The Mythical Welfare Queen – She Lives!by David Pinar on Sep. 22, 2013, under Pol. & Govt.
Attrition: Steve Kelly, Creators.com Syndicate
My blogging colleague here on TucsonCitizen.com, Dr. John, recently wrote an article explaining why he, as a centrist Democrat, supports the recent Republican House bill cutting $40 billion from the “food stamp” program (SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). His article is Democrat backs GOP proposed food stamps cut. I enjoy John’s blog Healing Tucson and Our Nation blog, and he makes several good points in his article. Yes, the program’s cost has more than doubled over the past five years – the effects of the Great Recession have been deep, hard hitting and lingering. But with well over 7% of our working citizens out of work, the food stamp program is lifeline for them. But, in my humble opinion, John seems to have fallen for the Republican line when he writes:
Our populous is rapidly transforming into a culture of entitlement, whereby millions of able-bodied and able-minded Americans are by choice opting to go on the dole rather than seeking gainful employment – and encouraging their peers to do the same.
First of all, as I posted in the comment section of his article: What “dole?”. As John pointed out, welfare reform in the mid 1990s eliminated most welfare. Today there is only one single government cash assistance program – TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The key words here are “temporary and “families” – it is only available for true emergencies for a short period of time, and available only for families with young children needing food and shelter. The only other cash assistance program available is Unemployment Compensation, but to get that you have to have worked for a qualifying period of time, lost your job through no fault of your own, most prove you are actively seeking employment, and it is only available for a limited amount of time. Social Security, and even SS Disability isn’t the “dole” – folks receiving it paid into it all their working life. When it comes to food stamps, they can only be used for the purchase of food products in a store. Yes, there is a small percentage of fraud, like any program, in which the EBT debit card balance is sold at a discount to it’s value for cash. Newsflash: there are also some people who cheat on their income taxes. But the vast majority of taxpayers are honest and don’t cheat, just like the vast majority who receive food stamps use them as a lifeline to put food on the table. To qualify for food stamps your income has to be less than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which for 2013 is $11,490 for a single person, $23,550 for a family of four. The average food stamp benefit per person is $133.85 per month, which works out of $1.50 per meal. Does anyone really think anyone is “by choice opting to go on the dole” for a buck fifty per meal? Give me a break!
The House GOP line is to call this tossing of millions of needy people off the nutrition assistance program a “jobs bill”. The “knowledgeable” voice of Speaker Boehner:
“This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare programs.”
Off course they’re not tossing the unemployed a single penny to stimulate the economy to create more job. Nothing to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, creating more jobs doing what needs to be done. Not a dollar for job training centers to teach the buggy whip workers new skills. Nope, these lazy bums “living on the dole” for a buck fifty per meal will just have to get off their lazy behinds and magically find work on their own.
And therein lies the big lie – that most folks that get food stamps are lazy bums who just don’t want to work. A July 2012 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that nearly half of SNAP families with children are working families:
Over the last two decades, large shares of SNAP households have become working households. In 1989, 42 percent of all SNAP households received cash welfare benefits and only 20 percent had earned income. By 2010, over three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on welfare benefits for their income.
Despite the large jump in unemployment during the recession, the share of SNAP families with earnings has continued to increase in recent years. This suggests that for a growing share of the nation’s workers, having a job has not been enough to keep them out of poverty. [CBPP, 7/9/12]
With all due respect, John, getting food stamps isn’t encouraging people to go or stay on “the dole”, most people who get food stamps get and need them because the low pay and lack of any benefits they get from their job keeps them in poverty. But you know what? I agree with John’s statement: “the proposed 5 percent reduction in total food stamps funding . . . represent a positive step in the right direction”. In fact, I’ll see your 5% and raise you 5% – lets reduce food stamp funding by 10%, in just one year alone. But let’s consider a different way of accomplishing that:
You see, I did make a mistake in my comment on John’s story in alluding to the “mythical” Welfare Queen. She’s not “mythical”, she’s alive and well, and sucking up more of our tax dollars than ever before. The Welfare Queen, She Lives! And her name is Wal-Mart. Actually, like any good con artist, she goes by many names – Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Dollar General, Family Dollar, McDonalds, etc. You see, these retailers pay such low wages and lack of any benefits such as health insurance or sick pay your tax dollars actually subsidize their payroll cost. By paying such low wages with no benefits – and using so many of their workers on part-time hours so they don’t qualify for any benefits – many retail workers qualify for food stamps to supplement their income just to get by. And with no employer health insurance coupled with low wages, many of their workers qualify for Medicaid, which is AHCCCS in Arizona.
While government assistance programs are primarily funded by the federal government, they are administered by state and local governments. The result is that data compiled by state governments is the best source of information on who is receiving these benefits, and why they qualify to receive them. The Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce released a study (PDF) this past May, examining the benefits data from several states. Medicaid data released by the state Wisconsin was particularly helpful in looking at the annual cost to taxpayers for providing a host of social safety net programs, including food stamps and publicly subsidized health care, to workers in the state. According to the report, Walmart had more workers enrolled in Wisconsin’s public health care program in the last quarter of last year than any other employer. The report estimates that the cost of to taxpayers for Medicaid funded health care comes to $251,706 per year for a 300-employee Supercenter. Add in the costs of other taxpayer funded assistance programs available to famlies on Medicaid in Wisconsin, such as Section 8 housing, earned income tax credit, and energy assistance, the taxpayer tab for just one Wal-Mart Supercenter can be more than $900,000! Again, that’s taxpayer money, and just for a single Supercenter! “Low prices, always”? Sure, because they use us taxpaying schmucks to make up what they won’t pay their workers!
And let’s take a look at Arizona. The Department of Economic Security (DES) issued data on the largest private employers with workers receiving taxpayer-financed medical insurance through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. At the top of the list was Wal-Mart – 9.6 percent of Wal-Mart’s Arizona workforce receives healthcare from your tax dollar funded AHCCCS. It was followed by Target, Kroger and regional supermarket chain Bashas, each of which had about 5 percent of their workers getting state healthcare. coverage. Source: Amanda J. Crawford, “Nearly Half of Poor in AHCCCS Hold Jobs,” Arizona Republic.
And, our taxpayer corporate welfare doesn’t stop there. The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Oro Valley at Oracle and Tangerine Roads? It gets a $11.6 million in taxpayer funded welfare in the form of a 45% sales tax rebate. The Wal-Mart Supercenter up in Mesa at Loop 202 & Dobson? It get’s up to $13.2 million in taxpayer funded welfare in the form of a $35 million sales tax rebate over 20 years. That $35 million is for the entire retail center called Mesa Riverview, and sharing that development with the Wal-Mart Supercenter is a Bass Pro Outdoors store, Home Depot, auto dealers, and small retailers. So, $13.2 milllion is allocated to Wal-Mart, the other retailers get the rest of your taxpayer corporate welfare. Source
So, want to cut welfare? I’m right there with you! Let’s start with ending welfare to the Corporate Welfare Queens! These guys play this game every single time they plan a new store: “Oh, give us tax incentives (corporate welfare), or we’ll go somewhere else!” Horse manure! These guys are no dummies, they plan their stores for the place that will generate the most profit for them – they look at the neighborhoods and the demographics, and know exactly where the placement of a store will generate the most revenue. The arm twisting for tax incentives is just a game they know all too well how to play.
And let’s end Corporate Welfare by raising the minimum wage. According to the web site Raise The Minimum Wage, if federal minimum wage laws had kept pace with inflation over the past 40 years, the current federal minimum wage would be $10.74, instead of it’s currently only $7.25. Want to reduce the number of folks on food stamps, Medicaid, and other government assistance programs? Raise the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour. Oh wait, I can already hear the howls from the Republicans: “That’s a jobs killer!“. Horse manure. Retailers need a minimum amount of workers and payroll hours to operate their store efficiently and effectively. If they cut back hours and/or employees so that you have to wait 30-45 minutes to get through the checkout aisle, or don’t find the items you want stocked on the shelves, what would you do? You’d go somewhere else, to a store where you can find what you need or want, and pay for it quickly. And if retailers have to pay a minimum wage of $10, they aren’t going to just pack up and go somewhere else. First of all, if it’s a federal minimum wage law, they have nowhere else to go. But even if it’s a state law, they aren’t going anywhere. For example, California is poised to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour in two steps by 2016, and other states preparing similar moves. Are employers going to flee those states? Absolutely not. Employers that have flexibility in where they locate don’t pay minimum wage – they are companies that make things, the Intels, Raytheons, Honeywells, etc. They may have some janitors or mail room clerks that make only minimum wage, but their primary workforce makes much more than minimum wage, they actually make a Living Wage. No, the employers who pay minimum wage or slightly more are retailers, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc., and they’re stuck right where they are because that’s where their customers are! They’ll just try to pass on their higher operating costs by raising prices. But competition will hold down some of the price increase, and if paying a couple bucks more on my shopping trips means those workers actually earn enough to get by without government assistance, I’ll pay it, and look to cut back somewhere else.
I can agree with “centrist Democrats” that reducing the number of people on government assistance programs “represents a positive step in the right direction”. I can even agree with conservatives that it is better for people to get by on their own, without government assistance programs. But there are different ways to go about this. The conservative approach is to give them a good swift kick on the butt, kick them off the programs, and tell them to sink or swim on their own. I suggest a different approach: let’s throw them a lifeline, a minimum wage that is a Living Wage, so that they can earn enough to get by without government assistance programs. I think that will approach will have a better outcome for everyone.