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?

Appreciating what you have

This mortal world provides all kinds of material things.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get all holier than thou in this post, but the subject does deal with the material aspects of life, and how you acquire them. Simply put, you appreciate the things you earn, more than the things you are given. I guess that kind of brings me to the point of this post, and likely has given you an idea of what I’m trying to get at.

In today’s economy, just about everything has gotten exponentially more expensive.  Insurance, food, gas, homes, schooling, etc. Some of this is due to the slow devaluing of the US Dollar (ya, I believe that it is under way, thanks to QE1 and QE2 and the possibility at a QE3). Others are due to increases in regulations and increases in costs and new taxes for items (remember the price you pay is the “retail” price, not the cost of the item itself alone). Now, I will admit right here, I don’t have a degree in Economics, but I’m not stupid by any means, and have a well honed grasp of mathematics and common sense, as well as a well developed work ethic.

Everything I have, I appreciate. Whether it was given to me (gifts), or I worked to get it myself (pretty much everything else).  However, there are two kinds of appreciation.  For example, here’s where it gets into the political/social realm. I have a retirement plan.  I’m only 29, but I’m already working to be able to retire on my own money. There is also Social Security available (though in all reality it is “forced” upon you at a certain age). Sure, I have paid into my SS ever since my first paycheck when I was a Junior in HS, but it’s not the same.  Basically, my SS payments are going to pay for, at the moment, the portion of the baby boomers who did not have the foresight to work on their own retirement plans.  It also goes to those who are on disability, and need assistance (SSDI). However, part of my generation, and a large part of the baby boomer generation, expect to retire on SS alone, no matter how little or how much they worked or paid in. They appreciate the fact that it is there, but don’t really care where it comes from, as long as it’s there.  I on the other hand will have a different kind of appreciation for my retirement, as I will have the knowledge that I worked my ass off and contributed directly to my future.  Almost giving it a feeling of ownership, and pride.

Kind of a side point in this that inn our own individual ways, don’t we all wish that we had more money?  Isn’t that why we each look forward to review time, for that pay raise?  Isn’t that part of why we change jobs?  Isn’t that why we have garage sales or sell things on ebay?  Aren’t we all looking for extra money to spend on the things we want to?  What is wrong with that!?

The left plays these class warfare games because they feel guilty of the wealth they do have or they are envious of wealth they do not have.   In either case, their solution is to tax the wealthy, but what purpose does that serve?  How does confiscating wealth from someone who has earned it legally ease their guilt or improve their own situation?

I read an “open letter to Obama” on the subject of comprimise (which by the way is short sighted and rediculous in my eyes); however one of the comments caught my eye. A fellow named Chris Pruett posted in part of his comment (not taken out of context by the way):

I have “friends” who identify (or, perhaps more accurately, sympathize) with the conservative/ Tea Party movement who are oblivious to the fact that a big part of their agenda is cutting the very programs and services they will come to rely on as they age (or, heaven forbid, they get sick or injured).

This is where this post mostly came from.  He feels that the conservative/Tea Party movement are oblivious to the fact that cutting some of the programs (social security, medicare, etc.) is dumb because they will end up relying on those very programs as they age.  This is where he is absolutely incorrect. The views of conservatives and Tea Party members is that a person should take their future into their hands, and not expect the government to hand it to them.  It’s another view of my favorite phrase “personal responsibility”. Those who are conservative or right leaning, don’t plan to depend solely on a government program to fund them the rest of their lives.  More than likely, they to are working on preparing for their retirement, or are already harvesting what they have sewn.

On the part of his comment “(or, heaven forbid, they get sick or injured)” he is also assuming that they are not paying for health insurance outside of Medicare that is automatically placed on them at 55+. At the moment, I am paying for my family’s health insurance, it is through the company I work for, but I pay my share. I also plan to be researching and shopping around for other forms of health insurance for when I finally retire, therefore not relying on Medicare if I don’t have to.  This is how conservatives think as well.  Why wait for a hand out, when you could be working and planning ahead now?

In the end I will know that I have done my best to provide for my family in the future.  I appreciate what I have more, because I have worked for it.

The Blame Game

I’m getting sick of some of the blame game going on in Congress, with the President, and across Twitter/Google+/Internet in general.  I know some of my comments are going to seem as if I’m putting blame too, but please stick with me.

Our country is in massive debt, we all know that.  Over 8 years, Bush increased the debt by $5.7trillion, in the last 2.5 years, Mr. Obama has increased it by another $1.65trillion+ as of 2010.  Spending increases are the fault of both administrations.

Over the last several decades, this country has moved further and further into an entitlement society. More and more people expecting that the Government pay their way through life. Yes, there are those who simply can’t work, and who are disabled to the point that they can’t make ends meet (dispite assistance from family, etc.).  These people deserve assistance, as they have no other way.  I totally don’t mind paying my tax dollars into programs to help people like this.

On the other hand, poverty is a mindset for the rest. The single mom, who works to make ends meet, would need assistance, yes, and as Welfare was originally set up to be, it should be temporary.  However, this administration, and the far left who follow him, believe that it should not be temporary, and that throwing more and more money at these programs will bring these people out of the slump that they may be in.  The reality, is that that is far from the truth.  The more money you throw at somebody who is poor, and has likely been poor most of their lives, is only going to leave them expecting more money, with no work to earn it.  These programs need to be reformed to provide assistance, not in monetary funds, but in guidance.

Some former friends of mine are an example of this. They had more children, simply because they knew the government would pay them more in turn.  This way the husband can just work part time, while the wife sat at home and pretty much lived the good life, letting her parents take care of the kids more than she did. They did decide to try and go to college, cause “that’s the thing that everyone does”, so they got a Pell Grant… since a portion of the Pell Grant is for expenses (books, travel, etc.), they were happy to accept it, and what came out of it was… breast augmentation.  Ya, exactly.  There was no responsible spending of those funds, only what they *wanted* not what they *needed*.

I have had this conversation with a few of my followers on Twitter.  Their argument was that the Pell Grant money is meant to be used for whatever they feel is needed.  I agree to an extent, as there are always helpful things that can help your college career, however, the “latest and greatest” are not a requirement. A new laptop is not required every semester, a new iPad is not a requirement, but a nice to have.  When there were proposals to cut the amount of money provided from the Pell Grant, there was outrage by many.  But not by me.  Eventually, the student must take responsibility for their education, not me and my tax dollars. How are students to learn responsibility, and how life really is, if the government continues to hand out money when they need it. I am a stout believer in personal responsibility, and that *you* are the one who can make you go forward, and prosper, not the government.

Another couple pet peeves added by this administration, was the increase in unemployment to 99 weeks (*REDICULOUS*) and the lowering of availability of food stamps to families making $50,000 or less.  If you are making $50,000 you should be able to provide for your family without government assistance.  You simply have to make the right choices, and not blow your money on what you don’t really need.  Everyone has to tighten their belts.

My last comment I’ll leave is about the misconception of who pays taxes and who does not.  A lot of Americans still believe the “rich” (the reason I quote this is because it also includes those making $250,000, though is always called millionaires and billionaires), don’t pay enough taxes. According to CBO records, the top 10% of earners pay 45% of the Nations income tax. On the flip side, 53% of Americans pay no income tax at all; yet are the ones calling to tax the rich.  This is despicable to me.  I make $60,000 a year, that is our family income. I also pay my taxes, Medicare, SS, and health insurance, and contribute to a 401k.  That drops that $60,000 a year significantly.  I end up taking home about 68% of that. This happens to everybody who pays income tax, state tax, etc.  Now, those who make $250,000+ are usually also business owners, and I know for a fact, that if you are a business owner, unless you want to be massively in debt, your money, is company money, so more likely then not, the payroll taxes come out of your pocket.  You also pay those quarterly, not just on April 15th.  In addition, companies also pay unemployment tax, social security tax, and medicare taxes.  If they decided to provide the benefit, they also pay a portion of the health insurance that the employee does not pay for.  How much does that really leave?  Not as much as you would think.

Yes, millionaires and billionaires could probably afford to pay more taxes… but why should they?  The burden is really on their backs and not the middle class.  It just feels that way, because the middle class doesn’t have the extra cash lying around.

Close loopholes, that’s fine, and makes sense, remove some subsidies from companies that don’t really need it (aka are already beyond the beginning stages of company building, and are making a profit).  But don’t blame the rich for “not paying their fair share”, blame the portion of the 53% who take the earned income credit (knowing they don’t have to).