Every so often Facebook is covered with the little “ecards” and other items that complain about “lazy people on welfare” who have an iPhone, a new car, are buying cigarettes, and are just generally living the good life off of the rest of us who work for a living. Close your eyes for a moment, and develop a mental picture of an “average welfare recipient.” Now use that mental picture as a frame of reference for what you are about to read. If you are like many Americans, be prepared to have your beliefs about welfare and welfare recipients shattered.
Myth: “People on welfare are lazy and sit at home collecting it while the rest of us work to support them.”
Fact: The welfare reform law that was signed by President Clinton in 1996 largely turned control over welfare benefits to the states, but the federal government provides some of the funding for state welfare programs through a program called Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF). TANF grants to states require that all welfare recipients must find work within two years of first receiving benefits. This includes single parents, who are required to work at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families are required to work 35 to 50 hours per week. Failure to obtain work could result in loss of benefits. It is also worth noting that, thanks to the pay offerings of companies such as Walmart, many who work at low wage jobs qualify for public assistance, even though they work full-time.
The popular perception is that welfare recipients don’t want to work. There are people in all sorts of situations who would probably prefer not to work, but for welfare recipients the law gives them no choice; within two years they have to find work or face losing benefits.
Myth: “People who go on welfare stay on it forever.”
Fact: According to statisticbrain.com, the vast majority of TANF recipients, 80.4 percent, receive benefits for five years or less. (The site still refers to the program by the old name of Aid To Families With Dependent Children. AFDC is the program that seems to be most often identified with the term “welfare.” AFDC programs were replaced at the federal level by TANF in 1996, but it is still common to hear the program referred to as AFDC.)
Myth: “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards. … She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000” – Ronald Reagan
Fact: Ah, the “welfare queen.” Ronny loved to tell his stories, and his welfare queen story is one of the most popular. The only problem is, the woman he talked about didn’t exist. There is some evidence that elements of this story may have been based on facts, but the descriptions of abuse by an actual woman were wildly exaggerated by Reagan.
Myth: “Welfare recipients keep having more kids so they can get more benefits.”
Fact: According to a 2010 report released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average family receiving TANF benefits has 1.8 children, which is about the same as the national average. Half of the families receiving TANF benefits only have one child. In fact, the average size of families receiving welfare benefits has declined from 4.0 in 1969 to 2.4 in 2010. Also, some states, such as Delaware and Georgia, make it clear to those who sign up for TANF benefits that their benefits will not increase if they have additional children. Taken from the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services website:
You will get information on family planning. Your check will not increase if you have a baby 10 months or more after you sign up for this program. [Emphasis added]
A Government Accountability Office report (page 45), shows the amount of TANF benefits paid in each state for one to three children. Even in states where having additional children will result in a benefit increase, that increase is, in most cases, $100 a month or less.
Myth: “Where Is The U.S. Headed If More Than 100 Million People Get Welfare?” – Headline of August 2012 column by CNN’s Jack Cafferty
Fact: 100 million Americans on welfare? Cafferty apparently gets his information from a biased source, the Center For Immigration Studies, which is connected to identified racist John Tanton. According to the 2010 federal HHS report, 1,084,828 adults and 3,280,153 children received TANF benefits that year, a far cry from 100 million.
Myth: “I see these guys all the time, hanging out and drinking, and doing drugs, collecting welfare instead of working.”
Fact: The able-bodied single male with no dependent children who collects welfare in the United States pretty much does not exist, since the primary goal of most welfare programs is to provide temporary support for children and families. Single males can receive certain benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they are disabled.
Myth: “Most welfare recipients are drug users.”
Fact: That’s apparently what Florida governor Rick Scott thought, too. The state of Florida began drug testing welfare recipients in 2011. About 2 percent tested positive for drug use. According to the New York Times, federal statistics show that the rate of drug use among welfare recipients is about the same as it is for the public at large.
Myth: “Most welfare recipients are minorities and illegal immigrants.”
Fact: TANF benefits were paid out to roughly the same percentage of white and black recipients in 2010, according to the HHS report. In fact, the percentage of black families receiving welfare benefits has declined by almost 7 percent since 2000. Regarding illegal immigrants: those who are in the United States illegally are ineligible for benefits other than emergency Medicaid.
Myth: “People collect welfare instead of work, and they get rich. They all have iPhones, drive new cars, have widescreen tv’s, etc. I work and I can’t afford any of that!”
Fact: Since welfare payments vary by state and by the size of the family, it’s hard to provide all the pertinent numbers here, but here are some ranges:
- A family of four can expect up to $500 a month in food stamp benefits. A single person can expect an average of $200 a month.
- The average monthly allowance under TANF/AFDC is $900 for a family of four. For a single person the average is about $300.
It would be interesting to see what kind of “new car” anyone could buy on that income, or even an iPhone, for that matter. (Remember, despite what Newt Gingrich may have claimed during the 2012 election campaign, you can’t use food stamps for anything except food, so when you’re figuring how much money someone might have for an iPhone or a car, take that money out of the equation.) It is also worth observing that the people who sneer about welfare recipients having those things don’t take into consideration that the person may have had that iPhone or car before having to go on welfare. Along these lines, perhaps the most laughable criticism is of welfare recipients who have tattoos. Tattoos are permanent, folks! How do you know that someone got a tattoo after starting to receive welfare?
One final fact about welfare. Would anybody like to guess who makes up the single largest group on welfare in the United States? It’s children. One out of every four children in the United States receives welfare benefits.
Because the rules surrounding TANF require recipients to look for work, the problem is not with laziness, or a lack of education, but rather with the availability of jobs with good wages and benefits. Were more parents able to find well-paying jobs, fewer of their children would need welfare benefits. In fact, were more good jobs available, fewer Americans in general would need the assistance of welfare.