The War on Poverty; Sheila Jackson, Changing the rhetoric surrounding welfare

Sheila Waters / Official File Photo
Sheila Waters / Official File Photo

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2014 — A temporary and effective safety net to help struggling Americans during hard times makes sense. But government welfare was never intended to be a career choice.

Today, many politicians use the euphemistic phrase, “war on poverty,” to further expand government programs that were originally intended to provide temporary help.

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is one of those politicians. During a speech in the House on Wednesday, Jackson said we should change the rhetoric surrounding welfare, and that “a safety net has to be something for all of us.” She said, “Maybe the word ‘welfare’ should be changed to something of, ‘a transitional living fund.’ For that is what it is — for people to be able to live.”

Jackson Lee was referring to all welfare, including food stamps, unemployment, Medicaid, and Medicare.

She continued, “Quite frankly, of all the wealthy nations, we have the lowest safety net and the highest poverty, because we’re not willing to accept the fact that sometimes an American needs help. Even a veteran, even a soldier. So today, I honor the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, Mr. Speaker, and I ask us  not to give up the fight because the American people are looking to us to win the war.”

We have the “lowest safety net”?

Welfare has gotten completely out-of-hand; nearly half of Americans now depend on checks from the government.

Welfare spending is now the largest federal expense, costing taxpayers $1.03 trillion in FY 2011. Since Obama became president in 2008, federal welfare spending has increased 41 percent, yet poverty levels remain unchanged. Yet the Obama administration continues to increase welfare spending each year, somehow expecting different results.

Jackson Lee’s suggested wording change would put welfare in a more positive light. Government assistance for those in need should not demean recipients, but there is a balance to be struck between safeguarding the dignity of welfare recipients and making them feel that being on welfare is an admirable condition.

Welfare is well-intended, but it can make some people comfortable to remain in poverty and can discourages work. When recipients start making too much income, they can lose their government benefits. Why hustle to get a job when you’ll only collect pennies on the dollar as welfare benefits are withdrawn?The incentive to find a job is gone. In fact, the current system provides disincentives to go back to work. 

One possible solution might be to reduce the rate at which welfare benefits are withdrawn for each dollar the welfare recipient makes. This way, someone doesn’t have to decide between sitting home and making money and going out and getting a job without losing all of their support. This would likely encourage many able-bodied recipients to get back into the workforce.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has suggested creating enterprise zones in our poorest inner cities, where companies can hire people and flourish without burdensome taxes. This could provide tremendous opportunities for inner cities with large welfare populations.

Some critics claim this plan would reward poorly run cities with government sponsored “corporate welfare.” Maybe. But kudos to Paul for innovative thinking; the plight of our inner cities has become so bad that it is not only an economic issue, but a security issue as well. Some cities are in such dire financial shape that their police departments remain dangerously understaffed.

The greatest way to combat poverty is with a strong, growing economy. Instead of expanding government dependency and welfare, politicians like Jackson Lee would do a better service to the unemployed by allowing the private sector to flourish. Getting rid of red tape and invasive laws lets businesses expand and hire more employees. Helping grow the economy will do much more for Sheila Jakson Lee’s poorest constituents than her idea of re-branding welfare as “transitional living funds”.

Too many people in Congress have no understanding of basic economics. Let’s hope more politicians like Rand Paul continue to propose substantive economic policies to help our country’s poorest create better lives for themselves and their families.

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