The Real Life of Julia

Good evening everybody.  Recently President Obama’s campaign team has released a “The Life of Julia” slideshow. It shows the things that the Obama Administration has done to help young women throughout their lifetimes. However, it also sends another message. That women are dependant on government. From cradle to grave, or as I’ve heard it before “from sperm to worm.”

The latest little campaign graphics have presented a picture of a young woman named Julia. The story begins at age 3, and ends at age 67, with her having lived life dependant upon government programs and reliance on her parents. What this shows me, though, is that there is an underlying perception that independant women are unable to do what they wish, how they wish, and should be encourage to let Uncle Sam help her out.

Well, I decided to make my own version of Julia’s life… below is a recreation of President Obama’s “propaganda” with a little bit more common sense and a few less half truths tossed in there.

I hope to follow this up later with some extra details on each picture.

I present to you:

The Real Life of Julia

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Welfare vs Entitlement

I have noticed a recent trend in post pertaining to Welfare, Food Stamps (SNAP), and other forms of social programs.  They have really gotten me thinking.  One especially, titled “My Time at Walmart: Why We need Serious Welfare Reform“, seemed to have exploded in the comment section, bringing out folks from all extremes.  Folks who berated the author for having no compassion, to those practically asking her to marry them they agreed so much, both sides tossing out Talking Points, with little to back them up; all the way to those, like me, who really enjoyed her article, and also understood that she was not generalizing all folks on Welfare as the “welfare queens” she mentions in her post.  In fact, she clears that up within the beginning of the second paragraph, though some seemed to have ignored it.  I believe that there is a sense of entitlement that will lead to fraud, and that those who understand where the assistance is coming from, and who is paying for it, will not feel they are entitled, and therefore not commit fraud.

I believe that there may be a few points could be elaborated in the article on her behalf (though she hasn’t asked, I’ll go ahead anyway).

The author made a great many good points, and in her defense, they were simply observations from when she worked at a Walmart in Scarborough, Maine.  She did not state once, that all folks on Food Stamps or Welfare did these things she describes, nor did she have a problem with Welfare or Food Stamps in general.  Yet the comment stream exploded to the contrary.  Derogatory remarks and assumptions abound.

So, I’ve decided to expand a bit upon her article.  I hope to provide my point of view. As a side note though, I would also like to highlight how much gullibility, hipocracy, ignorance, and lack of reading comprehension seem to perpetrate a lot of the political comments.  It doesn’t matter what side of the party line they come from, “Talking Points” have become a bane on the existance of political debate.  But that will come a bit later.

What is Welfare, and types of Fraud

Well, by definition, welfare is:

Welfare refers to a broad discourse which may hold certain implications regarding the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens without the stigma of charity. [1]

The term itself has become a very broad subject, and in the public view actually covers several different programs.  In the public’s collective mind, it would include TANF, SNAP, WIC, and even in some cases disability and unemployment insurance; however, in reality these are separate programs.  In addition, Welfare has been associated with poverty, though to be honest, welfare was designed to be a temporary stop gap, and “social safety net” to assist folks when times get really tough.

SNAP

An example of this is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), originally known as Food Stamps. This program is available to individuals who may or may not have a job, but fall within a certain income range, therefore qualifying them for assistance.  Specifically assistance in purchasing food.  It is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, but each state makes the decision as to how it is distributed.

SNAP Fraud

There are a few experiences that the author of the beforementioned article made, including the use of SNAP funds to purchase goods for a business.  In this case, there was a gentleman who ran a Hot Dog stand, and would come into WalMart to buy a lot of hot dogs, hot dog buns, mustard, and ketchup, etc., and pay for them with his EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card.  Each time he would make small talk about her coming to visit his hot dog stand, even handing her a business card.  So, in this case, this man is using taxpayer funded SNAP money to run his “business,” in turn converting taxpayer money into straight cash.  This, is illegal, and according to some of the comments from the author herself, she did turn him in, as she should.

However, other forms of fraud are harder to see, as well as harder to judge.  Some of them are in direct violation of the regulations set with SNAP, and others are moral decisions made by those on the program.  Let me elaborate a little bit on that.  SNAP is meant to purchase the necessities, basic sustinance for you and/or your family.  That is great, and a very good way to help those who really are caught up in a rough time, and need a little help.  However, the “moral” cases are harder to really defend.  A lot of the comments on the article continue to term the author as judgemental for accusing the folks using SNAP funds to buy steak, lobster, and premade cakes, yet they seem to not realize that these are not necessities, but “luxuries,” yet some feel they are entitled to it, and use the excuse of “what do you think that I shouldn’t be allowed to eat steak?”  There are folks, who are just above the poverty line, working, paying taxes, yet just out of reach of SNAP assistance.  There are even folks beyond that, just making it month to month, comfortable enough to not stress every minute, but not able to just go out and buy anything either.  These folks aren’t able to buy steaks or lobster, or sometimes even premade cakes from a store, because they have other obligations (rent, insurance, utilities, etc., each not subsidized), and have to still feed their families without assistance.  The moral issue here, is should those who are using money, provided from taxpayer funds, be eating better than those who are paying the taxes funding the program?  I would say no, I would say that they should at the least eat the same.  It would provide a sense of responsibility, as well as less of a reason to stay on SNAP.

Now, to make the point now, there are those who do not commit fraud (moral and literal), and truly need the assistance.  Maybe a family whose primary breadwinner had just lost their job, or a recently divorced family, or a family with dependants with disabilities, and in turn the inability to work and earn an income.  These folks are the ones that the program was designed for, the ones who respect and appreciate what has been provided to them, and understand that the government isn’t giving them this assistance, the taxpayer is.

As an extra bit of information, WIC or “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children” somewhat falls under this category as well, however is far more regulated, and much harder to fraud.

TANF

This is what is known as the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” by definition, it:

Provides cash assistance to indigent [suffering from extreme poverty] American families with dependent children through the United States Department of Health and Human Services.[2]

This program is meant as temporary aid to impoverished families with fewer restrictions on what the money can be speant on.  It is meant to provide not only financial assistance, but also help with job placement in order to not require assistance.  Some states have implemented shorter time frames, however as a basis, there is a limit of 60 months that an individual can be on TANF. In addition to the 60 month limit, some states also limit the “adult” portion of the assistance, still allowing assistance to the children in these families.  Lastly, unmarried minor parents have to live with a responsible adult or guardian, and the paternity of children must be establish in order to receive benefits.

Below is a list with a more specific view of the program:

The purposes of the TANF program as described in section 601 of the Social Security Act are as follows:

  1. provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
  2. end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  3. prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and
  4. encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

TANF sets forward the following work requirements necessary for benefits:

  1. Recipients (with few exceptions) must work as soon as they are job ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance.
  2. Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances.
  3. Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.
  4. States, in FY 2004, have to ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities. If a state reduces its caseload, without restricting eligibility, it can receive a caseload reduction credit. This credit reduces the minimum participation rates the state must achieve.

It is much harder to find any fraud with this program, as it is also used by states to assist in child support payments that a recipient is unable to acquire directly from the other parent.  The two systems use the same method in order to provide child support payments as well as temporary assistance.  Some fraud exists, but is harder to prevent or report, without being considered judgemental or cold-hearted, since you really cannot determine what “funds” are being used.

What is Entitlement

Now that we’re past most of the specifics, here’s where this article gets to the point. An entitlement is an expectation, a “fact of having a right to something.”  To an extent this is what some welfare programs are viewed as.  However, in reality, only Social Security and Medicare can actually be considered entitlements, as you pay into that system while you work, eventually being able to reap the benefits, upon meeting the requirements.

Despite there being some need for the other programs, they are not entitlements, not “rights.” Some would argue that the “pursuit of happiness,” as stated in the Declaration of Independance:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The statement is direct and to the point, you are provided the unalienable right to a “Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness is not guaranteed, and never was, but the opportunities to achieve it are there, and cannot be hindered.  However, should also not be provided at the cost of another’s happiness.

Happiness, in this case, is a bit vague.  What constitutes happiness?  Is it monetary, or physical? Is it something earned or acquired, or is it something given?  Opportunities lead to happiness; however, the government should not provide opportunities to some and not others (see “all men are created equal,” which I will get into a bit later as well), they cannot pick winners and losers. We are all born with opportunities.  Some more visible, and easily acquired, but still available to all.  There comes an air of jealousy and anger, and a belief that opportunities are not equal. All opportunities are equal, but the path to them may not be. In my personal opinion, happiness is not money, or status, or klout, but rather a personal sense of worth. A feeling that what you have done, or what you have accomplished means something, and in turn helps those around you, be it just your family, or everyone around you (mankind).

Success

The sky's the limit... but expect turbulance.

However, that is not believed by everyone. Many public schools now, teach/preach that anything is possible, and the sky is the limit!….. however, they decide not to include the caveats that the sky is pretty darn high, and it is going to take a lot of work to get there.  Some schools have even removed the “ability to fail” allowing kids to try as many times as possible to get it right, even removing wins and losses from schoolyard games, or removing dodgeball cause it can hurt someone’s “self-esteem.” I assume that these changes are made to more easily pave the path to “happiness.” In reality, it ill-prepares the current generation from what the real world is like.  To the right is one of my very favorite images.  It’s a bit old, but makes a ton of sense, and proves that the sky is the limit, but you can’t just coast to get there.

Over time, this pandering to self-esteem, besides removing some parenting duties from parents, has led to a different view of how the world should work. As the picture shows, you cannot leave high school, or even college and expect a $60,000 job with a company car.  That is something that is acquired via proving yourself and showing ambition and initiative. I myself started at minimum wage, and pushed myself to learn more, do more, and show more. Eventually finding other opportunities, leading to even more chances to prove myself. This push to do better, is what got me to where I am, and continues to “allow” me to move up and ahead in my job.

The doors of opportunity aren’t locked, but they may be a bit big for their frame… so you gotta push a little.

Outside of physical or mental disabilities, legally, all men are created equal. With determination, and willingness to make sacrifices, everything can be made possible.  But it’s not going to happen at the drop of a hat. As I said above, this new viewpoints leads people to feel entitled to start at 3rd base, instead of having to take a chance at failure while at bat.

However, going any more in depth on that subject will likely come on a later post.  For now, I think I’ve got my contrast of the two subjects in place.

Conclusion….?

As a final word, at least on the immediate subject, there is a difference between welfare and “entitlement.”  There are families that truly need help.  Loss of a job, loss of a family member, loss of ability, they all happen often with little notice.  Unless you are prepared, it can be a very rough road. These rough roads, the truly rough ones, are what the programs are designed for. 

However, there are still those who believe that, since it’s there, they are entitled to it.  Not because they need it, but because it’s available.  Not because they are on a rough road, but because they want to cruise a little easier, and expect someone else to foot the bill.  These are not the majority, but they exist.

What are your thoughts?

Health *insert suffix here* Reform… really?

Alright, time to hit the hot topic on everybody’s plate: Health Care/Insurance Reform.  So, which is it Washington?

I’ve heard each term, “Health Care Reform” and “Health Insurance Reform” used nearly interchangeably lately.  It’s no wonder the nation’s confused.  To top it off, the media can’t seem to pick one and stick with it either, even the President and his advisors can’t seem to decide on a phrase to use.

Now, this isn’t going to go in-depth into the subject; in fact, it’s barely going to scratch the surface.  I simply want to put my point of view out there, and get it off my chest.

I recently read a little anecdote from a friend of mine.  He had checked the source at Snopes, and as far as I can tell, it’s legit.

The story pertains to a Dr. from Mississippi, who works in the Emergency room.  One evening, he was tasked to assist an individual.  Here is the letter he wrote:

“Dear  Sirs:

During my last night’s shift in the ER, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient with an expensive shiny gold tooth, multiple elaborate expensive tattoos, a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and a new cellular telephone equipped with her favorite R&B tune for a ringtone. Glancing over the chart, one could not help noticing her payer status: ‘Medicaid’. She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and somehow, still has money to buy beer.  

And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman’s health care? Our nation’s health care crisis is not a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. It is a ‘crisis of culture’, a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take care of one’s self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. A culture that thinks “I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of  me”.  Life is really not that hard. Most of us reap what we sow Don’t you agree?”

This is what needs to change.  It’s not that we currently can’t afford the assistance that our country provides, because believe me I know that we can’t.  But it is the people who take advantage of this assistance, and don’t expect any repercussions.  Even if the letter is a fake, it still points out truths that exist in today’s society.  Some people not all people, simply feel that the world/everyone else owes them something.  As long as they get what they want, and somebody else is watching their back, whether it be by Medicaid/Medicare or Food Stamps, then they shouldn’t have to pay a cent.

Now, I’m not against government assistance for those who need it.  I know people, and have family who appropriately take advantage of these systems; however, it should be the choice and responsibility of the person and not the government as to what should be used.

In addition, people should be held accountable for their actions; simply put, if you are going to use these programs, then you are also going to have to be held responsible for some of the cost.  Just because you get “free” health insurance through the government doesn’t mean that you can take that money left over and blow it on non-necessities.

Now, on a slightly different note, the corporate side needs to be monitored as well. Capitalism is a great thing.  It inspires competition and innovation.  Frauds and scams are not, and that is what I feel some of the current insurance companies, and in addition to that Doctors and Hospitals, are doing.  To inflate the cost of an appointment or procedure, just so that Medicare or an insurance company will pay more to the doctor or hospital is practically “legalized fraud”.  There needs to be a limitation on how things are priced and a standard put in place.  Plus the fact that hospitals can turn down payment, so that they don’t have to claim that they “accepted it” and in turn can turn people into collection agencies should be stopped, plain and simple.

To conclude this I simply want to note that responsibility, and accountability, both personal and corporate/medical should be a focus of our government.

Update: The bill got passed… not on through the next phase and to the Pres’s hands.  We’ll see how this all works. out.

Knowledge is power, and though the cliché may state it, ignorance is not bliss.