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Time to Audit Welfare!

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted January 9, 2014

unempPresident Obama had a press conference recently to tout the unemployment benefits extension proposal.

Surrounded by the jobless, he ushered in a mouthpiece to endorse the legislation to extend unemployment benefits – a woman who lost her job, and now can afford little food and heat. She goes on to announce it was her “great honor” to present President Barack Obama.

I watched in shock, as this frail woman, who chronicled her daily winter existence of wearing hats and coats in the house, while only spending $45 a week on groceries, would make a national television appearance exalting a president whose term has brought us a record level of poverty. If our economy was better, this woman wouldn’t have such a hard time finding a job.

I don’t solely blame Obama, but as he says, the “buck stops here.” And in a sense, the bucks have stopped for the 46.5 million people living below the poverty line.

I empathize with the unemployed. A few years ago, my family decided to forgo gainful employment, move across the country, and start a business. But just as our plan landed it seemed, Bernie Madoff stole everyone’s money, and the housing market crashed, and so did our business. Despite my husband’s over 20 years of corporate experience, a dual Master’s degree, and 150 submitted resumes, no work. For an entire year.

I know what it’s like for your spirit to jump with hope every time the phone rings, anticipating a potential employer on the other line. I understand what it’s like to see your bank account deplete, with no hope in sight. And in fact, we couldn’t even get unemployment because my husband had quit his job.

I believe most people on unemployment want to work. But, despite what Obama says, not everyone receiving unemployment wants to work, so there have to be some firm limits.

Who Really Wants to Work?

Obama actually said, “I can’t name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job. “ Really? Because I know more than one person who jumped for joy when unemployment was extended, because that meant they could still get unemployment and work under the table.

He also said the unemployed lost their jobs “through no fault of their own.” How does he know that someone didn’t get fired for incompetence or another valid reason? He doesn’t know. He’s pandering.

The truth is, some people are desperate to work, and others are desperate to get an extension so they don’t have to work. You can’t make a blanket judgment about a large group of people. Enough political theater, let’s just be honest.

However, there is no way to know the intentions of everyone on unemployment, so to protect those who do want to find work sooner, I think we should grant the extension. At least for the unemployed that have a recent history of working.

I believe people should get unemployment, food stamps. and free health care for a year. However, given just the three month extension would cost $6.4 billion, how could we possibly afford free healthcare and food for a year, too?

The big fight right now is, Republicans want to pay for an extension through cuts, but of course making cuts is not acceptable to the left. But we cannot continue to spend money we don’t have, so the only answer is taking from one place, and putting it somewhere else. The answer is, a serious audit of welfare.

Time to Get Real

According to the Heritage Foundation, “In 2012, government spent $916 billion on more than 80 different means-tested welfare programs, not including Social Security or Medicare. These programs provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income Americans. Food stamps accounted for 10 percent of that total.

Each month, one out of every three Americans receives aid from at least one of these anti-poverty programs . . . Over the next decade, government will spend around $12.7 trillion on these programs.”

I have to wonder, why isn’t everyone without a job on unemployment?

If you aren’t working, you are unemployed. Why do people get free housing, food, electric, medical insurance, and financial subsidies for years, while people recently in the job market get no help, but just unemployment for a short time? I know people personally who have taken advantage of the system like this, so my statement is based on observation, not conjecture. Unemployment isn’t a handout. Working people pay taxes to support people who never work, so why shouldn’t someone who has worked benefit from the money they paid into the system?

This is what happens – a working person loses his job, and in this economy, can’t find anything. In my experience, you can’t get welfare if you own cars, a house, or have retirement. They want you to be completely void of any asset, and the government will not prop up working people while they find employment.

A welfare case worker looked me in the eyes and said, “Welfare is for people who wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t have milk for my baby.” I looked at her and replied, “Who does that?” She went on to inform me, “You can’t live off just a subsidy check, you have to qualify for housing and medical to live.” I told her, “You don’t understand, I don’t want to live off of this – I need help just for a few months.” I was then informed because I was married , had retirement, and cars I would never qualify. She said we had to sell our cars and drain our retirement.

They finally gave me health insurance for one of my two children, because my youngest has kidney disease. But beyond that, there was no compassion.

For many, welfare is a sick cycle of dependence, not a “transitional living fund” as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee likes to put it. “Transition” suggests you will leave the system. Unemployment is a transition, not several years of welfare.

According to a release by Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), “Under the rule adopted in 1996, food stamps for able-bodied adults without dependents were limited to three months in a 36-month period unless the participant in the program works at least 20 hours a week; participates in an employment and training program for at least 20 hours per week; or participates in a (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) ‘workfare’ program for at least 20 hours per week.”

And, the Education and Workforce Committee states, “President Obama suspended that rule when he signed his economic stimulus legislation into law and the number of these adults on food stamps doubled, from 1.9 million in 2010.” A whopping 14.1 million people have started receiving food stamps since Obama took office – a 70 percent increase.

So again, working isn’t encouraged.

Prosperity and Poverty

I’ve been in both places, prosperity, and poverty. But everything I ever wrote about welfare as a Republican press secretary came to life. There is no real help – it’s total dependence, or you are on your own.

Someone who loses his job typically gets no help with medical bills, no food, no housing subsidy – nothing but a very limited time on unemployment. All this, while many people who either made bad life choices, or who work the system get propped up indefinitely. Where is the justice in this?

There are always examples of people who do need welfare, and I’m not suggesting we get rid of welfare totally, but rather interject higher expectations of people on welfare, and audit out fraud and abuse. Look at immigrants and refugees who come over with nothing, and make something great out of their lives in America. It often boils down to ambition and personal responsibility.

Audit welfare, and use the money to extend and expand unemployment benefits, to help people who want to continue contributing to individual and national economic growth.