Monday, October 31, 2011

The Food Stamp Challenge: Jason, you are doing it wrong.

I saw on TV this weekend a segment on the Food Stamp Challenge where Councilman Jason Holleman was trying to feed his family of four on $122 a week. He discovered it is hard to do. I can believe it.

Jason, you are doing it all wrong. Here are some true observations; this is the way it really works:

Example one: A couple is not married but they jointly own a home and have cohabitated a long time. The male of the couple makes $49,000 a year. The female quit her job, she says because of health issues. She applies for and gets food stamps. She then starts working as a self employed beautician and earns about $500 a week. This couple earns $75000 a year and gets food stamps.

Example two: A single mother has one minor child living with her. She also has an adult daughter living with her who has a child and is also single mothers. This household of four people has two different people receiving food stamps. They are feeding four on $244 a week.

Example three: A family receives food stamps but also earns money that they do not pay taxes on. The unreported money is either from providing child care, beautician services, construction, lawn care, unreported waitress tips, or driving a taxi. They supplement the food stamps with untaxed income.

Example four: A low income couple or a single mom with children and with no earned income claims earned income as self employment income in order to get the earned income tax credit and get a “refund.” The EIC credit for a mom with two kids is $5,036. The EIC can be greater than the total income tax bill so once taxes are paid on this non-existent income, this still puts some money in the person’s pocket with which they can help buy food or whatever else they want to spend it on.
Example Five:  A low income mother has three children by three different men. She receives no child support. The father of the youngest child still comes around ever so often and "helps out" with a little money to supplement the food stamps and the other assistance she receives.

I don't know how many people who are drawing food stamps are gaming the system and how many are not, but their is an informal welfare information network where people share tips on how to rip-off the system. People who have been on welfare for any length of time know all kinds of tricks for getting free stuff and increasing their take.  I imagine that many people who are finding themselves poor for the first time are playing it by the book and are having a hard time stretching their food stamp dollar, but food stamp fraud is so common people aren't even shy about admitting it. I would bet there are a lot more people gaming the system than their are people playing by the book.

We do not need to make poverty so attractive that it is too expensive to stop being poor. If one is drawing Families First, SSI, Tncare, foodstamps, free cell phone, and living in public housing, it is too easy to keep living that way. If you are the second generation and that is all you have ever known, it is very difficult to give up the security of poverty.  Most welfare should be short-term assistance to help people in crisis, not a way of life. We do not need to expand welfare programs, we need to ween people off of welfare programs.

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