Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why Do Our Welfare Laws Discourage Getting off Public Assistance?

After almost two decades of marriage, a friend of mine, primarily a mother and housewife for the last twenty years, found herself and her children on public assistance after her husband abruptly left one day without notice, immediately filing for divorce. At the time of his departure, she was not employed, mostly due to an undiagnosed medical condition, although she was working part-time in exchange for her children's tuition.

After departing, her husband attempted to strong-arm her, financially, in an attempt to convince her to use his attorney. Against his wishes, she did retain an attorney of her own, with the help of relatives, in order to protect the rights of her children and herself. This infuriated him and he continued to use his financial advantage to punish her as much as possible, disregarding his children's needs.

She discovered she was eligible for Medicaid, as she had no health insurance. A few months later, she found a part-time job with benefits and she gave up the Medicaid even though the cost of her health insurance pretty much consumed her paycheck. Shortly thereafter she lost her job due to medical problems of her own and her children, and she went back to Medicaid.

The obstacle to gaining independence arises when she starts to earn money. At that point, she loses Medicaid, even if the job she gets has no health insurance or does not pay her enough to purchase her own plan. Caught between a rock and a hard place, my friend, along with millions of other people must choose between public assistance and getting a job that potentially could make things even more difficult.

Lisa Hendley is another example that illustrates this dilemma. After spending time in a domestic-violence shelter, Lisa found herself and her daughter a place to live with the help of Housing Stability Plus, a program to aid shelter residents in renting private apartments. She found a job at a grocery store and thought she was on her way to getting off of public assistance.

However, she was told by her city caseworker that she needed to quit her $8-an-hour job, because she made too much income to be eligible for the program's housing aid. Faced with the choice of keeping her job or her apartment, she chose the roof over her family's head, paralyzing her efforts to reach independence.

The point of these stories and millions of others, is that our system blatantly discourages people from working. The system was designed to keep people on the dole or make it almost impossible for millions of people to reach the "American Dream".

Where's the incentive to work when every penny made will finance health care? Where's the incentive to work when every dollar earned by the welfare recipient must be reported to the authority and thus deducted from his pay?

An employed person must incur the cost of being employed...he or she must wear the right clothes, transport himself to and from work, find childcare etc., thus in many situations, it becomes more expensive to be employed in low paying jobs without health insurance or where the company deducts the majority of that person's earnings to pay for insurance than it is to be unemployed.

Why not encourage working by allowing the welfare recipient to keep his welfare check until he no longer needs help? Maybe even match the person's earnings, dollar for dollar, up to a certain level? In other words, why not make it possible for those, who may not be as fortunate, skilled or talented as others are, but truly want to get off welfare, become independent of the system? Wouldn't that be beneficial to taxpayers, our country, the world at large?

Welfare law should be designed to invigorate and restore a person's sense of purpose by emphasizing human initiative, and provide surmountable challenges that will inspire people to discover their own abilities. Instead, the system traps those experiencing financial hardship and becomes the solution rather than a springboard to opportunities for success.

People with enough power and money to influence legislation are intelligent enough to figure out that human beings, by nature, will not seek employment when the alternative, unemployment, is less costly. Therefore one can only assume welfare legislation is a deliberate attempt to keep a certain percentage of people dependent on the system.

But why would a supposedly free nation like ours keep a good portion of our population dependent on welfare, the very thing most of the politically powerful claim to despise? These same people love to evangelize on and on about personal responsibility? There is something wrong here.

I can only think of two reasons why this is so. The first one, is no matter what Jesus says, being poor in this country is a sin, and therefore must be punished. The second reason is a certain percentage of the population must be disempowered in order for the very few at the top to remain in power.

If anyone has any other reasons or disagrees with me, please let me know.


Anonymous,  08:53  

At that rate we would have to match everyone's wage dollar for dollar since the minimum wage is set at a certain dollar amount. Anyone making less than minimum wage is probably not reporting their income anyway.

Dumb idea.

anti-W 00:18  

It's probably not the best idea in the world but that would not apply to all minimum wage earners...only the ones on welfare.

Drawing the line is the problem with a matching dollar for dollar incentive would probably be incentive enough if the welfare recipient could collect wages or earn money and still continue to collect welfare until that person is on his feet.

Thanks for your comment!

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