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?

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The Demagogue

What is The Demagogue?

Sounds like some kind of evil demon or something. In reality, it can be much, much worse.  Something that I have seen more and more of lately is the proliference of demagogy and misinterpretations used in politics. By definition demagogy is:

A strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations of the public—typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes. (via Wikipedia)

I understand that it has happened since the days of ancient greece, but with todays media outlets, it seems to be even more in your face, yet invisible at the same time.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it all boils down to ignorance.  I do not use that in a derogatory manner, but as a statement of what our great country seems to have slid its way into.  Unlike those on the left, I do not single out a single party or side to be ignorant, but instead encompass them all.

Our country is made up of several different kinds of people:

  • Those who “Don’t Know what they Don’t Know” (Ignorance is Bliss)
  • Those who “Don’t Know what they Know”
  • Those who “Know what they Know”
  • Those who “Know what they Don’t Know” (Ignorance is a Challenge)

Why do I split these groups as such, well this is why.  If you do not know what you do not know, then you are left with little knowledge besides what somebody tells you.  If you do not realize what you know, then, again, you are left to the whimsy of what somebody says, yet has some skepticism towards it.  If you know what you know, yet ignore what you don’t kn0w, you end up locked into a mindset, becoming a “so-called expert” in a subject, yet ignorant on points that may prove your belief incorrect.  Lastly, if you know what you don’t know, then you realize that there are other options, opinions, and other points of view, that may contradict with yours, but provide you with a springboard to discover them.  In turn you are able to integrate them with your beliefs, or at least understand where another person is coming from.

Most people are a combination of one or two of these.  But in today’s age of 24-hour news, a growing number are becoming those who either “Don’t Know what they Don’t Know” or “Don’t Know what they Know.” Because of this, more are being lead purely by headlines.  This is only excentuated by how sites and news is read by regular everyday folks. [1][2][3] Studies have shown that most people would rather scan an article, sometimes even going through the first paragraph, and moving on, instead of reading an entire article.

The Media Circus

News sources have taken full advantage of this, and usually attempt to “get their point across” in the beginning, leaving the rest of the article to sort out the details.  A little bit of a “shock factor.” Because of this, concepts contradicting the point trying to be put across is usually left for the very end, or burried somewhere in the middle of an article.  Since most folks are either going to be too busy to go through all the details, or simply don’t want to read the whole thing, misinformation becomes prevalent.

This is highlighted in the “Battle of the Broadcasters” between MSNBC and Fox News (just two examples). These stations are almost purely on opposite sides of the political spectrum.  Each one tossing mud at the other.  I am not going to say that I am unbias, because I do see far more “slams” from the left towards Fox News, then I do Fox News tossing mud back (not that it doesn’t happen). However, that is all that is really seen by the average viewer/user/reader. Nothing but a big circus of information.  Whichever side hits home best, is going to be the “right” side.

Stepping Up

However, there is light at the end of this media tunnel.  With the proliferation of “newsfeeds” and streams of content from nearly everywhere available, those of us who would rather have all our information together before debating something are able to properly cite sources, as unbias as possible. As I did earlier I’m not going to say that I am purely unbias, because that would not be true; however, I will say that I try to come at things from all sides.  Because of this, I am able to participate in discussions with evidence to back my beliefs or points.  But, like most things, it is not easy.  You have to actually do the research, but that is what proper journalism is, even if it is opinion based.

It is here that “The Demagogue” has no power.  It can roar and scream and pound its chest, but it will only end up looking like a fool. But there are consequenses. Facts can be skewed. If a proper method is followed, this can be avoided, but it is a tedious step to take.

The Many Shapes of “The Demagogue”

Let’s take one of the queen Demagogues for example, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. This dear woman, bless her heart, is adamant about what she believes in, whether it be true or not.  The problem, is since she is in a position of power, is that credibility and clout are easier to gain. Every time that I see her talk about those on the right, it is always the same thing, “they don’t like the poor, they want to kill social security and medicare, and want more money for the rich at the cost of the poor.”  By saying this, she “tugs at the heartstrings,” attempting to get the empathy vote on her side, yet cannot back up anything that she says, or at least has yet to do so with anything outside of her own opinions, or interpretations of snippets of information. This is the purest form of demagoguing in that it has no basis, yet is taken as fact because of her position.

Let’s take another example in Ms. Elizabeth Warren. Much like Ms. Pelosi, she will tug at the heartstrings, sometimes genuinely speaking of the working class, yet quickly turning to studies that she had done, ignoring any from other sources contradicting her. Her famous statement, touted by those on the left, “Nobody has gotten where they are on their own.” She then continues to lead into a rant about how companies, whether they are doing good or not, are only doing so because they are “shipping goods on roads that we paid for, and hiring workers that we paid to educate.” Yet there are a few facts left out.  In rebuttal to her statement, I would point out that each time that the company paid for gas for their trucks, they also “paid for those roads.” Yet that is ignored.  Just as the fact that she does not know that every one of those workers was in public schools, or if they went to college purely on government grants. Yet again, these nuances are ignored, and because she has become so popular, and pushed all the right buttons, is taken as fact.  This is not necessarily the purest form of demagoguing, but the most “malicious” for lack of a better word.  To know otherwise, yet ignore or leave out a fact because it is “inconvenient,” is not the way to properly make a point in your favor.

Slaying “The Demagogue”

Here comes the hard part. It is impossible to remove all propaganda, impassioned rhetoric, or forced appeals from public consumption. No matter which side of the aisle that you are on. However, it is possible to stand up against it.

I believe that we can stand up for what we believe in, and be passionate about it; however, unless you can back up your points, you best keep them to yourself.  Nobody wants to be preached to.