In my almost 87 years, by the math I have been to the grocery store at least 6,550 times. Yet I have never witnessed the proverbial "welfare mom" whom everybody else claims to see with her two baskets of groceries, mostly junk food, for which she pays with food stamps. She then tips the carry-out worker $5 to put everything in her new Cadillac. I’m not saying this never occurs, mind you, just that I have never witnessed it.
Speaking of government payments to families, today the federal government actually provides very little cash assistance to non-working adults. In recent years spending on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) has amounted to only 0.54 percent (less than 1%) of federal spending. And this program is now time-limited and imposes work requirements on the recipients. This was part of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform legislation (Workfare) that effectively "ended welfare as we know it." And the new numbers show that this change has led to higher employment rates among single mothers.
Criticism of today’s programs that provide assistance to low-income families is not in line with the facts. In addition to constituting only a tiny share of federal spending, these programs have strict time limits and work requirements. Reformers might instead focus on the Social Security Disability program (SSDI), which is by far the largest cash outlay (and possibly the biggest boondoggle) to non-working, non-elderly individuals. This program comprises 3.9 percent of the federal budget, seventy-two times the amount of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
Contrary to my having never seen a welfare mom at the store, I have known of individuals cheating Social Security by hiding work while receiving benefits, flat-out lying about their disabilities, or continuing to receive benefits for a deceased person. I have also heard individuals say that to get on disability one needs only to get the right lawyer.
A 2015 SS audit identified hundreds of people having active Social Security numbers who were listed as being 112 years old or older. But according to the UCLA Gerontology Research Group, the real number of living Americans 112 years old or older in 2015 was no more than five.
Our biggest case of governmental fraud today? President Trump recently pushed through Congress the largest military spending budget ever — and bragged about it! He falsely claimed we have gotten behind on military spending and need to "catch up with our enemies." He has apparently never reviewed the military budget. Our military spending has been consistently higher than the next seven industrialized nations combined and almost three times higher than China, our nearest rival. If we ever lose our privilege of self-government, a major cause will be that we were too lazy to check the facts on what politicians tell them.
At any rate, thanks to Bill Clinton our total spending on welfare today is less than the interest on our federal debt. Slick Willy also produced four balanced budgets in his eight years and left George W. with a budget surplus which he quickly squandered with his Iraq War financed on the cuff. Republicans create at least as much debt as Democrats, they just balk at paying for it.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.