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The Welfare Stigma

Updated on February 7, 2013

The Welfare Stigma

Why is there still such a stigma attached to welfare? It seems there are opinion pieces and comments that essentially demonize those who get any type of government assistance. These pieces go so far as to include unemployment and social security as entitlements. They refer to ‘welfare queens’ who have umpteen kids, drug addicts, or folks who are just plain too lazy to better themselves.

Much of this stigma is rooted in myths. The whole‘ welfare queen‘ thing was started by Ronald Reagan during the 1976 election. A woman on the South Side of Chicago was arrested for welfare fraud collecting benefits off four deceased husbands that never existed, receiving welfare under 80 names plus Medicaid, food stamps, and Social Security from 12 cards. The alleged tax-free benefits come to $150K. The real story: A woman named Linda from Chicago did get arrested for fraud, but just for the four fake husbands. The total she cheated the government out of was $8k. $8K isn’t enough to live on for one year. Reagan exaggerated the 30 fake addresses, 12 social security cards, and 80 aliases creating a common stereotype from an actual person who did wrong.

Myths about Welfare

One crazy myth is those on welfare are spending their money on fancy cell phones. Some The government does have a cell phone program for low-income households called Lifeline program , sometimes called the “Obamaphone“. The truth is these phones started under Reagan in 1984! The phones are only for those in the welfare-to-work programs . If they catch you not trying to find a job, you lose benefits you have. The Lifeline phones from Safelink are nothing fancy and it is hard to qualify. They come with 250 minutes and if you run out of minutes, you have to pay for extra. So much for free phones huh? The phones are the only way users can apply for jobs especially if they live in rural areas . Then, who wants to stand around payphones in big cities like LA and pay $.50 per call?

Another misconception is that single women keep having children to collect benefits. The truth is TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, benefits only last 5 years under reform and they certainly won‘t make you rich. The most a single parent and two kids could get is $400 per month. An additional kid would add just $83. Stats show 1 in 10 families on TANF have more than three kids. The largest percentage have two kids. Able-bodies adults are required to take part in job training or education.

More Figures and Facts

Reports indicate many recipients of government benefits are off them in about six months. Some people on benefits do have a work history, but keep running into bad luck. The ‘welfare rolls’ aren’t overflowing with recipients like critics would like you to believe. Participation was slightly over 4 million in 2010. It makes up less than 1% of the U.S. population. Regardless of what is said otherwise, immigrants do not qualify for TANF. They must be a U.S. citizen for at least 5 years.

The welfare stigma punishes those who really need help. They are afraid to apply because of all the stigmas attached. Welfare comes on other forms besides cash benefits. There are government bailouts and tax loopholes the rich benefit from(the Romneys anyone?) yet they want to continue demonizing the poor. So living off someone else’s dollar is ok as long as it isn’t government assistance? I hardly think a few hundred dollars of benefits harms the government as much as trillion dollar wars and paying banks $700 billion in bailouts. Yes, some do take advantage of government help, but they also take advantage of tax credits and charity. Just because a few take advantage of any of those is no reason to cut everything that helps the really needy and defenseless. It is easy to judge another person’s situation without all the facts. Government assistance won’t make you rich. The welfare recipients aren't buying Ipads or driving new Cadillacs. P.S. The welfare queen driving the Cadillac has yet to be found.

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