The Internet at its best is a treasure trove of information, better than a thousand libraries. At its worst, it is a means of spreading falsehoods unlike anything the world has ever seen. This is especially true in social media, which the right-wing has discovered to be the perfect platform to spread misinformation on political subjects.
Of course, one of the right’s favorite targets is the American social safety net. Americans who receive welfare benefits or food stamps are regular targets of right-wing memes and attacks on Facebook or other social media. Not only are most of these memes way off base, virtually every one of them plays on the public’s complete ignorance of how the programs we know as “welfare” function. What do you know about welfare?
Most likely you know more than your right-wing uncle. But, in case you are in need of some facts and figures, here is some information about some of the right’s favorite welfare myths that will certainly drive that uncle crazy at the next family dinner.
Myth #1 – Laziness
Myth: “People on welfare are lazy and sit at home collecting it while the rest of us work to support them.”
Fact: The welfare reform law that was signed by President Clinton in 1996 largely turned control over welfare benefits to the states, but the federal government provides some of the funding for state welfare programs through a program called Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF). TANF grants to states require that all welfare recipients must find work within two years of first receiving benefits. This includes single parents, who are required to work at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families are required to work 35 to 50 hours per week. Failure to obtain work could result in loss of benefits. It is also worth noting that, thanks to the pay offerings of companies such as Wal-Mart, many who work at low wage jobs qualify for public assistance, even though they work full-time.
During the recession, the Obama administration allowed states to request a temporary waiver of the work requirement, due to the scarcity of jobs. That move gave the right an opening to claim that President Obama was removing the work requirement for welfare. First, conservatives claim that those on welfare don’t want to work, then they claim that the president is “gutting welfare reform” by allowing states to request a waiver of the work requirement.
Myth #2 – It’s Forever
Myth: “People who go on welfare stay on it forever.”
Fact: According to statisticbrain.com, the vast majority of TANF recipients, 80.4 percent, receive benefits for five years or less. Nearly 25 percent of all recipients receive benefits for less than a year. (The site still refers to the program by the old name of Aid To Families With Dependent Children. AFDC is the old name for the program, that was replaced by TANF in 1996. The site’s statistics are current, however.)
Myth #3 – Welfare Queen
Myth: “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards. … She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000″ – Ronald Reagan
Fact: Ah, the “welfare queen.” Ronny loved to tell his stories, and his welfare queen story is one of the most popular. The only problem is the woman he talked about didn’t exist. There is some evidence that elements of this story may have been based on facts, but the descriptions of abuse by an actual woman were wildly exaggerated by Reagan.
Myth #4 – Procreation
Myth: “Welfare recipients keep having more kids so they can get more benefits.”
Fact: According to a 2010 report released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the average family receiving TANF benefits has 1.8 children, which is about the same as the national average. Half of the families receiving TANF benefits only have one child. In fact, the average size of families receiving welfare benefits has declined from 4.0 in 1969 to 2.4 in 2010. Also, some states, such as Delaware and Georgia, make it clear to those who sign up for TANF benefits that their benefits will not increase if they have additional children. Taken from the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services website:
You will get information on family planning. Your check will not increase if you have a baby 10 months or more after you sign up for this program. [Emphasis added]
A Government Accountability Office report (page 45), shows the amount of TANF benefits paid in each state for one to three children. Even in states where having additional children will result in a benefit increase, that increase is, in most cases, $100 a month or less.
Myth #5 – 100 Million People Get It
Myth: “Where Is The U.S. Headed If More Than 100 Million People Get Welfare?” – Headline of August 2012 column by CNN’s Jack Cafferty
Fact: One hundred million Americans on welfare? Cafferty apparently gets his information from a biased source, the Center For Immigration Studies, which is connected to identified racist John Tanton. According to the 2010 federal HHS report, 1,084,828 adults and 3,280,153 children received TANF benefits that year, a far cry from 100 million.
Myth #6 – Able-Bodied Men Get It
Myth: “I see these guys all the time, hanging out and drinking, and doing drugs, collecting welfare instead of working.”
Fact: The able-bodied single male with no dependent children who collects welfare in the United States is extremely rare, since the primary goal of most welfare programs is to provide temporary support for children and families. Single males can receive certain benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they are disabled. The rare, able-bodied male who does qualify for benefits is still subject to the program’s work requirements.
Myth #7 – Drug Addicts
Myth: “Most welfare recipients are drug users.”
Fact: In recent years, several states have tried requiring drug tests of welfare recipients. The number of applicants who tested positive for drugs was not enough to make the programs cost-effective in every state where it was tried. Even Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, one of the early proponents of the idea has given up on it after his plan was ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts.
When Florida tried drug tests for welfare in 2011, only about two percent of all applicants tested positive for drug use. According to the New York Times, federal statistics show that the rate of drug use among welfare recipients is about the same as it is for the public at large.
Myth #8 – Illegal Immigrants
Myth: “Most welfare recipients are minorities and illegal immigrants.”
Fact: TANF benefits were paid out to roughly the same percentage of white and black recipients in 2010, according to the HHS report. In fact, the percentage of black families receiving welfare benefits has declined by almost 7 percent since 2000. It’s popular among conservatives to claim that illegal immigrants are getting welfare. But that is not the case. Those who are in the United States illegally are ineligible for benefits other than emergency Medicaid.
Myth #9 – People Get Rich
Myth: “People collect welfare instead of work, and they get rich. They all have iPhones, drive new cars, have widescreen tv’s, etc. I work and I can’t afford any of that!”
Fact: Since welfare payments vary by state and by the size of the family, it’s hard to provide all the pertinent numbers here, but here are some ranges:
- A family of four can expect up to $500 a month in food stamp benefits. A single person can expect an average of $200 a month.
- The average monthly allowance under TANF/AFDC is $900 for a family of four. For a single person the average is about $300.
It would be interesting to see what kind of “new car” anyone could buy on that income, or even an iPhone, for that matter. Also remember, despite what Newt Gingrich may have claimed during the 2012 election campaign, you can’t use food stamps for anything except food, so when you’re figuring how much money someone might have for an iPhone or a car, take that money out of the equation.
And finally, one final fact about welfare: Would anybody like to guess who makes up the single largest group on welfare in the United States? It’s children. One out of every four children in the United States receives welfare benefits.
“Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than at any time they please.” — Kris Kristofferson
That seems to be the story when it comes to welfare and the attitudes of conservatives. “There but for the grace of God go I” isn’t a consideration. Ask any conservative what problems they have with welfare, and they are likely to start their reply with “I know somebody who…” and then launch into a narrative about someone they know who they don’t believe deserves benefits. But, in a nation of 300 million, it is impossible to know enough “somebody’s who” to reach a valid conclusion. Not that that matters to conservatives, who largely base their ideas on contempt for their fellow-man — and undocumented stories they read on the internet.