21 JULY 2016 - about 9pm PST
This post is on the Welfare chapter in the Heritage Foundation report called Solutions2016. The purpose of their report is to encourage reforms in government and in the next election -- it is their way of trying to save America in its financial crises and, I suspect, in the lives of those who fund it. Below is the statement used in the report to define what Welfare is ::
Today, the federal government operates roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans.There is no description of the programs included in the 80, or what makes them "means-tested" for funding purposes. Later in the text there is a reference to food stamps and public housing, to cash grants (Called Aid to Families with Dependent Children when I entered the system, and changed to TANF in 1996 I think, when there was a welfare reform event.) Personally, I don't know all of the aid programs that are available, only the ones I accessed or heard about. I am aware of General Relief, WIC for pregnant women and their young children, several different housing programs that may even include homeless shelters, and community clinics for those who don't have regular state medical policies or need items not on the approved lists. These may be some of the programs being referred to, but there is no way to know because nothing is said about them.
I am sure the reference to 80 programs is to say there are too many welfare (entitlement) programs available. My concern is the details of those programs. I would want to know the list content... the name and purpose of each "means-tested" program. It could be they are a variety of programs that meet the needs of very different recipients, from infants to disabled veterans. It could be one is for eye glasses, another for hearing aids, some for food, several for housing options, etc. We know that all of the people who are in need are not cared for, so are these programs efforts to do as much as possible for as many as possible, or is a small group benefitting by all of them? It is an important difference.
Welfare is an important topic for me because it was the only survival resource we had as a single-parent family over the years. If you read my blog bio, you will see that I entered the US welfare system in 1975. I have been associated with it in some way for most of the years since...through a large variety of circumstance, but always trying to find a way out, suffering when I did try, and learning that poverty is a terrible pit that is not easy to escape.
Solutions for "entitlement programs," in the eyes of conservative Republicans, always seems to be the same one :: "...these people just need to work!" (That's my paraphrase of their views, no one actually said that - to my knowledge.) Work is good, but it isn't always a simple solution. There are very complicated issues attached to poverty.
To my knowledge, Welfare programs were started to help struggling families of soldiers who died in WWI or II. In that time of our country's history, women were often housewives that had never worked outside of the home. The children in these fatherless households were becoming juvenile delinquents and costing the government a lot more money than the costs of a Welfare program would. I believe they wanted to help mothers stay home to care for their children as a preventive measure.
That part of poverty hasn't changed. Single-parent households are still troublesome. It is still better to have one loving parent home with their children than to have them raise themselves while their parent works, or grow up in daycare settings. Naturally, it would be better to have a nuclear family, with father and mother raising their children, but that hardly exists anymore. As a nation, as a world, we are dealing with the effects of our family structures disintegrating. Welfare may help people to survive, but it doesn't solve the real problems.
The cash amounts and other related benefits of Welfare have changed over the years, too. When I entered the system, I think the benefits available were small amounts of cash primarily for housing and utilities and general living requirements, food stamps for groceries, and Medicaid for basic medical needs.
It is hard to remember all the details now, after so many years, but I know I struggled to make it through every month. What you may take for granted as normal, poverty households may have to do without. You may have a washer and dryer, poverty households use a Laundromat, and that costs money, which they sometimes don't have.
There were no funds for childcare back then. No transportation (bus passes) help. I remember there was sometimes a single emergency grant a year. I believe that was for housing costs if you were being evicted because your money didn't make it that far, or utilities that were in jeopardy of being turned off because you let the bill go too long so you could get food, or school supplies, or clothes, or Christmas or something normal households could afford. Eventually these "programs" were added to the Welfare formula. Things like WIC didn't always exist. Yearly utility programs for the high costs of winter didn't always exist. It may be these are part of the "80 means-tested programs" that were referred to earlier.
In the early days, you had to report every penny you acquired by any means every month. They had home visits to make sure you didn't have any saleable assets to provide for your own needs...that you lived where you said you lived...and that no one "extra" was living with you. Monthly reports were required, signed to allow for fraud proceedings if needed. If something happened to your report, there was no check to pay rent, which sometimes led to evictions, which led to no house to live in if there wasn't an emergency fund. It was a difficult life. Today you are encouraged to make money and don't have to report it until you reach a certain amount... your poverty rate I think.
I didn't mean to get into all this detail, but I hope it gives you some perspective on what the definition of Welfare programs are. Today, with computers and internet access, receiving benefits from the government means you give them total access to your life, to any information that may exist about you. You don't have a choice in this requirement if you need to survive with Welfare funds. They will also have access to information about anyone on your application.
The problems of poverty are not easy to fit into a government form. Women alone often take men into their family's life that shouldn't be there. Looking for help, for a whole family, for love, for security and safety, women seem to choose men that become financial burdens to them instead of helpers, or they become perpetrators of crimes against them or their children.
This Heritage report asks for reforms that would not penalize families with a married and committed man and woman who seek help from the government. I was always a single parent, so I don't really know all of the penalties for couples they are referring to, but I do know that part of the conversation was the difference in grants for single parents and married couples... it caused some parents to split up so they could receive more Welfare resources to better care for their children.
This report also shares that most of the funding for poverty programs is mostly from federal taxes, and this creates a lack of accountability in State oversight of poverty programs. Heritage Foundation believes the burdens of Welfare responsibility need to be transferred wholly to the States. In our current way of doing taxes, this would give the federal government more money to spend elsewhere... the real motive I am sure.
In my mind, taxes are taxes, and there are too many taxes already. Each government entity wants to raise their taxes or fees, create new ones, make "temporary" taxes that never go away, and continually expand their control of the domain they have. The realization that the same citizens are paying all of these different taxes seems to elude their attention. The burden that is crushing the government right now is not Welfare, it is the entire government structure and the way it has failed to consider those citizens by being more careful with the funds they had. People who are poor have become the easiest target to blame, and a revolving legislature makes it hard to hold anyone in government accountable for the mess we now face.
I think I will end this with some comments on one of the "Facts and Figures" cited at the end of the chapter, as an example of misleading information that you really have to think about before becoming frightened by the "statistics" they share.
I have made bold the main parts of this statement I want you to think about. There are some variables that aren't defined in this statement, but it gives you the idea that spending has grown while poverty has not. I tried to understand where this statement came from, and then I thought about population changes from 1960 to the present and I thought about the effects of inflation on the amounts being cited. The number of programs that are funded might somehow affect Welfare spending, too.Today, the U.S. spends 16 times as much on welfare as it spent in the 1960s -- about four times the amount needed to pull every poor family out of poverty -- yet the federal poverty rate remains nearly unchanged.
One of the huge problems I noticed in my years of poverty, struggling to find a way to make it meet our daily needs and help us to get away from that kind of life, was the issue of inflation. The grant amounts never rose to meet the inflation rates, so you got the same amount of dollars, but couldn't buy as much with it... year after year after year. This is part of the pit of poverty and government programs that try to change its effects.
I was surprised that the poverty rate hasn't changed. I am not sure how it is computed, but I assume it is a percentage. If the population increased and the number of households in poverty increased during the same time period, would the poverty rate be the same?
One more point needs to be included here because it refers to food stamps as "one of the largest and fastest growing of the government welfare programs." This growth in recipients of food stamps is another sign that the economy is in distress... serious financial distress.
I keep trying to share that housing and food are critical to any interventions we make. Housing and food will help a family to survive until they can find a way through their crisis. People can survive without housing, but they cannot survive without food. Hungry people do desperate things. It would be a wiser thing for the government to build up the reserves for the food stamp program than to eliminate it.
Help people to stay in their homes and help them to eat, then find the best solutions for the recovery of their lives. It may save money in other ways, like public safety costs, court costs, jail costs, prison costs, medical costs, homeless costs, and more.
That is what I have learned in all my years of struggling with poverty and the government.