benefiting from U.S. social welfare funds? Is it just the poor, or are other groups also receiving financial benefits from the U.S. Treasury? This paper delves into those issues and provides credible resources to ferret out the real facts.
Not for people in poverty exclusively: After pointing out that the Reagan Administration's conservative agenda created an "historic shift" in welfare benefits, journalist Mimi Abramovitz reports that subsequent to the Reagan cuts social welfare programs in fact dole out more taxpayer money to "middle and upper classes" than to poor people (Abramovitz, 2001). The federal government (in 2000) spent $235.9 billion on assistance programs for those in the low income bracket, and yet some $793.9 billion of taxpayer money went to programs that "do not use poverty or need as a criteria…" (Abramovitz, 299). Moreover, the Social Security (and other social insurance programs) "grants" increase with inflation, allowing the purchasing power of recipients to rise; however, the AFDC (welfare) dollars paid to low income people "…fell 47%" between 1970 to 1999 (Abramovitz, 299).
Writing in The New York Times, journalist Suzanne Mettler points out that factions of the American public are for some reason in denial as to their receipt of federal social benefits. A poll sited by Mettler shows that when 1,400 Americans were asked if they have ever received money "from a government social program" fifty-seven percent said they had not (Mettler, 1). However, when the pollster (Cornell Survey Research Institute) specifically mentioned the programs in question (Social Security; unemployment insurance; home-mortgage-interest deduction; and student loans) some 94% of the same people that had denied using "a government social program" in fact had received funds from "at least one" (and on average, the "no" respondents had used four) (Mettler, 1).
The Derek Thompson article in The Atlantic explains that "fully 55% of all Americans…have received benefits from one of…" the following: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment benefits and food stamps" (Thompson, 2012).
Why does the public think only the poor benefit? Because there is so much negative chatter in the media (especially the conservative media) about how evil big government is and how people (especially the poor) mooch off taxpayer dollars for food stamps, etc. This non-stop rhetoric has an impact on opinions. Rush Limbaugh recently made a very big deal out of those who get food stamps, as though most recipients were lazy or cheaters.
TWO: Two groups that benefit from social welfare policies -- how and why
Tax credits, certain deductions and "preferences" can also be seen as the government actually writing a check to affluent citizens (Lawler, 2013). For example if an upper middle class (or wealthy) family is buying a home and they get a $10,000 tax credit, say, for installing solar energy, it is "…the same as the government writing you a $10,000 check," Lawler explains. Families with children get certain credits too, and that amounts to receiving money from the government. Hence, the "hidden welfare state" benefits "wealthier households," Lawler points out.
Why are these benefits bestowed on the wealthy? Congress passes amendments to the tax code to benefit constituencies -- and to get votes and also to encourage certain actions by citizens (installing conservation measures to one's property, for example, saves electrical energy and reduces one's carbon footprint, hence a tax break is a stimulus). However, notwithstanding the tax credits that go to the wealthy, Arloc Sherman and colleagues assert that "…more than 90% of the benefit dollars…" from entitlements go to folks who truly need those programs. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum asserted in 2012 that the "work ethic" was being destroyed because people are leeches off government funding and they prefer getting checks from Uncle Sam to actually working. Turns out that's not really true, as Sherman notes: "…91% of the benefit dollars…" go to disabled people, the elderly, and the truly needy. The above-mentioned recipients benefit because they qualify and legislation was designed to aid them.
THREE: Two groups that lose from social welfare policies -- how and why.
An article by Farah Ahmad and Sarah Iverson points out that notwithstanding that American women have made substantial gains over the last century, and have enjoyed additional social standing (voting rights, better pay and reproductive rights), the benefits of many achievements "…have not be equally shared" (Ahmad, et al., 2013). In fact there remain "…wide and deep inequalities from…women of color" (Ahmad, 1). Why is this true? Institutional racism (against Latinas and African-American women) plays a role; also, women of color do not have the same educational or training opportunities and hence they are at risk and their lack of preparedness reduces their "purchasing power" (Ahmad, 4).
Some voters are also potential losers in the social welfare milieu because low income people, the disabled, the elderly, minorities and young people tend to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws (Roos, 2012). There are many states that have passed voter ID laws, obvious signs that those states are controlled by Republicans, who know the above-mentioned constituencies tend to vote with Democrats. Supposedly these laws are designed to prevent voter fraud but the Justice Department statistics show that voter fraud "…is extremely rare: 86 convictions out of 300 million votes cast" (Roos, 1). If an African-American senior citizen doesn't have a government-issued photo ID, she could be prevented from voting from a political candidate that supports keeping Medicare and Social Security strong programs.
FOUR: Name some ways in which you, relatives, or family, have benefitted from the social welfare system: I benefitted greatly from unemployment insurance when I was working in Texas and the web-building company I was working for laid off our whole department. There was a mild recession when the bubble burst on the "dot-com" economic boom, and when orders for web-building services at my company nose-dived, we were all let go. I received enough money to pay my rent and keep gas in my car as I looked for other work. However, when my unemployment insurance ran out, and President Clinton and the Democrats created legislation to extend benefits for workers, conservatives in Congress refused to pass the extension and in fact members of Congress went home for the Christmas holidays without voting up or down in the legislation. I lost out on that one.
My grandmother was placed in a nursing home late in her life when she was suffering from dementia -- and Medicare paid for a substantial portion of the cost of keeping her there. It was a fairly high quality nursing home and my grandfather (who received Social Security benefits) was able to visit her four or five days a week; it was very sweet to see them taking a nap together on grandmother's twin bed.
My aunt in West Virginia could not afford health insurance but she has benefitted from Medicaid, the federal government's program for low income people who need health insurance but can't afford the high cost of most health insurance policies. Medicaid provided a huge amount of help for her when she fell off a ladder and broke her hip.
FIVE: Identify populations served by your agency and indicate how clients have benefited or how they have lost due to changes in social welfare funding. I am an intern for the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS), and we serve individuals who have struggled to find work and security but often end up homeless. We place formerly homeless people in clean, welcoming shelter buildings; those who qualify are placed in a nice studio apartment with a kitchen, bath, bed, and safety. The clients we serve also receive healthcare and if necessary psychiatric care (many homeless men in our city are veterans who have been in trouble with drugs or alcohol and they need psychological…