President Obama made it clear in last month’s inauguration speech that he would continue to implement his ultra liberal vision. He trumpeted numerous grandiose, colorful lines lacking in substance like, “Progress require[s] us to act.” That sounds nice, and it makes people feel good. But bureaucrat terms like “progress” and “moving forward” usually mean spending more money on government programs. And government spending almost always creates dependency.
In case you haven’t heard, we have over $16 trillion in debt. Adding the most substantial chunk to that debt is welfare spending. Welfare is now the largest federal expense, and it cost taxpayers $1.03 trillion last year.
A temporary and effective safety net to help struggling Americans makes sense. But Washington’s expensive, bloated efforts to help the poor are often counterproductive, and hurt more than they help.
Since Obama became president in 2008, federal welfare spending has increased 41%– yet poverty levels remain unchanged. But the Obama administration continues to increase welfare spending each year, somehow expecting different results.
Welfare handouts make poor people comfortable remaining in poverty. Government gives out electricity, schooling, cell phones, computers, medication, gasoline, serves meals, housing, and almost every other service imaginable. Why pay your own way if Uncle Sam will take care of you?
Many welfare programs have no time limit. One example is public housing, which subsidizes rent for over 2.2 million Americans. Many individuals live in government-funded homes their entire lives. The “projects” may come to mind at the mention of public housing, but rent subsidies are often elaborately masked and integrated into all types of neighborhoods. The Section 8 voucher program hands out up to $2,200 per month to pay for housing in the private sector- $2,200 is quite generous, even in expensive cities like New York City. Public housing tenants are allowed to utilize this government assistance indefinitely, as long as they do not exceed a certain income. If that income is exceeded, the benefit is taken away.
Food stamps, or as the USDA likes to call it, the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)” is another example of an expensive, ballooned, and counterproductive welfare program. Amazingly, one out of seven Americans are now on food stamps, and this number continues to grow. Over 13 million more people rely on the program now than when Obama took office in 2009. As the program grows, so does government dependence. There is also no time limit for most food stamp recipients. Those who have children, are elderly, or are disabled never have a time limit. Over two thirds of SNAP’s recipients fall into this category.
Along with their subsidized housing, food stamps, fuel and electricity, these recipients can also get their well-ballyhooed “Obama Phone” (also government funded, of course). Their incentive to get off the couch and improve their lot in life is gone. Why hustle to get that job when the Honey Boo Boo marathon is on?
Back to the point: government spending is not the sole answer to poverty. If it were, America would have the lowest poverty rate in the world. Instead of making poverty more comfortable with government handouts, incentives should be created to encourage hard work and self-sufficiently. Welfare programs should also be means tested more aggressively to focus on the truly needy.
Anyone who has taken an intro economics course knows that people respond to incentives. When you subsidize a benefit, there will always be more people seeking out that benefit. Why are Washington bureaucrats oblivious to that?
Kristin Tate | Emerson College | @KristinBTate