Despite food stamps and other assistance programs being a relatively small part of the federal budget, a lot of conservatives like to point to these programs (and the people on them) as a prime example of waste and fraud. Now mind you, these are the same politicians who got upset over the President bringing home the only remaining POW of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, who wanted us to remain in Iraq even longer, or continuing to fund the way-over-budget F-35 fighter jet development project. Oh yes, and of course they also wanted us to use military force in Syria and now, the Ukraine.
We could talk about how these politicians and the military-industrial complex they’re beholden to are hypocrites for complaining about a public assistance system with low rates of fraud, yet defend wasteful spending, corporate welfare and the constant calls for more war. We could also go on about how despite their assertions that military spending creates jobs, so does public assistance spending – but that’s not what we’ll discuss today. Instead, let’s look at 6 popular myths used by some conservatives and libertarians to demonize welfare recipients.
6. Illegal immigrants receive food stamps: Completely and utterly false. If you’re an undocumented immigrant, you do not qualify for food stamps, plain and simple. If you are a documented immigrant, you still have to wait 5 years before you qualify. This is a talking point brought up over and over again by many uninformed conservatives, and it is false according to the SNAP website:
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for SNAP. Additionally, there is already a strict waiting period for documented immigrants. Documented adult immigrants (those with a greencard) are subject to a five-year waiting period before they are eligible for SNAP.
5. The “Obamaphone”: How many memes have you seen on the Internet like “I wish I could afford an Obama iPhone and an Escalade like the person in front of me in the checkout line who is paying for her groceries with food stamps”? Getting past the obvious racial dogwhistle (you know, because only black people drive Cadillac Escalades), has it ever occurred to these people that Lifeline does not support smartphones? You’re getting a basic phone with a finite number of minutes and text messages to use monthly. If you’re a welfare recipient and you have a nice phone, it’s not from the government. End of story.
4. The Welfare Queen: Again, this is a not-so-subtle racial card played repeatedly to convince poor whites who receive government assistance to vote against their own best interests. It paints a stereotypical image of a single, black woman with multiple children, an iPhone, and an EBT card loading up the back of an Escalade with fancy cuts of meat and cases of soda – allegedly purchased on your hard-earned tax dollars. The fact is that when you break down welfare statistics, the number of whites versus blacks who receive public assistance is almost equal:
3. Obama is the “food-stamp President”: A favorite tactic of some conservatives is to claim that the welfare rolls are the highest they’ve ever been under the Obama administration. While true according to Politifact.com, it’s a trend that started before he took office due to a combination of the recession, the fact that corporations continue to avoid hiring despite record profits, and that the minimum wage hasn’t kept up to the rate of inflation. In other words, it’s a cheap, easy accusation that flies well with those who hated the guy to begin with – and have no idea how the economy works.
2. Only lazy people get welfare: A common retort from those who like to demonize those who receive public assistance is “if you just worked harder, you wouldn’t need welfare! Stop being lazy and get to work!” Almost $104 million dollars worth of food stamps were used at military commissaries in 2013. These are some of the hardest working people in the United States, and they still need food stamps to get by. In addition, nearly 1 million veterans receive food stamps as well. While there are certainly some who spend a lifetime on public assistance, they are the exception, not the rule – and honestly, I can’t see that as being a happy way to live.
1. Welfare is too expensive: The average SNAP benefit is slightly less than $134 per person monthly and if you are an able-bodied adult, you only get to be on it for 3 months.
SNAP already has strict time-limits for unemployed workers. Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) may only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits during any 3 year period, unless they are working in a qualifying job training program.
The SNAP benefit formula is structured to provide a strong work incentive – for every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, their benefits decline by about 24 to 36 cents, not a full dollar, so participants have a strong incentive to find work, work longer hours, or seek better-paying employment. (Source)
To summarize, welfare recipients are a favorite target for many GOP and far-right politicians. Over the years since Reagan painted the racial stereotype of the Welfare Queen, they’ve used this repeatedly to convince far too many voters that if you’re poor, you deserve it because you’re lazy, or a minority. Let’s consider the fact that the poorest county in the United States is 98.5 white and more than half of the residents are welfare recipients. People aren’t on public assistance because it’s a cushy way to live or because they’re lazy, it’s because more and more jobs are paying less or being eliminated due to either automation or outsourcing. If we are going to place the blame for the increasing need for public assistance on anyone, let us place it where it rightfully belongs. It isn’t on welfare recipients, but it is firmly on the corporations who rely on low wages and public subsidies – and the politicians they have in their pockets.
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