6 welfare myths we all need to stop believing

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Stigma runs deep when it comes to government programs designed to aid low-income individuals and families.

6 welfare myths we all need to stop believing

Need-based assistance in the U.S. — such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — is often subject to public scrutiny, causing those who receive it to feel shame.

But it's all due to the misconception that these programs reward the undeserving, allowing people to "work the system" while rejecting the common (yet highly unrealistic) "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" values of our society. Welfare recipients are also often assumed to share a range of undesirable characteristics, most of which have racist and classist undertones.

These stereotypes simply aren't true. We need to dispel the myths surrounding government benefits so we can truly understand the value of welfare, the humanity of those receiving it and the improvements that could be made to better support those in need.

Below, we explore six common welfare myths, which you can consider thoroughly debunked.

Myth 1: People on welfare are unmotivated and not working.

Welfare recipients are often characterized as lazy, simply waiting for the next month's benefits to roll in. But nearly 73% of people receiving public benefits are members of working families.

Some programs, like TANF, actually operate under the expectation that families are working but need temporary assistance to become financially stable. Many argue the problem is really income inequality, which leaves minimum wage earners struggling to afford basic needs, and therefore reliant on public assistance.

Viewing people as morally responsible for their own situations "obviously ignores the systemic inequalities in the economy and polity that make people poor in the first place," independent scholar Gwendolyn Mink, who authored Welfare's End and several other works on public assistance programs, tells Mashable. "The kind of income inequality that is in the system puts especially women of color at the lowest end of the earning spectrum, which is a sentence of abject poverty."

Even though welfare recipients are in the labor force, Mink explains, they aren't earning enough money to support a family and provide food security for their children while at the same time pay bills, such as rent and utilities.

Myth 2: Welfare recipients are mostly people of color.

This myth is dripping with racist assumptions about the lives of people of color, but it's also fundamentally untrue.

In reality, approximately 40% of SNAP recipients are white, making white people the largest racial group on food stamps. When it comes to TANF recipients, approximately 30% are white, 30% are Latino and 30% are black, with several other racial groups making up the remaining 10% of recipients.

Considering systemic inequalities that put people of color behind white people in terms of wage earnings, this somewhat even distribution of need-based aid is actually concerning. Due to racism in the wage system, people of color should theoretically receive more governmental assistance. Yet, those who need welfare programs often don't have access to them — which is the real issue.

"Only 27% of families who need welfare, who are in poverty [and] who qualify for welfare … actually receive it," Mink says. "Most people who need it don't get it. The law is so cruelly structured to incentivize non-participation or to actually exclude participation."

Myth 3: Undocumented populations are stealing welfare benefits from citizens.

This isn't just false — it's impossible. Undocumented populations are ineligible for all welfare programs, except emergency medical care.

"It's illegal to afford public benefits of the TANF or food stamp variety to undocumented immigrants ... who have not been in this country for a situated amount of time as legal residents," Mink says.

Even for immigrants who are now legal residents, federally funded programs have strict criteria for participation. For example, food stamps are only available to immigrants with legal status who have lived in the country for five years, are receiving disability-related assistance or are under 18 years old.

Some programs also allow states to make their own guidelines for immigrant populations, leading to disparities in assistance from state to state.

"The TANF law permits states to bar any immigrants all together, if they wanted to," Mink says.

Myth 4: Countless "welfare queens" are working the system's loopholes.

In any debate of welfare, you'll often hear stories of the "welfare queen" — a racialized term used to describe women who are accused of cheating the system to gain maximum benefits.

Her origin can be traced back to a Ronald Reagan campaign rally in 1976, where the former president said, "In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans' benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year."

But the reality of the undeserving welfare queen is not the rule — it's the exception. Mink says it's unreasonable to make judgments based on "one bad apple in every bunch."

It's also difficult to work the system with the goal of becoming that bad apple. WIC and SNAP are full of restrictions preventing the use of coupons for monetary gain, while TANF is only available for five years within a person's lifetime.

Myth 5: Once a person goes on welfare, they'll freeload off it for years.

Eligibility requirements prevent government aid recipients from getting benefits if they don't demonstrate dire need. TANF programs, for example, have a federal lifetime limit of five years.

"You might be on consecutively for five years and fall off," Mink says, "but if you fall into dire straits five years from now, forget it. You can't get back into the program."

As a result, these requirements often prevent some people from accessing the support they need. For instance, the federal government's food stamp cuts enacted at the end of 2014, which included tighter eligibility restrictions, had experts predicting severe hardships for the nation's poorest by 2016.

Welfare offers basic support to provide families with the bare necessities, if even that. Many families on welfare are simply looking to use government assistance as a way to build up their finances during tough times, with the goal of getting back on their feet.

"Nobody wants to stay on welfare if they can get a decent job with decent wages with decent working conditions," Mink says.

Myth 6: Welfare programs are eating up valuable tax dollars.
A recent study from UC Berkeley found that public assistance programs cost taxpayers $152.8 billion every year (indicating a need for better wages). While this is a sizable chunk of cash, it isn't even close to the amount poor families need.

Benefits per family are minimal, still leaving many scrambling at the end of the month to afford their expenses. As of late 2014, the average monthly food stamp benefit came in at $133.07 per participant. Though TANF benefits can fall anywhere between $200 and $1,000 per family, the average monthly amount of assistance per recipient families was $392 per month in 2010.

"Are people as concerned about how the military spends their tax dollars or how much money we give to Amtrak?" Mink says. "A very small percentage of the federal budget is consumed by welfare spending..."

Your tax dollars aren't going to waste. These programs are helping families survive, not thrive.

Fuente: mashable.com
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