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Beyond the welfare state

"Beyond the welfare state" Continued...

A grocery store in the South Bronx, N.Y., advertises that it accepts food stamps.
Getty Images/Photo by Spencer Platt
A grocery store in the South Bronx, N.Y., advertises that it accepts food stamps.
It’s hard to know how many of the 46 million Americans now enrolled in SNAP are, like Solis, using them for temporary help, and how many like Wesley are using them as an aid to irresponsibility. But it looks like that second group, the Wesleys, is increasing rapidly, because the Obama administration is trying to enroll more and more people in SNAP.

Now, states compete to increase the number of residents on food stamps, with journalists lauding the “winners.” SNAP advocates work to break down resistance from the elderly and other resistant populations, including the Amish. Poverty advocates—food bank employees in San Antonio and San Diego, Americorps volunteers in New Jersey, students at California State University and other institutions—raced to sign up food stamp users, interpreting guidelines as broadly as possible.

Other organizations have jumped in with high-tech applications. A Business Wire article in 2010 described how “The Greater Chicago Food Depository equipped food stamp outreach coordinators with Sprint 4G-powered laptops. They crisscrossed Cook County, going from food pantries to city agencies to churches to community centers to … speed up the sign-up process.”

The easy availability of welfare is costing taxpayers lots of money, but that’s not the real problem. The problem is that welfare sucks in some and creates a dependent attitude with long-range detriment to them and their children. Given budget pressures, we are likely to end up with watery soup, with some desperately needy families not getting enough to provide good nutrition to children.

Even Americans on the political left recognize that welfare in the United States is not fulfilling its initial mission of concentrating on those most in need. I’ll quote from our leading liberal newspaper, The New York Times:

“The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.”

When the middle class starts relying on welfare, a society reaches a tipping point. In 1867 the key lyric of a popular song was, “He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease, / That daring young man on the flying trapeze.” Now, officials croon, “Flop into the safety net. You’re entitled to it.” Now, we start indoctrinating children while they are still in elementary school. Here’s a tipping point: The U.S. Department of Education recently reported that the proportion of U.S. fourth graders enrolled in the free or subsidized school lunch program has climbed from 49 percent in 2009 to 52 percent this year.

Free lunches in school were originally for the poor, and it made sense: How can kids learn when their stomachs are rumbling? But the 21 million children now enrolled in the lunch program come from households with incomes (for four people) up to $41,348. Many urban schools also offer free breakfasts, and some are adding free dinner programs and weekend programs. In Las Vegas, a huge increase in the number of students to be fed “forced the Clark County district to add an extra shift at the football field-size central kitchen.”

In 20th century socialist writing (for example, August Bebel’s Women Under Socialism) and dystopian novels (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World), central kitchens had a central role in breaking down family bonds. That’s where we are now. Some children need that central kitchen food, but other parents who once prepared bag lunches for their children, or gave them money for school lunches, now rely on government.

Here’s a more extreme indication of where we are in the United States: Let me tell you briefly about SSI, Supplemental Security Income. Americans can get an additional $700 per month if the Social Security Administration deems them unable to hold a job now or at some point in the future. Initially, the program made sense as a way to help those physically disabled. But then it started expanding.

One expansion came when the program started giving money to those who had disabled themselves by heavy drinking or drug use. A friend of mine who runs a homeless shelter in Denver, Bob Coté, talks about the alcoholics who get their monthly government checks, go on a binge, and freeze to death during the winter on Denver sidewalks. [Coté died in late September.]

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