It has become all too easy today to receive government assistance. Half of all babies born in the U.S. today receive food assistance, and half of all children live in a home that will use food assistance at some point during their childhood. 40 percent of the population in Washington, D.C. is on welfare. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of Americans receiving food assistance more than doubled, expanding to over 47 million, which is more than one-seventh of the population. Forty years ago, only 4.3 million Americans received food assistance. According to a Heritage Foundation study, means-tested welfare has grown faster than every other part of government during the past two decades, including Social Security, Medicare, education and defense.
What is wrong with this picture? Half of everyone in the U.S. is not “poor.” We are the wealthiest nation in the world. Almost half of all households do not even pay any federal income tax. The problem is that welfare is not just provided to the handicapped and unemployed; it is distributed to the lower middle working class and their children. In Arizona, a single parent with four children making up to around $3000 in income per month is eligible to receive $800 a month in food assistance and $400 or more in cash assistance per month. Even with an income somewhat above $3000 per month, there is still some financial assistance available. An able-bodied adult without children making less than approximately $1500 per month is eligible for up to $250 to $300 per month in food assistance from the state of Arizona.
Although illegal immigrants are not eligible for welfare, they can receive benefits on behalf of their children through the Aid to Dependent Families Act. Proportionately, illegal immigrant households receive more food assistance than the rest of the population. According to a study from the Center for Immigration Studies, although illegal immigrant households comprise 3.6 percent of the total population, they account for 5.6 percent of food assistance programs. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich announced this year that 22 percent of welfare spending in the county goes to the children of illegal immigrants.
In many ways welfare is becoming easier to obtain. The GOP’s Contract With America welfare to work legislation that former president Bill Clinton signed is gradually being eroded. A cutoff for receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families was put in place in 1996 that limited welfare benefits to five years. But local governments have been slow to enforce the cutoff dates and have found replacement funding through other programs. Half of food stamp aid goes to individuals who have received aid for 8.5 years or more. The 2009 stimulus act removed the requirement that able-bodied recipients without children work at least half-time in order to receive food assistance, and increased the maximum food assistance level by 13 percent. Some states are waiving limits on the amount of savings someone on food assistance may have. Food assistance no longer comes in the form of embarrassing food stamps, but through a debit card that looks just like any other debit or credit card.
Welfare assistance comes in many forms, including cash, food stamps, public housing, energy assistance, Medicaid, free school lunches and WIC, which is a food assistance program for women and their children. $700 billion is spent annually on welfare. This does not even include the cost of education or the use of emergency rooms by the uninsured. The cost to taxpayers this year for food assistance alone is $68 billion. Yet Obama wants to increase the amount spent on welfare by 42% over the amount spent in 2008 under President Bush.
Some efforts are being made to push back against the runaway spending. Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee is tackling food stamp reform. He has asked the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to find savings. Thirty-six states are considering drug testing for welfare recipients. The government of Washington, D.C. has begun enforcing a cutoff date for welfare check recipients. Michigan’s Department of Health Services recently tried to cut off cash assistance to certain welfare recipients who had been receiving it for more than five years. Unfortunately a liberal judge has temporarily blocked it.
It is true that many Americans have lost their jobs due to the recession. But the increase in welfare has gone up much faster than the unemployment rate. Americans must rid themselves of the entitlement mentality when it comes to jobs. No one is entitled to their first choice of employment. There are jobs available; Americans must quit thinking they are too good for them. It is better overall to be gainfully employed as a security guard or working at McDonald’s, than living off the government dole. Americans must also drop the entitlement mentality when it comes to food and materialism, and instead learn to live within their means. Cell phones, big-screen TVs, eating out frequently, and new cars are luxuries, not necessities.
Welfare is devastating for children. Long-term welfare dependency reduces a child’s intellect by one-third when compared with other similar children. In order to reduce the growing, unaffordable dependency that has crept up over the past few years, encouraged by our government, it must be impressed upon Americans how we are ruining our children. The Heritage Foundation came with a list of ways to lower the welfare rolls. They include providing welfare assistance as loans, not grants, encouraging marriage in low-income families, and limiting low-skill immigration. These kinds of solutions must be implemented, because eventually we will run out of producers to support the takers.