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Who Are The People Dependent on Welfare?

by Joshua Alvarez, published

On Monday the Senate passed a bill that would restore federal funding for unemployment insurance (UI) for 2.8 million long-term unemployed Americans. The bill is in the U.S. House, but Speaker John Boehner has already threatened to not bring it to a vote. This is the third time a bill extending UI has passed the Senate -- the other two having died of neglect in the House.

When measures addressing the welfare of the impoverished, poor, and working class arise in Congress, the arguments opposing the efforts take a variety of forms: “these efforts will lead to dependence on the government and weaken the will to work and self-sufficiency;” “these programs do not work and instead achieve opposite results, prolonging the plight of whom they mean to serve;” and “these programs aid the undeserving and the lazy who exploit the programs and live off them.”

The latter two, if you cut away the crass rhetoric, is really a question of demographics. Who are the people who receive welfare and are there any patterns in their characteristics?

The U.S. has several welfare programs, including food stamps, unemployment insurance, and medicaid, which target different demographics. To make broad claims about “welfare” is to work off the false assumption that all welfare serves the same group of people.

Let’s take the SNAP food stamp program and unemployment benefits. SNAP is the foundation of the public hunger safety net. It specifically serves low-income individuals and families. Among its eligibility requirements are a net and gross income check, employment criteria, and disability verification. Before Congress made cuts to STAMP, a single individual could not receive more than $200 a month in STAMP benefits and a household of eight could receive no more than $1,202.

Unemployment insurance, on the other hand, is not exclusively for the poor. As explained in this IVN article:

"UI provides temporary weekly cash payments to people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. The cash payments are meant for unemployed persons to temporarily provide basic necessities for themselves and their families while seeking new employment...In most states, those who quit work, are fired, or refuse suitable work are disqualified from receiving benefits. All 50 states require people to find new employment in order to re-qualify for unemployment insurance."

Unemployment insurance is accessible to and serves low and middle class workers. There are several other welfare programs that serve several other demographics. For example, the National School Lunch program serves impoverished children whose parents cannot afford to provide them school lunches.

In short, simply looking up these programs and reading the legal eligibility requirements, which are laid out on their websites, provides a better understanding of who these programs serve and why.

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