States play a role in determining who qualifies as well; and in several states, a family of four with income of over $45,000 a year is eligible to receive benefits. According to the study, over half of the recipients of food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), have income above the poverty line. Of the 40.3 million receiving food stamps in 2010 (the last year for which detailed figures are available), 20.4 were above the poverty cut-off. Of these, a whopping 8 million have income twice the poverty level.
And the non-poor receive more benefits than food stamps. Those living at 133-200 percent or more of the poverty level also constitute the greatest number of beneficiaries of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Even Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which gives cash benefits to those supposedly in need, now supports those whose incomes are twice the official poverty definition; indeed 40 percent of TANF funds go to families whose incomes are more than 200 percent of poverty.
The policy implications of these findings are enormous. What once were programs to provide a safety net for the truly poor are now programs to boost the living standards of the lower middle class. More importantly, these changes reflect a sea change in social and economic policy. Those who have warned that America is heading toward a welfare state are wrong. We are already there. As Congress and White House officials debate the fiscal crisis, the failure to deal with the burgeoning dependency of millions of Americans will doom any long-term, viable solution.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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