April 7, 2015

Just as Worthy of a Steak Dinner? The Deeper Issues Behind Welfare Cuts.


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This week two state governments (Missouri and Kansas) are attempting to put large restrictions on their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and temporary assistance programs under the guise of preventing abuse and fraud in the welfare system.

The largest beneficiaries of these program are the often-forgotten working poor that is the cheap labor that fuels many of our country’s biggest conglomerates. What these bills and discussions don’t explore is that these are people who oftentimes work forty hours a week and still can not make ends meet.

Indeed the other largest population receiving government assistance is the elderly and the disabled. These bills also create and perpetuate an “us versus them” mentality, making the abuser, the poor worker, and those being abused, and the taxpayer, when the actuality of government subsidies are far more nuanced and complex.

In the Kansas bill, those seeking temporary aid from the government are being told specifically where they can and cannot spend money. House bill 2258 prevents those receiving temporary aid under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, from withdrawing more than $25 per day. It also restricts what types of activities TANF recipients can receive. TANF recipients cannot go to movies, go swimming or get tattoos while receiving government assistance.

Far more insidious is that House Bill 2258 restricts lifetime use of assistance to just 36 months.

Lawmakers are instructing those receiving as “much” as $497 per month, but no more than $454. I have done the math, this equates to just $4 per person per day if you are receiving the higher government subsidiary.

In Missouri, the situation is just as dire. Missouri Republicans are in talks to pass a bill that would limit the use of government subsidies for the very poor and the state of Missouri. Calling for an end to steak and seafood, Missouri lawmakers want to further restrict the types of food SNAP recipients can buy with their EBT cards. As if steak and seafood are deigned only for the rich, Missouri wants to quell the oftentimes-working poor’s desire to eat meat and fish.

Mark Rank, a professor and expert of on the realities of welfare in America, states here that ”It just seems really repressive. I don’t see how it makes any sense to ban some of these foods. Fish is something that should really be in your diet. And steak, what does that mean in this context?”

The thing is that welfare abuse just doesn’t happen the way lawmakers have pitched it to the public. Welfare abuse is something we should consider. But should we question who abuses the welfare system?

Contrary to popular and incendiary rhetoric, 90% of welfare recipients are either disabled, elderly or working poor. What is more is that entitlements are not exclusive to the poor, it is just that “welfare” or government assistance programs are geared at supplementing the income tax incentives and lack of inheritance taxes benefits the wealthier members of this country.

This country is not us versus them: we all benefit from the government, it’s just a matter of how.

What is more problematic and endemic is the demonization of the working poor of this country. Some say that tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance, and this is a case where nuance has been removed to further demonize those receiving SNAP and temporary assistance. Taking away and adding restriction to government subsidies is taking away autonomy from people who are either down on their luck or struggling to make ends meet.

The poor, elderly and disabled are just as American and just as worthy of a steak dinner or a trip to the movies as other Americans. The sooner we acknowledge the humanity of those receiving government assistance, the more united our citizenry will be in preventing homelessness, poverty and food insecurity.


Bonus Video:

Relephant Reads:

The Stigma of Poverty.

This Thanksgiving, Millions will not Eat. Here’s how to Help.


Author: Katie Schellenberg 

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Google Images labelled for reuse 


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