Fixing Our Welfare System Starts By Doing This One Simple Thing – But Republicans Won’t Like It

ebtAs cuts to SNAP benefits for millions of Americans have been on the forefront of the news lately, it never ceases to amaze me how simple an issue this is.

Yes, we spend a lot on government programs to help poor Americans.  Programs that I wholeheartedly support.  That being said, major reforms do need to be made to help eliminate much of the abuse that goes on within these programs.  Reforms that would save millions, if not billions (in the long term), of taxpayer dollars.

But the reforms I speak of aren’t so much with the programs themselves, but the implementation.  See, how Republicans want to deal with this issue is by simply cutting funding.  But what does that really do?  Does it stop abuse?  No.  Does it stop fraud?  No.  They accomplish nothing but hurting millions of Americans who genuinely need help.

But fixing the problem of welfare abuse is simple, though Republicans won’t like the answer: We need to spend more money on these programs.

I can already feel the outrage emanating from millions of conservative Americans at the thought of investing more money in our welfare systems.

Though by “more” I don’t mean more money dished out to welfare recipients.  Nope — what I mean is that we need more money to hire more employees to oversee these programs.  Trust me, as someone who’s met plenty of “welfare abusers,” taking unfair advantage of these programs is not a hard feat to accomplish.  And the root of this abuse lies in the fact that there’s simply not the quality, nor quantity, of workers in the offices of the departments in charge of oversight to properly ensure that those receiving these benefits actually need them.

Most of the offices charged with the responsibility of verifying applicants to qualify for benefits are simply overworked.  Also, there are far too many loopholes in the system that people who abuse these programs are well aware of.

If we spent more money, invested in better people and ensured we had the best possible oversight governing these programs, a lot of the abuse would be eliminated.  Heck, much of it would be prevented altogether as people trying to abuse these systems would quickly learn that they would no longer be allowed to do so.

To me, it’s very simple.  When the departments responsible for ensuring these programs aren’t abused become severely overworked, are undermanned and their budgets continue to get cut—how are they supposed to properly do their jobs?

It makes absolutely no sense.

And it’s not just with programs like SNAP or Medicaid, there’s rampant abuse of Social Security Disability as well.  It’s people that know how to game the system—gaming the system.  I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s apparently (sadly) easy to do.

But solidifying oversight of these programs requires investment in these programs, which is something Republicans mentally can’t grasp.  In their shortsighted ideology, everything is cut, cut, cut.  But cutting funding to these programs in some haphazard way is like taking a meat cleaver to the operating room to deal with a blown out knee.  Sure, cutting off the leg takes care of the messed up knee, but why do that when you could use a scalpel to fix the knee?

All these cuts do is hurt everyone on the program instead of targeting those who are abusing the system.

This isn’t rocket science.  If abuse is the problem (as Republicans often claim), then abuse is what you need to target—and you can’t do that through a mass reduction of benefits going to people who actually need them.  We’re simply never going to do anything to prevent abuse by simply cutting the funding for these programs and continually reducing the money given to the departments charged with the responsibility of implementing their oversight.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • good_reader1

    Agreed more auditors and civil servants not contractors should be there to weed out the fraud, and save Federal funding. Also on actual debit cards how about a picture of the authorized user, then they cannot sell the card for cash.

    • herenowhere3

      a picture would solve some problems, but create others. i’m very sick, my mom takes my access card and shops for me. i verified with DPW when i went for my meeting to sign all the papers that this was allowed. i even asked if she could be listed on the card so it was all official. they said they could put her name on the card but then my name wouldn’t be on the card and that would pose problems given the access card is also the medical assistance card.

      • Jo Clark

        It might solve a few problems temporarily, but really all it would do is give the abusers a heads up to find a different way. How difficult would it be for someone to go shopping with someone, pay for their groceries on the card, then walk outside and be handed the cash? Not very hard.

        I have a feeling the “selling of cards” is a much smaller problem, percentage wise, than people think anyways.

  • jeczaja

    I worked in social services for many years. Fraud is much less common there than in say…banking? I found fraud in private charities, too, and OMG-to correct that would require more IRS staff! No way-cuz they might find other tax frauds.

    Most people getting help are legit, and yes, the offices are wickedly understaffed. Strategy is to cut staff then complain government doesn’t work and should be privatized. Self-fullfilling manipulation.

    • Larry

      I’m with you,Jeczaja. They, the Repubs, don’t want more over sight on the very thing that they abuse to Hell. One welfare chiseler might get away with $ thousands. One Hot Shot Banker or Hedge fund manager routinely screws Uncle Sam out of $ millions. But to them that’s just Bidness………….

  • Cae

    Are you kidding me? Have you ever tried to get on disability? As someone who knows a few people with mental illness to the point where they cannot work, it’s not that simple.
    And getting on food stamps? It’s a fucking mess. I agree we need more money for better workers, but have you ever been on food stamps? I know it’s easy for you to look down on people, but have you seen the paperwork and the pain in the ass meetings and the changing requirements and having to call day after day and getting voicemail every time so you can have enough money to eat?
    Basically, how privileged can you get? I can tell you’ve never been through it.

    • stephen

      Having used Food stamps before, I can agree that it is a hassle with all the meetings and all, but these things are only a problem to the “normal” person who needs assistance. The person who makes it his business to abuse the system, knows all the loopholes and ways to get around the system, just like the professional car thief knows how to get past all of the alarms and locks to take your car!

      • Cae

        Well, it’s certainly possible, but we don’t respond to car theft by getting rid of cars and punishing people who use the bus. And to fool disability you’d have to be committing some serious fraud with a number of doctors lying for you. The numbers for fraud are not as common as they sound when people bring it up– roughly 2 percent of cases involve some fraud, defined pretty widely. We could save more money by just fixing the inefficiency in the system.

  • Ralf T. Dog

    While we are at it, lets cut down on abuse by corporations of farm subsidies. Don’t forget all the tax subsidies and almost free use of government property that go to the petroleum industry. Did I mention government contractors and the telecommunications industry?…

  • peggy harris

    i sure hope, the people of the Republican, or anybody else, DON’T NEED FOOD STAMPS.

  • msimpson2010

    This is a very simplistic view of the issue. I agree more employees could reduce fraud to a degree but that is not the real issue. The real issue is money. where is the money going to come from? We still have a massive deficit, our national debt is staggering and it will not stop anytime soon. if you want to reduce the spending in food stamps here is how you do it. Every American in this country starts to buy only American made, owned, and manufactured products. This huge demand put on by the American consumer will make it financially worthwhile for companies to bring jobs back to America. More jobs means more people working, a higher tax base, and hopefully less people requiring food stamps. This will never happen because it will require people to pay higher prices for many items and as individuals we will not do that all the time, myself included. What I dislike about some many of these websites is that they create a division of people because people will generally gravitate towards people that are like them, it creates segregation of thought and belief. Both sides are correct on many issues, they are also wrong on many issues. Normally I think the answer is somewhere in the middle but egos get involved. These egos is another reason I would love to see term limits.

    • This is where your wrong. The deficit is at it’s lowest point in 5 years, and is still going down. You want to find money, get rid of the tax cuts for corporations. JP Morgan get 200 million to send out EBT cards, why now, that thousands will no longer get snaps, JP still get’s 200 million? I for one would love to buy American made, but I can’t aford it. In order for us to become American made country, corporations will have to set up shop in America, not happening any time soon, China would have a fit. Can’t make money that way. You right the media does give us a forum, but it always ends up, us v. them.

    • Cathryn Sykes

      Hmmmm. Interesting that you say nothing about the obscene tax breaks and even subsidies we have in place for the rich and corporations that don’t need them and don’t deserve them. Hike taxes on these entities by a reasonable amount and the amount of money raised would be staggering. And BTW, when corporate taxes were much higher than now–much higher–corporations still managed to make very nice profits.

  • bob padilla

    If you want people off welfare then you have to create a path for them to escape. This means job training programs and grants for education. Not to mention bringing jobs back into this country. The further down the economic latter you are the harder is is to climb back out. I do think if you give something away for free, then you will attract some freeloaders who abuse the system. After all, by giving it a zero value you are saying these things have no worth. I think a minimum of 4 hours community service should be required in exchange for food stamps. Those extra man hours could go to graffiti clean up, a government day care system manned by welfare recipients, community park maintenance and I’m sure a host of other small jobs that might actually lead to some job training in the form of filing and office software.

    • Guest

      Most to the people who get welfare do have jobs. The welfare system as changed the last 20 years, you don’t recieved as much one would think, the day of “more kids, more money” is not the case anymore. There are 300,000 Vet who used to get food stamps, no longer do. The face of the old welfare mom is no long true. The extra man hour jobs, cleaning graffiti, park maintatenance are government jobs, and to get one of them you have to know someone. Not sure what you know about filing, not many offices have a great paper trail anymore, and not everyone can work in a law firm or court house file room. The government should fund free children, many women can’t get into the work force until their child starts school, because a part time job doen’t pay for day care.

      • Cathryn Sykes

        Yep, isn’t it always interesting that the right-wing “solution” to having people on welfare is “They should get a job.” What job? Where are these jobs? When you’re fifty five years old, say, and there are 10 twenty year old applicants for every menial job out there, how do you get a job?

    • Jo Clark

      Once again, you’re punishing the ones that need it most. Do you not realize how many people on SNAP now actually work full time jobs, sometimes two? And you want to add additional burden to them via “community service”, which they may not have transportation for, gas money to get to, child care?

    • herenowhere3

      So, what you want is an actual slave class working just for the “privilege” of eating? Bloody hell.

  • Analog Kid

    RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE if you want to get people off welfare and food stamps. Christ, it is THAT simple.

    • Jo Clark

      Well, yes, but actually, no, it’s not that simple. We indeed do need a rise in minimum wage, no doubt. But again, to the author’s point, that does not solve the FRAUD problem.

      Both ideas would be a great start!

      I know someone, a family, couple with two kids. Both adults are likely capable of working, but one has convinced the system his “back problems” are so bad he can’t work. But he can sit and play video games all day. The woman says she has bipolar but I have my doubts on that. Anyway, they get SSI and food stamps. I don’t begrudge the kids their food, honestly. The parents are the problem. I’ve seen when their electricity was cut off and they ran a cord to the neighbor’s house to run the refrigerator and yes, you guessed it, the computers. The monthly bill for two game accounts got paid before the electric bill. I hope you get my drift. And lest anyone wonder, these were white people living in a red state, a very red state.

      The whole point of this article is to find ways to stop *this* kind of fraud, people gaming the system, while not gutting the people who actually need the help.

      • MrLightRail

        Well, if they are disabled, then they have already gone thru the gauntlet to prove it, and your layman’s view isn’t helpful. Disability means that you are unable to do any job that is readily available in the economy. I love how folks jump on people on disability, because their disability is not seen to them personally. Walk a mile in THEIR shoes, and maybe your mind will be changed.

      • Kim

        As someone who, for the first time in a 40+ year working career, has not been able to find a living wage job/s for several years now, I have been forced to work multiple jobs and file for food stamps to survive. I also have biplor disorder (for which I have been hospitalized 4 times, so it’s no act) and have been denied twice for SSI. The hoops I have had to jump through, documentation, interviews (with hours of waiting each time) etc. are beyond what someone who has not been through this can imagine, Folks, people don’t just walk up to a window, like they’re buying a lottery ticket, and say “Give me some handouts.” There is unbelievable bureaucracy, time and verification involved. Most people are denied 2 or 3 times before being approved for SSI. If someone knows how to “scam” the system, I’d sure like to know how, as it has taken me tons of effort and verification, just to get foodstamps…It took me nearly 6 months to get mental health services in a red state that doesn’t believe the brain is an organ in the body, worthy of healthcare. I still have not qualified for SSI and continue to try to find a living wage job, despite debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder. I am single, and I have no one to help with my hardships. I say, if you haven’t been there, shut the hell up. You have no idea. And you’re going to look like a real ass when its your ass that needs help, or someone you know and respect finds themselves in an unfixable fix. Our country is in dire straights people, You need to decide if you are for PEOPLE or CORPORATIONS, and stop voting against your interests because of uninformed ideologies. Decimating our social stucture for huge corporate subsidies and ongoing war/nationbuilding and offshoring our jobs for corp profits is what’s causing this. If you don’t see it, you’re blind or bamboozled. It’s NOT poor moochers on medicaid/care.

      • atunionbob

        If wages are raised, more will be off the EBT system. Because their income would no longer qualify them for the benefits. As a disabled person myself, I am on food stamps. Until the 1st of Nov I got a whopping $16 in food. I could buy a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, 3 pounds of hamburger, a pack of pre sliced cheese food ( not real cheese) A box of cereal and a candy bar. Now however they cut my allowance to $5 thanks to the Republicans. So tell me what meals do I now have to stop eating. ???? That 16 bucks would last me a week of lunch and breakfast. Now I cant afford but the milk and half dozen eggs.

      • jp

        i don’t see the wage increase as a real solution it just creates inflation and you are quickly back to the starting point.

      • And did you repoprt them to anyone or are part of the problem.

  • Var Enyo

    I think it’s almost a self fulfilling prophecy with the republicans. Cut the people who are to keep an eye on fraud and then whine about the fraud. It certainly seems that way with those who oversee all programs. They don’t WANT it done.

    • Cathryn Sykes

      Exactly. They cut funds to government agencies, and when these agencies therefore can’t do their jobs properly, the GOP calls for them to be privatized. It’s a deliberate GOP ploy to destroy the government and make big bucks for their corporate donors.

  • Marc D

    There does need to be a cost-benefit consideration. You won’t get zero abuse (in ANY large system). So, the smart thing to do is to get things to the point where you are losing less in fraud than you would have to spend to stop it. I don’t know where that line lies in this case, but it would not surprise me if we are quite close to it.

    And there may be *other* areas where investment in oversight is more warranted.

  • Brenda Porter

    The accuracy rate for determining eligibility for SNAP benefits is anywhere from 96-98% nationally, which is amazing when you consider the demands on the lowly case worker. I wholeheartedly agree that fraud units need more staff, and who have the ability to work with the appropriate law enforcement agency to prosecute. The fraud problem has less to do with the individuals receiving the benefit, and much more to do with shady retailers who will ring up a 6-pack or cigarettes as a gallon of milk.

    The other side of the problem is that SNAP benefits do not help families and individuals with other necessities like diapers, soap, and toilet paper. Temporary Cash Assistance is a pittance; subsidized child care is so limited, and one of the first things to go. If we want people to lift themselves out of poverty by getting a better education or working, they need a safe place for their preschoolers to spend the day (or night).

    The most recent reduction in SNAP is roughly equivalent to the same dollar amount raised annually by private charities. I can’t see how they are going to be able to double their fundraising to make a difference.

  • Kate

    Can I just say BRAVO to the commenters here. This is the FIRST, and I mean FIRST public forum where people are actually discussing better ways, other ways of running our assistance programs. Most forums are full of ‘us vs them’, complaining of people on welfare or people on welfare spilling their guts about how awful life is on welfare. I don’t know what the answer is but it is SO REFRESHING to see people using their brains rather than sitting back and bitching. Keep up the good work, folks! 🙂

  • Calandria

    When I was on unemployment several years ago, the benefits were administered by Wells Fargo. The bank did their best to squeeze money out of the participants as much as possible – made it nearly impossible to take money out of the account (there was a fee if you didn’t do it the right way) or even find out how much was in the account (there was a fee if you checked using certain methods…). They wanted me to use it as a debit/credit card, which of course kicks a fee back to Wells Fargo. Instead, I figured out how to go directly to the bank and withdraw the cash every week (although they couldn’t tell me how much was in the account unless I paid a fee), then go next door and deposit it in my Credit Union account. And I’m sure Wells Fargo was getting a hefty sum for administering my benefits in the first place. It was absolutely ridiculous and I don’t understand why unemployment was outsourced in the first place – I’m sure they could have hired extra folks to run the program instead of sending it over to Wells Fargo!

    • Cathryn Sykes

      Because private companies can do this thing so much more efficiently then government! Everyone knows that! (And they’re right, if the goal is making profits for private companies!)

  • Kim Ferrari

    Hiring more people to oversee and assist would definitely help. “Food Stamps” are no longer paper coupons that can be sold two-for-one, which cuts down dramatically on that type of fraud.
    When I graduated with a degree in Behavioral Science, back in the early 90’s, I knew I would never be “wealthy”, but I also knew that what I would do would matter, and make a difference. With all of the cuts to social programs, I have come to realize that if I’m not involved in forcing people to part with their money for something material, and making more money for those who already have money, my education and my mission in life is absolutely without value. Pretty sad, the direction our culture has taken.

  • FD Brian

    there are just as many people abusing the welfare system as there are that cheat on their taxes. If you want to help people on welfare give them free birth control and sterilization services. I could go on.

  • Michael Darrin Chaney

    The issue is that if it costs *more* to lessen the fraud then it’s not a worthwhile investment. Either it pays for itself or we need to forget it. In the end, if fraud is so rampant then we would end up spending even less on “welfare” after eliminating the fraud.

    Making this into a partisan issue is kind of stupid, too. The “cut” that you are referencing was actually a short-term 5% bump in benefits being allowed to expire. I guess I missed the part where Democrats (who control half of Congress along with the White House) tried to extend that benefit and failed.

  • Charles Vincent

    Throwing more money at a problem has been shown to more often than not be to the detriment of the cause it seeks to help.

  • Doc Jones

    One side of this that seems to be forgotten about, is oversight of the retailers accepting EBT. There are many retailers that accept the EBT for things that they shouldn’t be accepting it for. They do it because there is no one checking on them. We assume too much that businesses are completely honest, they ain’t!

  • Karen H

    Several things need to happen. Raising the minimum wage. Supporting families while parents go through training for jobs that can sustain their families. Help them get into the work force. It can be set up as steps to get out. If you don’t or cant get to the next step then someone spends more time counseling you. If you refuse to go to the next step then there is something related to mental health going on. I refuse to believe people choose to be lazy and to take advantage of the system. I believe these things happen because of some type of mental disability.

    • Cathryn Sykes

      Karen:
      None of this will help IF THERE ARE NO JOBS!

  • roseviolet

    Damn. I had to double check that I hadn’t been redirected onto a right wing site. You ran through all the standard dog whistles of the last 30 years about who “abuses” the safety net. It’s not easy to do to “abuse” any of these programs and it’s not worth the trouble for the pittances you’d get.

    And seriously, what alternate reality are you in that there are “too many loopholes” for people to abuse? The fact of the matter is that there are too many HOLES for people to fall through, the system has been INTENTIONALLY set up so that people in various situations CANNOT get help or have to wait until their situation is particularly dire. For example, if you have a chronic medical condition or disability and are childless, you only qualify for MNP (Medically Needy People) Medicaid prior to full implementation of Obamacare. Problem with that is that MNP Medicaid is an “optional” program – as in it’s “optional” whether or not your state provides it, what it provides if it does provide it and even the particulars of the eligibility are “optional” within certain guidelines. However, the usual set up is you have to meet a particularly abject level of poverty, have no assets whatsoever beyond a checking account with nothing but the current month’s check (and maybe a tiny bit more) plus a clunker car – and the determination of “disabled” is generally matched with the Social Security Admin’s definition and frequently states even make you apply, using the SSA’s determination to decide if you’re disabled or not and thus eligible or not. Thus, you get stuck on SSI and/or SSDI, all because you needed medical assistance and that meant getting Medicaid involved and are probably, at best, right on that cusp where being able to work would me ALWAYS having TIMELY access to what is – for you – appropriate care (something you’re not going to get without keeping Medicaid and/or Medicare so once on it, you may find yourself trapped by the economics of access to medical care).

    Plus there’s also the matter that quite frequently workers don’t follow laws, policies and/or procedures in ways that reduce, delay or deny benefits. If you don’t know the law and/or aren’t paying close attention, you end up SOL, even though it’s THEIR error. I’ve caught things from loss of paperwork that mysteriously gets found when you call or go in to complain about how you know you filed it to as egregious as the local state trying to discriminate on the basis of type of disability (discriminating on the basis of disability violated both state and federal law).

    What’s needed is workers who give a damn and more money for BENEFITS. Also, as has been mentioned in comments, we need to raise the minimum wage. People who can work and have jobs, shouldn’t still qualify for welfare and other assistance. It’s stupid the safety net has become a hush-hush way of subsidizing businesses by way of making up for pay that worse than sucks.

  • Cathryn Sykes

    Alan: It’s deliberate
    Ever hear the term “hollowing out”? This is how the GOP destroys government and boosts “privatization.” Take a government agency, say, the US Postal Service. Pass a law that puts an impossible financial burden on this agency, either by cutting it’s funding, or in the case of the USPS, mandating that it’s pension program be funded 70 years into the future. Yep, tell an organization that it has to have money in the bank NOW to fund pensions for employees that haven’t even been born yet! No private company operates under such a burden! When this results in cutting personnel and supplies, and therefor cutting efficiency, claim this as “proof” that government is inherently inefficient and it’s functions should be “privatized.”
    Slick, right? Despicable and wrong….but it works.

  • Penelope

    If you have all day to call around and wait for your free food, you could have done went to work and made money to buy it. As for minimum wage, its for high schoolers and college students to start out in the working field. Something to live and learn off of while building the skills to have a higher paying career. It doesn’t need to be raised. If they made cuts to welfare, everyone would be out getting jobs and the economy would boost very quickly.

  • Joey White

    Here’s the answer, start mandating welfare abusers to fill in the needed offices if they want to keep receiving benefits, then the government isn’t putting more money into welfare, and there is adequate staff to actually take the time to determine who the abusers are, so they can then either find a job or work at the improvement of the system, which will ultimately make the republicans happy too, as funding needs will drop over time as the abusers are weeded out.