| October 4, 2011

Inconvenient Truths about Welfare Spending

A new Rasmussen survey finds that 71 percent of Americans believe too many people get welfare who shouldn’t be getting it. I strongly suspect the percentage in Oklahoma is at least that high, and probably higher.

The frustration is easy to understand. For example, state Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) recently noted that it really bothers him “each time I observe someone using an access card (your money) to purchase junk food while using their own money to purchase cigarettes.”

Moreover, the Tulsa World has reported on $304,000 in food-stamp purchases at tobacco retailers, and one Oklahoma welfare recipient told KOCO-TV that some people use welfare money to buy marijuana and cocaine. It’s small wonder that recent SoonerPoll surveys found that a majority of Oklahoma voters support a proposal to levy a $50 fee on medical-welfare recipients who smoke, and an eye-popping 88 percent of Oklahoma voters say adults applying for welfare should be required to undergo drug screening.

Note too this interesting comment which was posted at one of Oklahoma’s liberal blogs: “I worked with TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] clients for 2 ½ years as an alcohol/drug treatment counselor. These women used their TANF money to purchase spiral perms, and balloon bouquets for their ‘illegal’ boyfriends, just to mention a few examples. I would try to discuss birth control and was usually met with angry stares. The ‘illegal’ (who had just fathered his 12th child) became very belligerent when I delicately tried to discuss birth control with him. He would not hesitate to benefit from our state’s assistance, but we were not to interfere in his business. This experience, plus my 26 years as a Probation/Parole Officer, tainted my view of the ‘needy’ Oklahomans our tax dollars are supporting.”


Need more examples? State Senator Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) says he has been told many times that Oklahoma Department of Human Services employees “have encouraged prospective clients to quit a job or to not declare cash income in order to qualify for state aid. ... This is not just an isolated event. It occurs often.” In Oklahoma Policy Blueprint 2011, published this year by OCPA, Tom Daxon pointed out that under Oklahoma’s current welfare system, “a young woman of modest means may find that she is economically better off remaining single than marrying the father of her children. Even if she does marry the father of her child, she may find herself better off economically to separate. In many cases, we literally bribe poor young women to leave the fathers of their children or never marry them in the first place.”

The hard truth is this: Poverty is “quite closely linked to individual moral choices,” as David French recently noted at National Review Online. “In fact, those moral choices are far more important than any other factor in determining whether a person is—or will remain—poor.”

If that’s not politically incorrect enough for you, French goes on to argue that “it is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely—very rarely—be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.”

During the recent riots in Great Britain (coming soon, by the way, to an American city near you), one rioter complained, “There are people here with nothing.” This was too much for the essayist Theodore Dalrymple, who responded in The Wall Street Journal: “Nothing, that is, except an education that has cost $80,000, a roof over their head, clothes on their back and shoes on their feet, food in their stomachs, a cellphone, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, an electric stove, heating and lighting, hot and cold running water, a guaranteed income, free medical care, and all of the same for any of the children that they might care to propagate.”

The welfare state has eroded marriage and encouraged mass fatherlessness and multigenerational dependency. It’s not clear how much more of the liberals’ tender mercies we can stand.

As the polling data on page 6 make clear, Oklahoma voters are serious about right-sizing government. It remains to be seen if Oklahoma’s politicians are serious about it. If they are, the welfare state is a good place to start.

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