The unemployed want benefits to extend for months -- combined state and federal benefits for some workers in 2013 will cover 73 weeks of unemployment. Not only does this discourage people from looking for work until their benefits are about to run out, but it hurts workers' chances of finding jobs the longer they're out of the workforce.
And more and more Americans now qualify for programs that once existed to help the poor or disabled, including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Medicaid. In some states, food stamp recipients include families whose incomes are over 200 percent of poverty. More alarmingly, a recent Senate study of those on SSDI, found that 25 percent of the supposedly disabled had conflicting, absent or contradictory evidence of their disability. Drug abuse and alcoholism that interfere with the ability to work make many people eligible for SSI, SSDI and food stamps. Congress has tried to prevent benefits going to those who are currently abusing drugs or alcohol; but those restrictions don't work well, and the number of current abusers who receive federal benefits continues to increase.
President Obama could choose to talk about what to do about these problems. During the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling debates, he's been unwilling to offer any serious cuts in spending, beyond defense and lower payments to Medicare providers. But, according to some estimates, more than 70 percent of the federal budget now goes for government dependency programs. And about a third of Americans receive support from these programs -- which undermines the notion that we are a self-reliant people.
Admittedly, challenging all Americans to think about what sacrifices they can make for their country's future would be an about face for this president. But if he had the courage, he'd go down in history for speaking the truth instead of telling people what they want to hear. It's called leadership.
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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