Vacationing on welfare money

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Deborah McFadden holds an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card sample. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Meg Whitman has a commercial out, stating the ways that she will change the welfare system. She uses an example of welfare recipients using their state money in casinos, and states that her policy is “get caught stealing from the taxpayers, go to jail”.

Frankly, Meg Whitman scares the bejeezus out of me. As an extremely rich woman, I feel like she has no concept of what it is like to be poor and out of work here in America. To restructure the welfare system, her plan is to allow recipients to only receive aid for two years. After that, they are cut off. I don’t know how many underprivileged families she knows, but I can’t think of any welfare recipients, even those who find jobs, who are magically able to get off welfare after only two years and be able to survive financially. It goes so much deeper than money, it’s more the way they were brought up in their quality of life.  Born into poverty?  It’s a hard way of life to break free from. 

And comparing casino spending to stealing? While gambling is not exactly the way to get rich quick (quite the opposite, actually), when you are that poor and are trying to make ends meet, you will do anything to double your money – even gambling it away. Yes, the process is skewed. And those families will more likely than not go with less because of that decision. Wouldn’t it make more sense to not allow benefit cards to be used in ALL casinos?

So I am not a big fan of Meg Whitman and her blind sense of what California needs.

But then I hear about more than $69 million in California taxpayer money being used for vacations alone from January 2007 through May 2010. And suddenly, even I have to admit that Meg Whitman isn’t so far off her rocker on this whole welfare crackdown. $69 million??? Imagine how many diapers that would buy. How about how much rent that would help subsidize? There are hungry kids whose families are only drawing in the bare minimum in benefits that doesn’t even pretend to cover enough to support them, and people are spending our state’s taxpayer money out of state.

“Welfare recipients must prove they can’t afford life’s necessities without government aid: A single parent with two children generally must earn less than $14,436 a year to qualify for the cash assistance and becomes ineligible once his or her income exceeds about $20,000, said Lizelda Lopez, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services.” LA Times

Our poverty line is drawn at a level way below what it should be, making it impossible for many families in need to even qualify for funding, and others who are cheating the system are treating themselves to a holiday? Nice.

While this frivolous spending of taxpayer money accounts for less than 1% of money being given out in benefits, it’s still dismaying to know that there are families going without while a small percentage “steals from the taxpayers.”

If you could change the welfare system, what would you do?

9 thoughts on “Vacationing on welfare money

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  1. I would make welfare like unemployment and disability payments-in order to get the benefits, you have to have paid in first. Your monthly benefit would be based on how much you paid in, not how many people are in your family. Nobody cares how many people you are trying to support when you lose your job or become disabled-why should welfare recipients, who don’t have to contribute one dime to society to qualify, be given that consideration? And, just like unemployment and disability, when you use up your contributed amount, that’s it. I think this would allow a safety net for responsible people who fall on hard times, but would keep welfare from becoming a career choice.

  2. When I was growing up, we were poor. Not quite welfare poor, but still, really scraping by, and certainly not indulging in frivolities. Heck — as a college student, I’m STILL really poor…and knowing what it’s like to scrimp and save and never quite have enough, well…I honestly can’t say I entirely begrudge families on welfare (especially those with children) the occasional chance to get away from it all. Now, I’m certainly not endorsing cruises to the Bahamas once a month, but when poverty is a constant, it can really wear you down pretty significantly — and for children, who have less understanding of finances, and just know that their friends went to Disney for the summer, while they stayed home, it can be even more stressful.
    Making a choice that some would see as irresponsible, and taking the family on a little trip (perhaps not something with the expense of Disney, doing SOMETHING fun) can be rejuvenating and make hardships seem more bearable.
    There are always going to be bad eggs that take advantage of the welfare system, and take that money and spend it on themselves, or people who simply don’t understand how to properly manage their finances, and of course, the people who ARE being opportunistic tend to make everyone else look bad…but I can’t say that I NECESSARILY see taking a vacation on state-funded income as a tragic crime.

  3. The offer of “free money” with no expiration date will always be taken by people who choose to do so. There is no incentive for them to make a better life for themselves. Working hard, bettering themselves with training & education, self discipline and choosing simple pleasures in life is just too hard for them. Years ago the people who received government assistance only did so because they really needed it and only used it for a short time, today there is no shame for these people in living off of the government, they feel “entitled” to the benefits because our government has made them think they are. It’s very easy for them to stay at home pregnant to ensure more welfare money in the future, send the children they have to school to receive free breakfast and lunch, use the welfare $$$ and food stamps to go to McDonalds for dinner and buy crappy food at the grocery store. This horrifying cycle of this type of lifestyle leads to second and third generation welfare recipients. It’s rampant in our society today, our resources have diminished because of it and now we’ve had enough, well let’s hope it’s not too late to fix. I say make them work for their welfare, cut it off after two years, limit the amount of welfare given, require proof of the expenditures and put them through an approval process, audit the expenses and adjust their benefit the next month by reducing the amount for the prior month’s unapproved expenses. This process is followed by private sector companies with employees who have an expense report they need reimbursement for. This is how frivolous costs are stopped, when it’s out of “your own pocket” typically the purchase is not made in the first place!!!! I would not dream of ever putting a $100.00 bottle of wine or a casino expense on my expense account because it is not O.K. with my bosses, I love my company and my job and want to keep working here. Of course our “fine government” would have to actually put an effective system in place to accomplish this task, hmmmmm, this is just another pipe dream I know. If they hired someone with this type of vision, gave them the freedom to move this type of plan forward then it could work, of course the person hired would have to be an independent contractor because if they worked for the government the plan & system would never come to fruition.

  4. Comment about fast food consumption by low income families – my daughter and I were actually musing about this a couple weeks ago. Our family doesn’t usually eat fast food, but did awhile back on a particularly busy night. What we noticed was that about 90% of the fast food restaurant patrons were poorer families. And these families were grossly overweight. The sad truth of it is this – food that is bad for you is less expensive. And it’s easier to come by. Have you noticed that on the “richer” side of town, there aren’t very many fast food restaurants, while on the “poorer” side of town they are clustered together? There’s a reason for that. A poorer family generally doesn’t know how to stretch their food money around healthy foods, because it has been made so much easier for them to do so around junk food. Let’s face it, eating healthier foods IS more costly. And when your food budget is stricter than the average family, you’re going to buy the food that is more affordable. More education needs to be put in place for families to learn how to be healthy in an economic way. And it needs to be presented in a way that encourages families to take part in such an education – possibly through the food stamp program.

    Does a food stamp program like this already take place?

  5. I’d like to know what makes people think it’s “easy” to be poor. It’s a miserable condition which has dreadfully adverse effects on physical, mental, emotional, and psychological states. They cannot see from the perspective of our vocal “bootstrappers” who speak with such a clear view from above everyone else’s heads. And how justified us in the middle are, working to “earn” the scraps allowed to us and pretend we’re so good and ethical with our paychecks as proof! Only in a sick or struggling society does every single adult need to “work”. We need adults to raise children and care for those who can’t care for themselves. We need adults to create, to imagine, to teach, to share with others things that nobody will or can pay for as we do for shoes or apples. There is so many worthwhile and valuable things that cannot be given a price which we need to have people doing. Only in a sick and ethically impoverished society does the governing institutions assume citizens to be cheats and scammers and treat all accordingly. We are sick, impoverished, and immoral when the richest nation on earth cannot and will not help its smallest, most desperate, and ill. Bitching about 1% of waste in a program needed to feed and house people who would otherwise have to look for criminal means to survive is a really shallow and thoughtless act. I’m sorry for those of you who disagree and I’m sorry for me there are so many of you. How do you draw the line between who deserves to continue living and who doesn’t? Seems the bank balance is your guide.

  6. WC.Mom: fast food isn’t cheaper money-wise. It’s much cheaper to go to an inexpensive food store and fill a pantry to cover the same number of meals. Problem 1 is the initial investment is much higher. Spend $50 at a grocery store vs. doling out $5 here and there for a meal provides a major barrier. When your money comes in drips and you have to make it last, it’s very hard to understand the logic or even to make it work. But overall, time to prep and cook food is something most poor families do not have or cannot commit to. A single mother slaving in a a min. wage job will see food cooked and prepared by someone else as an affordable luxury that doesn’t also require after clean-up. But poor people and fast food companies aren’t the only problem; the fed gov. subsidizes the growing and producing of very bad foods. It’s not just a problem of poor decision making.

  7. Sara, you’ll be surprised to know that I agree with you on many counts. You’ll also want to know that I am writing this, not as a rich person, but a struggling single mother who lives on the “poorer” side of town – and who has also lived that life of poor mentality in the past 10 years, and still struggles with it. Your point about $5 here and there being easier to pay than a $50 food bill all at once (that costs less in the long run) is a better example of what I was trying to say. Thing is, when you can buy a taco at Taco Bell for less than $1, it seems like such a better deal than buying a pound of chicken for $5. I mention that 1% because they are stealing money from those who really need it. I also mention them because they are making a bad name for the majority of low income families who are doing everything right and have to have that support to survive on a daily basis. I disagree wholeheartedly that there needs to be a blanket time limit put on benefits received because each case is different, each family has different needs, and not everyone is capable of getting on their feet in the same amount of time. And let’s face it, there are some families that never will, and that’s just plain truth. Do they have any less reason to survive in this world? Should they starve because they couldn’t get off benefits in a specified amount of time? Should they be any less deserving of help if they had never been capable of paying into the government beforehand?

    Think of this – if you were dying on the side of the road, would you want someone to help you? Or would you understand if they walked right on by just because you never helped them first?

  8. The only ways to fix the Welfare system involve 1) requiring that people on welfare must work or attend school with an educational plan. 2) provide subsidized childcare so that these people can do #1. 3) make health care and family planning readily available so people are able to stay well and limit their family’s size and 4) provide education and support to teach those who have been in this system for generations that there can be other options for them.

    So many people believe that because they have had other choices available to them that everyone has had those same options. It simply isn’t so. We need to create a culture of compassion and lifting each other up, rather than using the poor as a scapegoat for societal problems. Our culture is the problem, not the poor!

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