Make Assistance Obtainable for the Truly Needy
Unobtainable Government Assistance: A Social Injustice
Take a minute to picture in your mind a nice little family. Imagine a young single mom and her three children all playing at the park after school. The mother then fixes her little ones a peanut butter sandwich with a cup of water. The kids are running back and forth from the picnic table to the slides and back again to eat their snack. This seems like a pretty nice afternoon, yes? Well, what I didn’t tell you is that the peanut butter sandwich and cup of water will be the only dinner they have before going to bed. In fact, they have had the same dinner almost every night for the last five weeks.
Now, I’d like you to picture that same family driving home from the park. Except, instead of going inside of a cozy house, the mother unzips a tent for her children to enter for the evening, and she hands them baby wipes so they can clean up before bed. This mother has tried every government agency to receive help with housing, food, and temporary cash assistance, but because of all of the people who have abused the welfare system in the past, the qualifications for assistance have become so strict that the young family is denied help. So, instead of moving into poor, low income housing . . . that mother will again have to place two blankets on top of her babies as they go to sleep in the forty degree weather.
Too many families have to live this way for too long before they can acquire any assistance. According to The 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2009 AHARC), provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 1.56 million people used an emergency shelter or transitional housing in 2009. This number does not include anyone who slept in a car, tent, abandon building, or on the street. 535,000 of those who stayed in a shelter were family members who had stayed, on average, five weeks (2009 AHARC). That represents an estimated 170,000 sheltered homeless families. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that number, multiply the population of Whitfield County, GA by six and a half and that’s how many family members were homeless last year in our country. This is a thirty percent increase from last year alone. During a Point-In-Time survey conducted on one night in January 2009 (Continuum of Care), 50,797 young family members were found to be unsheltered homeless. Those 50,000+ people were living in abandoned buildings, tents, cars, or even right out in the open on the side of the road.
This is, in no way, just an issue that is taking place far away from us. Our very own city of Dalton, GA is in dire need of help. In fact, Dalton has its very own tent city right off of the North Bypass on Chattanooga Highway. As of April 2006, Whitfield County is nearing fifteen thousand homeless (National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homeless). Whether they are living in a tent, car, shelter, or moving from couch to couch, almost fifteen percent of our local population is without stable housing. In our own state of Georgia, 3.17 percent of the population is homeless (Coalition for the Homeless). To give you an idea of how many that is . . . if all of Georgia’s homeless lived in Atlanta, it would equal 58 percent of our capital’s population. And what’s so unfortunate is that most of these people just need an extra hand to get them back on their feet, but with the increasingly difficult requirements on government assistance, it makes it almost impossible for them to get that helping boost.
Now, while all those families are suffering to just make it through the night, there are people all over our country abusing the welfare system. Three hundred billion dollars is lost each year to health care fraud alone in the United States (California Department of Social Services). For example, in August of 2008, Kenneth Hopper III fraudulently received food stamps, even though he should have been disqualified due to his prior felony conviction, and purchased food for other people who would compensate him. He then turned around and purchase marijuana with the money he should have been using to put food on the table (California Department of Social Services). Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common happening. Over 33 percent of sheltered homeless individuals in 2009 admitted to being chronic substance abusers (2009 AHARC). These are the same people finding ways to qualify for government assistance and misusing their awarded funds. Because of this common issue, elected officials have rightfully made policy much more strict, making assistance harder to obtain. Unfortunately, the innocent are the only ones left to suffer while inadequate policies are in place yielding actual progression.
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What's to be done about it?
Changing policy to come up with a way to make citizens less dependent on the government and to stop fraud is a wonderful idea, but it has caused too many issues. It is being made almost impossible for a family to qualify to get the help that they need, even if it's just emergency assistance for a very short period. For a single mother who receives no child support and is going to school full-time to better her future, she is required to hold a forty hour per week job in order to receive only three hundred and eighty-five dollars per month in cash assistance. In order for her to move her family into government housing paying four hundred dollars per month, she must hold a thirty hour per week job with no cash assistance and no leniency due to her college student status. How is she supposed to get an education to better the future of her family and no longer need support from the government if she has to work full-time, quit school after the semester was already paid for, and still manage to raise three children by herself? While requirements for assistance are completely understandable and necessary, there needs to be some leeway for parents trying to further their education. It would only make sense for them to get a better job to no longer need government assistance. Unfortunately, due to the abuse of the system . . . there is no situation by situation policy in place.
Please do not get me wrong. I am in no way excusing college students or even single parents from their responsibility of aquirring a paying job just because they are in school. I do not believe it is the government's or the taxpayer's responsibility to provide any individual, with the exception of military veterans, with a salary and an all expenses paid coupon. Everyone should be responsible for themselves. But I do believe in helping others who truly need it as much as we can . . . just long enough for them to get back on their feet. Soon, those individuals would become taxpayers to help better our country's economy, and America would continue on as the greatest nation with the most devoted and independent citizens. But as long as the welfare abuse continues, those who really need it will continue to be denied.
Some in congress are trying to come up with tougher and more suitable requirements for assistance and harsher punishments for violators. In fact, the State of Georgia has a two strikes you’re out policy: the first time someone commits welfare fraud, they become ineligible to receive assistance for one year; the second conviction of welfare fraud makes them ineligible for the rest of their life (Georgia Senate - 1995/1996 SessionsSB 446 - Welfare Fraud - definitions, penalties). It’s understandable to give people second chances, but I believe it would be so much easier and more effective to catch potential abusers before they waste our tax money. It is only a beginning point, but I believe there needs to be an additional drug testing requirement for assistance. I feel, in order to receive any kind of monetary assistance, it would be more adequately fitting for drug tests to be administered to all adult applicants, and sporadic tests should be required throughout the person’s assistance lifetime.
While this would not stop all the abuse issues, it has been proven by Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Hawaii, Florida, Minnesota, and Michigan to be quite effective (Fox News). In these states, a great number of abusers have been disqualified, leaving more funds available for the leniency of different families’ unique situations. Some in congress say that enforcing such a law during our current recession would be too cruel, and that we are to be sympathetic. But I ask you . . . should we really be sympathetic to those who are using our tax money on illegal drugs? Shouldn’t we be sympathetic to those families who are actually trying to better themselves? Republican Craig Blair, a delegate in West Virginia’s Legislature asks, “If so many jobs require random drug testing these days, why not these benefits (notwithmytaxdollars.com)?” Blair has even started the website notwithmytaxdollars.com where he is a strong advocate of this position.
Now, I know it seems that this may be an issue way out of our hands, but that’s not the case at all. We may not be the lawmakers or even the law enforcers, but we do have the power to elect our lawmakers and law enforcers. Too many people these days don’t feel that voting means anything, but in reality . . . it means our way of life. Whoever gets elected into office will have some sort of influence over my life, your life, and the lives of everyone around us. So, I’m asking that you carefully pay attention to those running for office and what they stand for. The United States and the State of Georgia, along with all 50 states, must enact a policy to enforce drug testing for government assistance. If this were to happen for our state, a great deal of funds would become available so leniency on qualification restrictions could be granted to hurting families. Families just like the one I described in the beginning of my report.
You see, those young children . . . that mother who fed her babies peanut butter sandwiches every night . . . that young family that lived in a tent for five weeks . . . was my family. I had to tuck my children under layers of blankets in the unreal cold of autumn 2010, because I could not qualify for assistance due to my being a full-time college student and single mother. I was already one month and four A's into my fall semester that was already paid for when I became homeless. All I needed was a little help to get my children out of the weather, and a little time so I could find a second or third shift job so I would not have to quit school and lose my A's and tuition money.
I’m not sharing these things to gain sympathy. I am here because I want everyone to be aware that there is a dire need for change in this country, and we, as voters and citizens, have not only the right but the responsibility to do something about it. We need to report any known welfare fraud to the local Social Services office, the police station, or even the Fraud Hotline. We need to vote into office candidates who have proven they are committed and passionate about reforming the system to work for everyone who is actually trying to better themselves. Finally, we need to start calling and writing our current senators and representatives and demand a change. Having families living in shelters, tents, and cars for weeks because they cannot qualify for assistance, while others are trading their assistance for drugs, is truly a social injustice, and it’s time something gets down about it!
Rate the Current Welfare Program
- Associated Press. States Consider Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients. Fox News. 26 March 2009. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,510707,00.html.
- Bell, Daniel. 10-15 percent of Whitfield residents may be homeless. National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness. 2 April 2006. http://npach.org/02apr06.htm.
- Coalition for the Homeless. 18June 2010. http://cflhomeless.wordpress.com/2010 /06/18/hud-reports-homeless-families-up-individuals-down/.
- Not With My Tax Dollars. 30 March 2009. http://notmytaxdollars.com/
- State of Georgia. Frank Eldridge, Jr., Secretary of the Senate. Georgia Senate - 1995/1996 SessionsSB 446 - Welfare Fraud - definitions, penalties. <http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/1995_96/leg/fulltext/sb446.htm>. 2 January 1997
- United States. Welfare Fraud Stories. California Department of Social Services. http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/fraud/pg270.htm. 23 October 2010
- United States. The 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Washington: GPO, June 2010.
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