Myrtle Beach, SC, Orlando, FL April 20, 2015
Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-With the record number of Americans and non-citizens receiving government funding, whether it be in the form of welfare, food stamps, Pell grants, unemployment and other assistance, measures should be undertaken to oversee what is being distributed through these various programs.
Auditing to ensure proper use of funds would be one way to closely monitor distribution and with the appropriate set of procedures and processes in place, it could be accomplished. With actual auditing, an increase in federal, state or county programs would have to be initiated to carry out the audits to stay ahead of the fraud, deception, and manipulation that would most probably occur with the regulation of recipients and other individuals associated with the various programs. Direct auditing on a widespread basis would serve as a strong deterrent to those already in the system who are either thought to be under suspicion of gaming the system or entertaining plans of integrating themselves into the system through deceitful means.
Keeping track of monies spent through public assistance programs has revealed misuse of funding. A few states such as Massachusetts, Missouri and Oregon have conducted audits of state funding programs, which revealed improper disbursement of welfare funds through deceased individuals, wrongful use and inappropriate withdrawals with EBT cards (food stamps), and the crucial need in Oregon for increased job training and work-related programs for those who need to be made accountable for their use of the state’s public assistance.
In addition to auditing, an efficient system of tracking funds could be undertaken through policies that would disallow the use of any of these programs for an extended period of time. Also, self-checking systems would be incorporated that would prohibit any transfer of funds other than what they were specifically designed to cover. Set time limits, constant follow up and oversight are the keys to a tracking system. For example, endless unemployment benefits would only be allowed to continue for a certain number of weeks-not for years on end. During that time frame, any disbursement of benefits would totally depend upon individuals seeking work and following through with regular jobs, part-time jobs, temporary jobs or extended volunteer work. Weekly check ins as to employment status with state, county or local authorities would also be a requirement for recipients to continue receiving benefits. The same would be true of food stamps (EBT cards). Every time a card was used or transferred in an unlawful way, the card would be immediately flagged and made unusable, and the same time limits would be imposed on food stamps as those on other benefits. The recipient would be responsible for either procuring employment or seeking vocational training or volunteer work for a certain number of hours a week to qualify for continued assistance.
A platform that has successfully curbed misuse of funds is one that was instituted by Maine’s governor, Paul LePage. His campaign promise was to “ put an end to welfare leeches in his state, once and for all,” and he did so in remarkable fashion with revisions in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP). In order for recipients to remain eligible for benefits, they would be required to complete work hours, job training, or volunteer hours. These requirements have brought about a significant decline in enrollment in the state’s food stamp program plus the added benefit of an increase in employment for those in and out of assistance programs. Success was achieved by limiting access to funding through employment and volunteerism while giving those on assistance opportunities to find employment and, at the same time, relieving Maine taxpayers of the financial burden.
Both auditing and the tracking of government funds through oversight programs are instrumental factors in the alleviation of the misuse of funding to recipients, and they have proven to be effective in eliminating the number of freeloaders that are draining public assistance programs. It will take continued audits and the input of other governors like Paul LePage to both restrain and contain public assistance programs so that the right people are receiving benefits and those milking the system will be required to find work and exit the system. With these kinds of solutions in place, there just might be hope for the recovery of an overburdened government funding system.
Asheville, NC Correspondent-The recent legislation regarding the use of public benefit funds in Kansas and Missouri has aroused considerable controversy. On one hand, nearly everyone has an anecdote about a welfare recipient pulling a benefit card out of a roll of cash, or using food stamp money to purchase expensive, luxury food items. On the other, recipients of public benefits experience incredible adversity, and rates of fraud are very difficult to measure. This is a problem which requires a nuanced, careful approach. Despite the prevalence of these anecdotes, there is little evidence to substantiate the claim that abuse of these programs is widespread. The best available data comes from a Department of Health and Human Services report, which grabbed headlines with the claim that roughly 30% of welfare benefits were given to ineligible families. A more careful review of the study, though, suggests that those cases were largely due to bureaucratic errors, rather than outright fraud. Families were mistakenly classified, benefits were improperly calculated, or sent out in error. This so-called “fraud” requires much more attention to the process by which benefits are distributed. Combatting this waste needs a supply-side solution, not a demand-side one. Consider this analogy. If we wish to fight drug trafficking, we could go after individual users. Such an approach will be expensive and would result in little change. Instead, going after producers would cost comparatively little, and any successes would result in major progress toward reducing trafficking. Allocating additional funding to investigators and auditors of the agencies responsible for providing these social services would do much more to combat unnecessary public spending than creating additional restrictions on the use of those funds. It is, after all, the responsibility of government to monitor the distribution of its benefits. Rather than further stigmatizing the poor, we should focus on providing higher-quality services to them. Raleigh, NC Correspondent- The United States’ federal assistance network, which currently includes a wide variety of programs such as traditional welfare assistance (now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF), housing assistance, utilities assistance, food stamps (recently renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), Medicaid, WIC, SSI (Supplemental Security Income for the Disabled) has first been introduced in the 1930s during Great Depression. The purpose of the program was (and still is) to help individuals and families that struggle to provide for themselves. As such, the system was in place for decades, but it is still a work in progress and subject to vigorous public discussion, controversy, and frustration for many American citizens and politicians.
In addition, there are other federal aid programs such as unemployment benefits aimed to temporarily help people who have lost their jobs; financial aid for students such as Pell grants which help to pay college fees; as well as hundreds of other programs which benefit individuals, families, and various organizations. One of the results of having a very complex and vast system of government funding is the difficulty of streamlining and supervising its many programs as well as the usage of the funds by its recipients.
According to the 2014 “The Welfare State” article by Michael Tanner, the Cato Institute’s senior fellow, 35.4 percent of Americans receive some type of means-tested welfare benefit, which translates to about 110 million people or, because typical households usually have more than one person, 33.5 million households. Among these households, 10.5 million receive benefits from three or even more programs, be it on a federal, state, or local level. These numbers are truly astonishing and all-time high. Many researchers, including Michael Tanner, assert that the rise of welfare and other government funded benefits has been caused not only by declining economy, but also by making it more profitable to receive welfare than to work, especially in low-earning entry positions. For example, in 35 states welfare packages pay more than minimal wage jobs and, given that welfare benefits are tax exempt, the person earning the same amount loses in actual income. Thus, it is often more advantageous to stay on welfare than work, especially in the states which pay the most (Hawaii-$49,175, District of Columbia-$43,099, Massachusetts-$42,515, Connecticut-$38,761. etc.). According to the research conducted by nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in 2011, on request by the Senate Budget Committee, the amount spent on 80 plus federal welfare programs amounted to about 1.03 trillion dollars (including state contributions which equaled to $283 billion). The programs included were all means-tested and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare were omitted.
Is it possible to control how these funds are distributed by numerous agencies and used by their recipients? The government and states have tried different approaches. For example, twelve states have enforced drug-testing for welfare recipients and fourteen more states are on their way to do the same. However, many researchers assert that this initiative is not prudent because the costs involved outweigh the benefits by a wide margin. Also, many states have enforced rules regarding the use of EBT cards and the types of products which can be bought with them. On federal level, one cannot use EBT card on gambling, adult entertainment, and alcohol. Is it enough? Certainly not. While it will be impossible to audit each welfare recipient given the sheer number of them, the government needs to seriously reconsider welfare system as a whole. There should be mechanisms put in place to motivate people to work and become independent instead of relying on government handouts.