued check, or were seen going into the community clinic to receive free healthcare. The embarrassment wasn’t something recipients cared to endure for very long so they struggled and worked harder to get themselves back on track so they could say “No, thank you” when the government came calling the next month, offering to extend their benefits. The stigma attached to receiving help from the government was enough to prop up the need to do better, be better, and accomplish more on your own.
Today, receiving government assistance has been re-labeled as government “benefits” to make it seem less embarrassing and the method of utilizing those benefits has been revamped as well. Instead of presenting paper food stamps to pay for groceries, recipients of the program are now issued a card, similar to a banking debit card. The payment machines have been programmed to allow EBT as a form of payment. Other customers in line are none the wiser as to who is using food stamps and who is paying for their food with money they earned. The welfare programs are now being pushed to anyone and everyone who might ever want or need them and are being marketed like a corporation would market for a new product being released to the public. These “New and Improved” benefits are no longer just for those who are living in poverty, they are for everyone. There are no longer strict time limits or requirements to receive benefits, as in the past. The food stamp program, in particular, has been opened up to virtually anyone who applies with no need to show any motivation to become independent from them in the future. The stigmatization of those receiving welfare benefits is gone.
What type of person receives welfare?
As I’ve already stated, the type of people receiving government assistance has changed, dramatically, over the past 20-30 years. In the 1990s, I was a young mother, married to an irresponsible man who valued his next trip to the bar more than the electric bill or our need to eat. I was only 16 years old so my job choices were limited but I worked long hours at the McDonald’s near us to feed my son and try to pay the bills. Unfortunately, a job at a fast food restaurant is not intended to support a family or to be a permanent job so we struggled to survive. My husband worked odd jobs in construction and landscaping, under the table, and spent most of his pay at the bars. I was forced to seek alternative methods to supplement his income, or lack thereof. I went to the local welfare office and applied for assistance. We were approved for food stamps right away. This helped out a great deal and probably kept us fed on days when we would have otherwise gone without. The downside of getting food stamps was the temptation to sell them for cash in order to buy things such as beer, cigarettes, or other non-food items. In addition to the urge to get real money, I realized pretty quickly that we were more likely to buy food items we wouldn’t normally be able to afford because, hey, it isn’t our money we’re spending so it’s okay. The temporary embarrassment at the checkout was worth it because we had juicy steaks to eat every night if we wanted. Forget those days of eating 50 cent boxes of mac & cheese for dinner. We were eating like rich people. At least that’s how it seemed to us and we loved it. We made no attempts to budget and buy only the necessities. We didn’t look at prices, compare costs, or try to minimize our shopping bill. It wasn’t our money so we didn’t care. The only thing we bothered to look at is how many stamps were left to sell for cash so we could afford a couple packs of smokes until my next paycheck. Food stamps actually made us more irresponsible, in some ways.
The one thing that made getting food stamps so aggravating was the need to travel down to the food stamp office every month to pick up our ‘books’ of stamps. Riding the bus downtown, standing in line, and dealing with rude government workers was really annoying. What made the whole trip to get our “stamps” worse was getting off of the bus and walking up to the line with people who had just gotten out of their shiny Cadillac with the sparkly wheels, wearing expensive clothes, and carrying a Coach purse. How did they qualify for food stamps? I had to show proof of income, proof of my bills, and my child’s birth certificate to qualify for food stamps. I had no car, lived in a crappy house in a crappy part of town, busted my ass to make just enough to pay some of my bills, had never owned a new piece of furniture, and shopped for my clothes at K-mart or the thrift store. How could someone with a Cadillac who can afford to buy Air Jordans, Coach purses, get acrylic fingernails, and wear expensive clothing ever convince that angry government worker that they needed food stamps? That’s when I realized the system is severely flawed. The opportunity to fraudulently receive government assistance was too tempting for many to avoid. I only received food stamps for six months and never went back for help again. I learned that I didn’t want to feel like I was being given the things I had. I wanted the feeling of accomplishment and success to be mine, not the government’s. I liked that feeling I got when I was able to go buy my own car or television with money I had worked hard for and saved up to use for that purpose. I made sacrifices all those years ago. I chose to go without the new products being produced, such as cell phones or big screen tv’s. I chose to go without cable and internet. I watched 5 channels on a tiny tv and had to rely on word of mouth or telephone to get my information. If I wasn’t home, I didn’t get a phone call and it wasn’t that bad.
Now it is even easier for people, like those I stood behind/in front of 20 years ago, to trick the system into supporting their lifestyle. The welfare offices don’t ask you to disclose the luxuries you have. They don’t ask you to tell them how expensive your purse or shoes were. They don’t even ask you to look for a job anymore. The less you ask of someone, the less they will give. Anyone can go into the food stamp office and say they can’t afford food for their family. Without demanding proof, what is stopping those who are not living in poverty from taking the help from those who are?
What can we do to change welfare programs?
Because of the tendency to become dependent on government money and learn bad behaviors that lead to unproductive and unmotivated individuals, we have to end the big push from government to enroll everyone on welfare programs that are being advertised as an alternative to being poor. Live like everyone else does, they say. End inequality, they scream.
Well I have news for them; inequality breeds ambition and motivation to be more successful. Without inequality, we’d all be the same and have no reason to work hard and produce great things. Our country would be full of the same type of people living the same type of lives. We would all have nice houses and nice cars so there would be no need to find cheaper ways to manufacture or invent new things to help those in need. Why do anything special if we are all going to be the same, anyway?
I say we need to change our welfare system to accommodate the temporary need for assistance for those who truly need it. Treat welfare like bankruptcy. Declare all assets, disclose all expenditures, bring in letters from all creditors and show proof of your attempts to be gainfully employed in order to receive any type of welfare. If you are found to have lied about the things you own or are paying for, you lose your benefits immediately and will be forced to pay the money back.
If you are paying for cable or satellite television, cell phone service, an expensive vehicle, or credit cards with high balances full of purchases of expensive non-necessities, you must cancel or close those services and accounts in order to receive benefits.
If you are so poor that you cannot buy food for your family, you surely do not need to be watching Toddlers and Tiaras on TLC every week. There are plenty of networks that are broadcast on regular tv with the use of a $10 antenna.
If you can’t afford to pay your rent, you surely don’t need to be riding around in a Lexus with the $500 a month payment. I’m sorry if your credit will suck afterward but you will need to voluntary have that car repossessed or sold and an older, cheaper method of transportation purchased instead. Any leftover money from the sale of your car will be applied to bills.
If you are paying $200 a month to have an iPhone with unlimited data and minutes for yourself and the newest model phone for your spouse and kids as well, but you can’t afford to pay your electric bill each month, you will be forced to choose between assistance and your phones. There are plenty of pay-as-you-go plans with cheap phones out there. There’s no need for the expensive plans and latest model phones if you are having problems paying your bills. For those that claim cell phones are a necessity, I think they have never looked at the fact that people survived just fine without them for the last couple hundred years. We have feet, we have cars or public transportation, and we have land lines; all perfectly fine methods to travel to the source or wait until you are somewhere with a phone to call.
If you choose to keep your luxuries (yes I call them luxuries because they are not essential to your survival as a human being), you choose to be denied assistance. I’m willing to bet that 70% of welfare recipients have at least ONE luxury service or asset they could cancel or sell to help support their family. I also believe those people think that cell phones, cable, internet, and the like, are all necessities. They believe that they should not be forced to live like poor people just because they are poor. That would be terrifying for most; to have to give up the things they value the most just so they could get help to buy food. What they don’t realize is that, for many, if they were willing to give up the entertainment or convenience items they treasure so dearly, they might actually make up the difference between what they spend and what they bring in. Its an ‘out there’ concept, I know, budgeting your money so you are only spending what you absolutely have to, but there it is.
Government assistance will come with a requirement similar to receiving unemployment. You must show proof of employment or attempts to gain employment every week in order to keep your benefits. You will be forced to attend a budgeting class and create a budget for the money you earn in order to teach you better financial management skills. Your benefits will only continue for six months unless you show an absolute need to receive them for longer. At the end of the six months, your case will be reevaluated and a determination made as to whether you qualify for an extension. If not, you better hope you were really trying and saving and making earnest attempts to climb out of that whole you’re in or you’re going to be hurting, financially.
When it comes to your children, you will be given some type of birth control, based on your individual medical history or needs, that will prevent any unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies are a large contributor to the rise in welfare recipients. If you have three kids that you cannot afford to feed and want the government to help then you should have no problem with the government asking you to take and providing you with a form of birth control. If the penalty for not using good judgement while using government benefits was the loss of those benefits, a lot of people would change their ways.
No person has a right to receive or achieve, through help from the government, what other people have worked hard to get. We are all given the same opportunities, through our birth in this country, to work hard, learn from our mistakes, and become successful individuals. We have a right to the PURSUIT of happiness, not the happiness itself. If you are unhappy, do something about it. If you don’t like your house, your car, your life…change it! We all make choices that affect our daily lives. If you choose to live outside your means, don’t expect the rest of us to pay for it. If you are unwilling to accept the required changes you are being asked to make, then you will have proven you have no ambition to end the cycle of poverty you are in. If you aren’t making enough money at your job to support yourself or your family, find a better job. Don’t blame the company for not paying you enough. You have the choice to work hard and get promotions or the experience to move on to better employment opportunities. If you don’t make enough money, its nobody else’s fault, but your own.
As Ashton Kutcher recently said, “opportunity looks a lot like hard work”. Make it happen and stop asking everyone else to do it for you. This ain’t no welfare state! This is the United States! We are free to make our own destinies. Don’t be destined for failure and dependency. We’re all better than that.