Originally, when welfare programs were put in place here in the US it was to be used a short-term assistance until an individual or family can get back on their feet. On paper, that sounds idyllic; most of us recognize that, morally, we have some sort of obligation to help those less fortunate.
Unfortunately, in practice, these programs have a tendency of backfiring. For years, government-assistance programs have been criticized for fostering dependence, and recently that dependence has reached new heights.
In Appalachia, people are pulling their children out of literacy programs because they receive larger benefits from welfare programs if their child is deemed illiterate or diagnosed with an intellectual disability. These checks are averaging about $700 a month per child, and continue until that child is eighteen. It literally does the parents more good to have an illiterate child than to keep their kids on the education route, which is sickening.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why welfare programs were implemented. I know that sometimes people just need a little help to get back on their feet, and there is nothing wrong with applying for government assistance. But what I don’t understand is why there is no limitation for how long people can be getting checks. With the exception of unemployment benefits, a family or individual can remain on welfare indefinitely, not needing to show proof of attempts to gain meaningful income.
What shifts here is the incentive: people no longer have the drive to get off of government assistance, but instead will do whatever necessary in order to remain on it. And why shouldn’t they? Inevitably a check will show up in the mail every month, and all they had to do for it was fill out an application.
This sounds cold and callous, but the dependence piece of the puzzle has been ignored for far too long. By just cutting checks every month with minimal to no monitoring on the quality of life that people are providing with the money, we are doing nothing but fostering a hopeless level of dependence on federal aid. How else can you explain people pulling children out of literacy programs in order to keep the checks coming?
However, effects like this can be mitigated. If we were able to keep limitations on the amount of time someone will be receiving benefits, that can certainly help severing the ties of dependence. Take unemployment for instance; in order to receive unemployment benefits, one must check in weekly, showing applications as proof of attempts to find gainful employment. And you can only be getting this aid for eighteen months over the course of your lifetime. If this kind of policy was extended to most other welfare programs, the incentive would shift back to gaining financial independence.
I am, by no means, arguing that welfare programs should be cut. They just need to be monitored; the system needs to be less easy to cheat.
One in six Americans are currently receiving food stamps. Over 50 million Americans are on welfare, and the numbers have not diminished over time. For a program that was founded in order to aid people toward complete self-sufficiency, those aren’t statistics pointing towards success. Something needs to change, or dependence will continue to be fostered.
Now I understand that most of those currently on welfare are poverty-stricken through no fault of their own. That being said, significant reforms to mental health care and addiction counseling needs to be provided. The statistics of those affected by poverty that also deal with significant mental health diagnoses and addictions is staggering. And there is nothing being done about it.
Whether or not drug testing should be mandatory for those on welfare is a topic of heated debate; it’s a hard pill to swallow, thinking that tax dollars are fueling the addictions of those on federal aid. It’s an equally hard pill to swallow, thinking that a urine sample could cut off any money that people have coming in. As for me, I don’t think that mandatory drug testing would be a bad idea, as long as there is plenty of addiction counseling to accompany it. I don’t want to foster dependence, but I don’t want to perpetuate addiction either.
Brittany Jordan is a junior psychology major. Feedback of all varieties can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.