This week, ClickBack waded into the contentious debate about state-sponsored poverty relief programs, inspired by the several gubernatorial candidates who are proposing to cut funding for such programs.
Is Maine too generous with welfare?
According to maine.gov, Maine’s TANF benefit is the lowest in New England with a three-member family getting a maximum of $485 per month. If Food Stamps are included, TANF families are still living 35 percent below the federal poverty level.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics the 1,693 prisoners under Maine authority as of June 30, 2001 created an operating cost of $44,379 per inmate of which only $9,039 per inmate was expended on medical care ($3,620), food service ($1,242) and utilities ($1,051).
The federal “poverty” level, formulated in the early 1960s, is universally regarded as flawed and certainly should not be used. Subsequently, taxpayers find themselves funding a social safety net that is increasingly utilized by those who work very, very hard. Unfortunately, “business-friendly” tax policies that require these same hard-working, underpaid Mainers to shoulder more of the cost for infrastructure (for commerce as well as the social safety net) give rise to anger under the strain, and it is the poor who, unfairly, in my view, bear the brunt.
Reagan’s “welfare queen” is and always was largely fictional, and it’s time to have a serious conversation about how we define poverty in today’s economic structure. We also must discuss how to address the wage decline that swells the rolls of the needy and examine our wrongheaded assumptions about the poor.
Our social safety net is a public service, available to all as needed.
As usual, there are stereotypes being thrown around and, I hope, before anyone puts their foot in their mouth they evaluate their own assets.
How far is it from middle class to poor? How does it work when there’s no health care, no food, no heat and no prospect for a dollar coming in? How could the position in your life change if there was no money? How far are any of us from finding these things out?
Invest any spare money into the infrastructure, such as highways and high speed Internet availability. These just might bring more business to this impoverished state. Stop all welfare payments to anyone caught dealing drugs, smoking or drinking.
Create a workfare program to get people back into the market with job skills.
I don’t think the issue is whether Maine pays too much to struggling people, I think the issue is that the system does not encourage people to move out of it and back into a self-supporting lifestyle.
We all know at least one person who receives TANF, who could hold a job, but won’t, and has the attitude of: “So what? The government has enough money and they’re all crooks anyway so why shouldn’t I collect this check?”
I am sure we all also know someone who just lost a job and is struggling to pay the bills and needs a bit of help. The system needs to help those people who need it for a limited period of time and insist that everyone collecting a check is actively seeking some type of employment or attending a job training class. There also needs to be incentives for people to work where they can without having their benefits completely removed.