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DISCLAIMER:  It’s a very exciting time for me as a blogger to have a guest writer contribute something to my site.  Keeps me off my toes for a moment.  This article on food stamps is brought to you by a good friend of mine, Jamil Larkins.  Jamil is a senior at the University of Connecticut and decided to dip his toes into the water with this blog post.  You can follow Jamil on Twitter @JamilLarkins.  A big thanks goes out to Jamil for this piece and I think all of you will enjoy this.

I normally don’t step into the realm of discussing politics on the internets for a few different reasons:

1) I’m busy with school or work.
2) I’m playing NBA 2K13.
3) People don’t care. So it’s stupid.
4) Political discussions always turn into arguments. Always.

We all have our biases and opinions that we’ve been socialized into from family members, media sources, and personal experiences. One of the most controversial, misinformed, and easily slandered is the American social welfare system. The modern day federal welfare system has many roots in the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt in dealing with the trying times of the Great Depression.

Welfare though is not the same as social welfare, which is something to always remember. “Welfare” includes any and all program to benefit the greater good of Americans, including education, welfare, economic, and social programs. These programs have taken much reform, from Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton, and currently Barack Obama.

Every occasion I see someone speaking out against the welfare system, saying that lazy drug users are wasting all of American tax dollars on free food and amenities it hurts to see such ignorance.

The nerve of that one person to “like” this status.

Should I leave a possibly pretentious comment on their Facebook status and engage in a never ending battle of perception?  You’re right, no chance in hell.  So by the end of this post I’ll try and give you all as many facts and unbiased opinions that I have about welfare. I’ll also explain how most of you reading this post are on welfare. Yes, you heard me correctly.

The two most scrutinized social welfare programs, in my opinion, are easily the cash assistance and food stamp program. Take the time now to think about any previous stereotypes of food stamps, welfare, cash assistance, and poverty you’ve ever had. Unfortunate, isn’t it?

Therefore, allow me to preface with some basic definitions.

Facts:

  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is our modern day “cash assistance”. The federal government provides a grant to each state, with the state deciding ultimately what to do with the allocated funds. TANF was a program implemented during the Clinton administration, created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Clinton’s complete welfare reform, in extreme summary, put time-limits on people receiving these benefits. Also, the reform was designed for people seeking work, providing a temporary “safety” net.
  • Federal law requires that half of the families receiving assistance under TANF must be engaged in some kind of work-related activity for at least 30 hours a week (or 20 hours a week for single-parents with young children) (Schott, 2011).
  • In 2009, 33.5 billion dollars were allocated to TANF, with 27.8% of that going towards cash assistance programs. So if you’re keeping track, that’s about 9 billion dollars in 2009 for cash assistance (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2011). Even this number has dropped dramatically in the more recent years under President Obama.

So remember that number: $9 billion for direct cash assistance.

Next.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is administered by the US Department of Agriculture. This administers money for food through a debit card system, known as the Electronic Benefit Transfer card. This card system replaced the former food stamp or coupon system, where recipients would actually receive different colored coupons to purchase food, a demeaning and novelty system in my opinion. This program was reformed in the 2008 Farm Bill, much to my personal approval, to initiate the purchase of healthier food by people receiving assistance. Subsidies on produce were even offered in this bill reform. There are also monthly restrictions on receiving SNAP benefits, which can be found in the income table, via the USDA. in 2011, the federal government allocated $78 billion to SNAP, with about 92% of that going directly to household food purchases (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2012). So again with the math, 92& of $78 billion is about $72 billion directly to SNAP recipients.

Next number to remember: $72 billion for direct nutritional assistance.

Why does this all matter?  I’ll break down the next few sections with some common misconceptions about the programs from the general public, as well as both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney’s proposed plans (but take Romney’s plan as all speculatory since the election has already been decided). So now for the good stuff, I’ll answer all these questions to the best of my knowledge and hopefully shut a few people up.

“I don’t want any lazy drug addict to spend my hard-earned tax dollars on drugs and iPhones, and junk food”.

  • Remember those two numbers I previously mentioned? $9 billion in 2009 on cash assistance and $72 billion in 2011 for direct nutritional assistance. That’s around $81 billion for your stereotypical “tax dollars going to welfare”. To give you an idea of how little that amount is, the projected federal spending budget for 2013 is $3.8 trillion, according to US Government Spending.  If my math is correct (correct me if it isn’t, words > numbers), that’s about .02% of the federal spending budget dedicated to direct cash and food assistance. Your “hard earned tax dollars” are going to other places, too. Take a look here.

“People abuse the system and that’s not right.”

  • Of course people abuse the system. The national poverty line is currently around $23,000 for a family of four. If you’re working minimum wage, with no skills and no help from job training, and no extra money to spare, you might be forced to illegally trade in food stamps for cash to buy other necessities, like clothes for your children. The federal and state governing bodies have even tried to crack down on people abusing the system. They have set stricter requirements for entry, including the state of Michigan dropping 30,000 college students from their food stamp program. Is a person in poverty abusing their privileges any different than a wealthy person circumnavigating paying taxes?

“There’s only black and hispanic people on welfare.”

  • Again, common misconception. Facts are facts: there are more white people on welfare than blacks or hispanics, because there are more whites living in poverty. According to the SSA (Social Security Administration) in 2010, nearly 70% of welfare recipients (TANF, Social Security, Medicare, etc.) were white. Also, according to the New York Times, 36 million Americans relied on food stamps.  More than 24 million of them were white, 8 million were African American and 6 million were Hispanic of any race (The Food Stamp Fallacy, 2012). I know you have your stereotypes, but check this video out and the complete subtraction of race from the entire situation. If this lady was black the comments on the video would be full of people calling her a lazy ni…yea I’ll chill.

“Only poor people need welfare, I’ll never be on welfare”.

  • According to policy analyst Richard Titmuss, there are 3 types of welfare in America. Social, fiscal (federal), and occupational welfare all exist to provide the same basic needs. These needs include education, childcare, housing, family support, retirement income, and health care. So for example, students benefit from education welfare support by free primary and secondary schools, tuition reimbursement, subsidized higher education, and and untaxed scholarships and grants. The institutions of annual salaries, private pensions, and tax deductions for dependent children, to name a few, are all examples of “welfare” programs that the average person never thinks of (via Mimi Abramovitz from the Journal of the National Association of Social Workers, Volume 46: Number 4, October 2001).

“We should cut welfare money and spend it on something more important. People don’t deserve all that money”.

  • If elected, Mitt Romney was going to cut plenty of money. Mind you, direct cash assistance and SNAP are already around .02% of the total federal expenditure. Over a ten year period, Romney planned to cut over $2 trillion from programs like SNAP, free lunch programs, and supplemental income for the disabled and elderly. At the same time, over $2 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy were also proposed (Melissa Boateach, 2012). There are programs that people aren’t abusing and profiting off of, if you can believe it. Here’s an example of one that was directly affected by state welfare cuts. 

“They should require drug tests to receive welfare”.

Well, I’m not going to say anything, because Joe already said it all here.

So what?

  • The money allotted for welfare programs isn’t going anywhere. What can change is the eligibility requirements to receive these benefits. Contrary to popular belief, President Obama is restructuring programs such as TANF, placing an effort on job training and education for access to these programs. Job creation will eventually come during the Obama administration through getting people back to work through the education of workers and a strong structural support from the ground up. Support your President.

I think that’s all I have to say.

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