By Katie Dupree

Stigma runs deep when it comes to government programs designed to aid low-income individuals and families.  Need-based assistance in the U.S. — such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — is often subject to public scrutiny, causing those who receive it to feel shame.

But it's all due to the misconception that these programs reward the undeserving, allowing people to "work the system" while rejecting the common (yet highly unrealistic) "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" values of our society. Welfare recipients are also often assumed to share a range of undesirable characteristics, most of which have racist and classist undertones.

Below, we explore six common welfare myths, which you can consider thoroughly debunked.

Myth 1: People on welfare are unmotivated and not working.

Welfare recipients are often characterized as lazy, simply waiting for the next month's benefits to roll in. But nearly 73% of people receiving public benefits are members of working families.

Viewing people as morally responsible for their own situations "obviously ignores the systemic inequalities in the economy and polity that make people poor in the first place," independent scholar Gwendolyn Mink, who authored Welfare's End and several other works on public assistance programs.

Even though welfare recipients are in the labor force, Mink explains, they aren't earning enough money to support a family and provide food security for their children while at the same time pay bills, such as rent and utilities.

Myth 2: Welfare recipients are mostly people of color.

This myth is dripping with racist assumptions about the lives of people of color, but it's also fundamentally untrue.

In reality, approximately 40% of SNAP recipients are white, making white people the largest racial group on food stamps. When it comes to TANF recipients, approximately 30% are white, 30% are Latino and 30% are Black, with several other racial groups making up the remaining 10% of recipients.

"Only 27% of families who need welfare, who are in poverty [and] who qualify for welfare … actually receive it," Mink says. "Most people who need it don't get it. The law is so cruelly structured to incentivize non-participation or to actually exclude participation."

Myth 3: Undocumented populations are stealing welfare benefits from citizens.

This isn't just false — it's impossible. Undocumented populations are ineligible for all welfare programs, except emergency medical care.

"It's illegal to afford public benefits of the TANF or food stamp variety to undocumented immigrants ... who have not been in this country for a situated amount of time as legal residents," Mink says.

Some programs also allow states to make their own guidelines for immigrant populations, leading to disparities in assistance from state to state.
"The TANF law permits states to bar any immigrants all together, if they wanted to," Mink says.

Myth 4: Countless "welfare queens" are working the system's loopholes.

In any debate of welfare, you'll often hear stories of the "welfare queen" — a racialized term used to describe women who are accused of cheating the system to gain maximum benefits.

Her origin can be traced back to a Ronald Reagan campaign rally in 1976, where the former president said, "In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans' benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year."

But the reality of the undeserving welfare queen is not the rule — it's the exception. Mink says it's unreasonable to make judgments based on "one bad apple in every bunch."

Myth 5: Once a person goes on welfare, they'll freeload off it for years.

Eligibility requirements prevent government aid recipients from getting benefits if they don't demonstrate dire need. TANF programs, for example, have a federal lifetime limit of five years.

"You might be on consecutively for five years and fall off," Mink says, "but if you fall into dire straits five years from now, forget it. You can't get back into the program."

As a result, these requirements often prevent some people from accessing the support they need. For instance, the federal government's food stamp cuts enacted at the end of 2014, which included tighter eligibility restrictions, had experts predicting severe hardships for the nation's poorest by 2016.

"Nobody wants to stay on welfare if they can get a decent job with decent wages with decent working conditions," Mink says.

Myth 6: Welfare programs are eating up valuable tax dollars

A recent study from UC Berkeley found that public assistance programs cost taxpayers $152.8 billion every year (indicating a need for better wages). While this is a sizable chunk of cash, it isn't even close to the amount poor families need.

Benefits per family are minimal, still leaving many scrambling at the end of the month to afford their expenses. As of late 2014, the average monthly food stamp benefit came in at $133.07 per participant. Though TANF benefits can fall anywhere between $200 and $1,000 per family, the average monthly amount of assistance per recipient families was $392 per month in 2010.

"Are people as concerned about how the military spends their tax dollars or how much money we give to Amtrak?" Mink says. "A very small percentage of the federal budget is consumed by welfare spending..."

Your tax dollars aren't going to waste. These programs are helping families survive, not thrive.

The danger of wallowing in the fantasy world of right wing media and radical conservative pundits is clearly illustrated by the conservatives and no-info voters is the phenomenon known as Donald Trump, aka The Donald.  He, more than any other of the 17 Republican candidates for the Presidency is keyed seamlessly into the propaganda world of the right wing like a condom on an engorged dick.  The Donald bases nothing on facts and factual information – the Mexican Government is not sending rapists and murderers across the border nor was Hillary Clinton the worst Secretary of State ever – but adroitly taps into the angst of the American public and uses this populist sentiment to attract people in droves.  

And it’s my best guess that if Trump is the Republican candidate for President in 2016, I’m betting that he could indeed become President.  Those of us on to the left of Hitler are also very disappointed in the direction of the country, thus Bernie Sanders' rise in the polls.  Of course our solutions are very different from those on the right, we don’t want to deport every American who disagrees with Rush Limbaugh, but knowing The Donald he’ll start courting leftists on the very day he receives the Republican nomination with the same bombastic rhetoric that will appeal to the some segment of the dissatisfied left. 

What won't happen is that The Donald will not use facts, factual information, facts and figures - at least any that can be verified and aren't exaggerated - and, just like the Reagan's Welfare Queen and Fox's Lobster Surfer Dude - he will not only continue the tradition of substituting propaganda and sloganeering - a political "style" Republicans seem to have perfected -  for real, practical, down to earth, implementable public policy proposals.  The Donald will up the fantasy ante, master Reality TV Showman that he is.  Just like another president of ours.  The one who made the term "Welfare Queen" (as contra-factual as it was) an integral part of public policy lexicon about welfare folks and poor people.  And that misguided portrait of folks receiving welfare, as "Lobster Surfer Dude" proves so deliciously, continues right on track today some 35 years later.

Propaganda, untruths and lies should not be directing public policy. 


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