Government Assistance from a Different Perspective

“I can’t take more hours at work or I will be making less money.”

“I don’t qualify for any assistance now that I’m working, but I can’t afford to live off my income.”

“My rent will go up if I start working more.”

“I don’t have insurance because I don’t qualify for Medicaid, but I can’t afford my employer’s insurance.”

“I’m not letting them (government programs) get any more money out of me. They get enough from me.”

These are all statements (maybe a little paraphrased) that I have heard from people who receive government assistance. I work as a home visitor and many of my clients have very low incomes. I have a little bit of a different perspective on the welfare issue because the job that I get paid to do and pay taxes for, involves working with the people who benefit from the taxes I pay. I do not use government assistance, but I see how it is implemented daily. I do not know much about the laws or rules other than what I learn from coworkers and clients, but I understand enough to know that the system does not work the way that it should.

Let’s start with TANF. The TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), or cash assistance, gives money to low income families who are working at least 20 hours a week or who can prove that they are job searching/taking classes to prepare them for working for 20 hours a week. I think that this program works for the most part. There are clear rules that force you to try! You need to work at least a little bit to get some help. There are loopholes though. You can get cash assistance for your children without working (I don’t know how the loophole works). From what I’ve seen, if you miss the 20 hours once in a while, you are not reprimanded. But, this program really helps a lot of people who would not be able to make it financially otherwise.

SNAP (food stamps). So people need to eat. I’m all for making sure that people have food! I’m just not sure why people using EBT cards are allowed to buy junk food, food that has been pre-prepared, like cold subs from a deli, pop (soda, for all you folks not from my neck of the woods), energy drinks, etc. My husband used to work at a grocery store and he would be furious when he saw people buying a bunch of junk with their EBT cards. The government regulates some things that people can’t buy with SNAP, like cigarettes, so it should not be difficult to restrict the purchase of unhealthy, unnecessary foods and drinks. No family needs a bag of Cheetos. And those are the kinds of foods that many of the people I’ve seen tend to buy. My husband also suggested that name brand foods be limited if a store carries an off brand. Not a bad idea. I understand that the SNAP program is meant for nutritional assistance, but I would be perfectly fine with the EBT cards being accepted for necessary toiletry items, like toilet paper, feminine products, and soaps. I would rather my tax money go to those things than to ice cream!! The EBT cards are also not very secure. People sell them. Why is there not some form of identification for these cards so that only the recipient can use them?

On a side note, I saw a story on Facebook about a person from my area who bought a bunch of bottled water with her SNAP benefits and then dumped all of the water out and deposited the bottles to get the 5 cents for each one. Who knows what she did with the money.

Government assisted housing is next on my list. People who qualify for housing assistance either get moved into a government housing facility (apartments or houses, usually connected or very close together) or they receive help paying for their rent if they live in an apartment or house that is approved. A lot of people really need this help. The cost of rent is outrageous! (One of the reasons we are living with my parents for a little while!) Lists to get into housing are crazy long because so many people need help affording housing. The problem I see with housing is that people see it as a long term solution. I feel that these people should be getting established and become capable of holding a job and getting their own place to live. I’ve never heard of that happening. I think a lot of the people don’t understand either. Residents are supposed to pay 30% of their income for rent/utilities. I don’t know if the housing authorities don’t actually use this rule or if people need help with math, but people refuse to work more hours to make more money or report their income to the housing authorities because their “rent will go up.” They’re right, but a lot of them don’t understand that they will still have more money. They still only take 30%! I could be missing something about the rules or something… because I’m surprised at how often I hear this. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about drug busts in government housing. How are we giving homes to these people without realizing?! And tons of kids live in these communities!

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I don’t know much about the insurance programs, but I do know that Obamacare is not helping the people who can’t afford insurance. Of course, it’s usually the people who are working hard and trying their best who don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford other insurance.

I don’t know much about social security either, but I know people receive it who don’t need it and some people who need it don’t get it.

CCIS is a program that helps working parents pay for child care. Love this one! Child care often costs the same amount as people bring home! This program really does get parents into the workforce.

The programs need to be reevaluated and fixed. People need to be forced to try, then receive help. There are a lot of people who don’t work because they can live comfortably off of government assistance. Some people have good reasons, some people just don’t want to work. The true problem is that people are rewarded when they don’t try to work by getting money and people are punished for getting a minimum wage job by losing assistance that they need to survive! Sometimes I think “well why would he or she go get a job?!” No one should make more on assistance than at work (and I do not suggest a raise in minimum wage)!

I’ve learned that some people on assistance have a lot of kids and they continue to have kids because they get more money for each child. It’s terrible.

I think another way to help the issue is to educate the people who are on assistance. I think a lot of people don’t even know where their money comes from. Maybe they do, but they don’t seem to understand that their money comes from taxes which come from people who are working. Many people don’t understand the assistance programs or why they are set up the way they are. Maybe they would appreciate it a little more if they understood. I know some people who are extremely grateful for the help they receive and some people who act very entitled and always want more. Maybe they are the ones who don’t understand.

People also need to learn how to budget and save and pay bills. They blow their tax returns. They buy whatever they want until they run out of money and can’t get diapers! If no one teaches them, how would they know any different?

I love helping people. But I like to invest in them through education and mental health and emotional support, not always through financial help. I can give to the poor in ways other than money, even though money is important to give too!

This post is all about my perspective on things. Like I said, I don’t know the details of programs and laws surrounding them, but I see the people using government assistance first hand. I see how it fails people, how it helps people, and how it is taken advantage of.
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