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Welfare Benefits or Assistance and Stigma

Updated on April 19, 2020
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a frugal living enthusiast who never pays full price for anything. She shops online and uses coupon codes for her purchases.

Welfare benefits and many forms of assistance for low income and working-class poor families are surrounding with stigma. Is this stigma earned or merely due to a lack of understanding of how the system works and who benefits?

The added notion that all people who get assistance are lazy is laughable. Many people who receive any assistance from their local welfare offices work multiple jobs and still cannot get by. But it’s all their fault right they are just lazy and unwilling to work right?

All too often I scroll through social media outlets and see memes that are slandering those that are receiving government assistance. Calling them "freeloaders", "lazy" and "living off the system". Or "My taxes are paying for their (fill in the blank, I have seen it all!)". I am not denying that there are a small fraction of people that do get away with abusing the system. But lack of understanding the system is a high culprit in the attitude towards those who need it.

There are more "working poor" than any freeloaders in the system. By working poor, I mean people that are working and paying taxes and just struggling to get by. Just like all those that choose to degrade them and slander them, they work and pay taxes.

I wonder if their tune would change if they found themselves to be one of the working-class poor? I have been there myself, as have many other people I am sure. What would you have welfare recipients and their children do? Starve to death, or freeze because they can't pay every bill without a little help?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." ~Thomas Jefferson

Such a simple yet meaningful quote that is part of the Constitution. Yet so many people fail to see that we are all equal, rich, poor, black, white, fat or thin. We are all human, all pursuing our best life and sometimes the struggle is real. This article is intended to provide information regarding the welfare system and the working poor that so many people fail to research before passing judgments.

Working Poor

From years working in retail management I would often have to fill out forms for welfare recipients. Noting their work hours, attendance and so on. Imagine the embarrassment of having to let your boss know that you were struggling to provide for your family and needed them to fill out monthly attendance. All to confirm that yes, you were working, and you were still poor. Not employed and need assistance? You must be actively seeking employment, and yes, the social workers at your local DHHR do call and check up to see if you are turning in applications and attending interviews.

There majority of recipients must be working a minimum number of hours a week or be actively apply and interviewing for jobs in order to keep their benefits. But they are all lazy right? Next time you are the grocery store, a gas station, a restaurant or grabbing your daily latte at Starbucks think about those minimum wage workers, as they help you complete your purchase or bring your dinner. They are possibly struggling to provide food for their families or put themselves through college in order to better their economic situation. They have it a lot harder than you may think and often work a lot harder than you give them credit for.

I understand that many people do not have to struggle in life like many others do. Making it all too easy to pass judgment on a situation you have no personal experience with.

Imagine working a 40-hour week for a chain store or restaurant. You deal with complaints and unhappy and ungrateful people all day. Then you wait two weeks for payday, you sit down at the table and try to decide what you can afford to pay, and what you must put off till next payday. In a lot of cases employers do not even give working class employees a full week of hours. So, imagine balancing a budget for your family and only getting 20 hours a week. Most working-class poor do not have credit cards or any means of obtaining credit because you do not have a high enough income ratio to be extended a line of credit.

But they don’t have to pay for groceries because they get SNAP benefits (food stamps) so they are sitting on easy street. Often the amount a family receives in SNAP does not even cover a third of what groceries they need to provide their family with for a month. Many working-class individuals and families do not reach $100 in assistance. Myself for a family of 4 even shopping frugally for groceries I can easily spend in excess of $1,500 on groceries. And trust me I am frugal and rarely buy name brands.

Now imagine that you have been sick and had to miss a few days of work, or your child was sick, and you had to care for them. You do not have sick leave, personal leave or any form of paid leave to fall back on. Now your paycheck is short, and you were already struggling and having to put off bills to begin with. What will you do now? Not to mention living in fear that you will be fired for missing work, that would mean no paycheck.

Let us not forget to factor in the cost of being sick these days, co-pays, prescriptions all must be paid for as well. More gasoline in the car to get to appointments. Assuming you are lucky enough to have medical coverage or be able to afford it. So, your check is short, and you just added to your expenses making your financial situation worse than it was to start with.

Have you ever looked at your kitchen cabinet and cried? I have been there many years ago, I have cried, and I had a job at the time and was paying taxes just like everyone who wants to think people who get or need help are lazy. I know many others who have been there too, it is not a choice to stare down an empty pantry trying to figure out how you are going to feed your children.

Current federal poverty per household member size. Increasing by $4,480 each time.
Current federal poverty per household member size. Increasing by $4,480 each time.

Poverty Guidelines

Federal poverty guidelines have been off for some time. They continue to perpetuate the struggle of the working class. The low income will never pull themselves up with the current state of poverty guidelines. Only increasing by $4,480 for each member, but $12,760 is poverty for an individual. If an individual is considered in poverty at that amount, why does that amount not double per each additional family member?

Many people are refused assistance who are over these guidelines by only a few hundred dollars. Median rent in the United states run $1,500 a month. Leaving many paying $18,000 a year in rent alone. A family of 4 at poverty level paying the median rent would be left with $8,200 for the rest of their expenses for the year. Can you squeeze utilities, auto insurance, and groceries out of that? Imagine also trying to fit in the needs of shoes, clothing and other items throughout the year especially if you have kids. Kids grow fast, my son goes through at least 4 shoe sizes a year the past few years. That means having to buy new shoes more often than I would like.

Single and at poverty level? It is almost impossible to be able to support yourself with median rent costs. But a large portion of the population work minimum wage jobs or several jobs paying minimum in order to try and live and support themselves.

With large retailers that offer more than minimum wage, most do not give these employees a full 40-hour work week. Many working in big box locations are lucky to be scheduled 20-30-hour work weeks. Leaving me thinking this was simply a PR move for these retailers rather than giving a hoot about their employees at the end of the day.

Sadly, after spending over 10 years in management positions at several retail companies I can assure you the number one thing corporate was concerned with was controlling labor hours. To the point if managers controlled the man hours enough, they could expect to see a hefty bonus at the end of the quarter. Why? Because labor hours are one of the largest costs of doing business.

Assistance Applications Require Income Documentation

The process of applying for welfare and assistance is embarrassing enough. Especially for folks who may live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Today you do have options to apply online but pre-Covid you almost always had to appear in person with some form in income verification. Today they are trying to streamline the process for those who find themselves laid off.

Income verification? Seems odd that income verification or pay stubs are needed given that the consensus is that everyone getting any form of welfare assistance is a low life bum who does not want to work. Yes, it is not as easy as all the memes on the internet would have you think it is. It’s not as simple as holding your hand out and never having to work.

The guidelines for assistance are actually very strict and in most cases recipients are required to work a minimum of hours, for my state to qualify for SNAP or EBT you are required to work a minimum of 20 hours a week, and yes it needs documentation or proof. There are a few exceptions such as those who are elderly, disabled or single parents with children who are not yet enrolled in school. But it is not as easy as going in saying you need assistance and getting it handed to you.

Only 6% of what the average person pays in taxes each year go towards assistance programs like SNAP/EBT (food stamps), LIEP energy assistance, and childcare programs. Given the amount of taxes we pay that should go towards state roads that never seem to be repaired is more concerning to me.


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