Welfare: A Worsening Deal for Nearly Everyone Involved

Stephen Franklin

Ever since the econ­o­my took a nose dive, wel­fare has turned into even a worse deal for near­ly every­one involved.

More peo­ple are broke, so they turn to wel­fare. The feds have only so much mon­ey to spread around, so there is a greater pinch for scare wel­fare dol­lars.

And because mon­ey-strapped states have to cut wher­ev­er they can, folks on wel­fare get pushed fur­ther aside and short-changed even more.

This has not been an unex­pect­ed symp­tom for an econ­o­my that has gone sour for mil­lions. The prob­lem with this sce­nario is that this time, there is unlike­ly to be any finan­cial rain­bow wait­ing down the road for the thou­sands, who have slipped to the bot­tom of the eco­nom­ic ladder.

Come Sep­tem­ber, the imme­di­a­cy of the sit­u­a­tion may become quite clear. That is when added mon­ey pumped into the states by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to help them with their added wel­fare bur­dens runs out.

Before the eco­nom­ic col­lapse, most of the nation was under pres­sure to meet new fed­er­al guide­lines that took effect in 2005, which called for states to put more wel­fare recip­i­ents into jobs or marked­ly boost their efforts to find work.

Along came the nation’s eco­nom­ic woes in 2007, how­ev­er, and the real­i­ty for wel­fare recip­i­ents and the states changed marked­ly. The Gen­er­al Account­ing Office (GAO) details the changes in a recent­ly released report.

Between Decem­ber 2007 and Sep­tem­ber 2009, the num­ber of fam­i­lies on wel­fare has grown by six per­cent, accord­ing to the GAO report. But that num­ber is decep­tive because the increas­es have var­ied­ly wide­ly among the states and among recip­i­ents them­selves.

For exam­ple, there was a 57 per­cent increase in the num­ber of two-par­ent fam­i­lies nation­al­ly receiv­ing wel­fare. How­ev­er, in Flori­da, which has suf­fered great­ly in the eco­nom­ic wipe­out, the num­ber of two-par­ent house­holds on wel­fare jumped 200 per­cent.

Like­wise, Ore­gon saw a 48-per­cent increase in fam­i­lies on wel­fare. Ver­mont had a 28-per­cent increase and Texas’s wel­fare rolls went up 16 per­cent, the GAO report shows.

In sev­er­al states where GAO work­ers looked into the sit­u­a­tion, they learned that a num­ber of the new wel­fare recip­i­ents for­mer­ly owned their own small busi­ness­es, and were unable to apply for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Despite the infu­sion of mon­ey for the state wel­fare pro­grams from the Recov­ery Act last fall, many states have had to make cut­backs in terms of mon­ey or man­pow­er. Ore­gon slashed the mon­ey it gives to wel­fare recip­i­ents from $150 a month to $100 a month in July last year and is on sched­ule to cut that down to $50 a month in Octo­ber, the GAO said.

So what will hap­pen for the new arrivals on the wel­fare rolls and the long-ter­m­ers, the folks still on the rolls after a near­ly 50 per­cent drop in the num­ber of fam­i­lies on the dole since wel­fare rules were tight­ened in 1997?

More will strug­gle hard­er and fail to get unstuck, more will attempt to live on less than before, and more will just give up. And you can imag­ine what their lives will be like.

Stephen Franklin is a for­mer labor and work­place reporter for the Chica­go Tri­bune, was until recent­ly the eth­nic media project direc­tor with Pub­lic Nar­ra­tive in Chica­go. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heart­land Loss­es and What They Mean for Work­ing Amer­i­cans (2002), and has report­ed through­out the Unit­ed States and the Mid­dle East.

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