Redefining Welfare

Redefining Welfare


A favorite whipping boy of Republicans and conservative ideologues is welfare. Among all discretionary spending programs, TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, formerly known as AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) before the welfare reform “miracle” of 1996, is the program that Romney means when he talks about the 47% of moochers that would never vote for him.

There are many other programs that provide benefits to people, but TANF is the classic example of welfare because it is low, or no income Americans receiving cash assistance for a defined period of time. Republicans hate this program because they argue it fosters dependency on the government.

Yet, federal, state and local budgets are full of many other examples of public largesse showered on non-poor individuals and corporations with no real return on the dollar.

Look at Medicare for an example. Since its inception, Medicare has been treated as a sacred cow that cannot be tinkered with and it is practically sacrilege to suggest that Medicare recipients are on “welfare” despite the fact that an average worker will receive more in Medicare benefits over their lifetime than the amount they paid. The New York Times even writes, “For most Americans, Medicare resembles a giant welfare program.” Medicare is also the single biggest program busting the federal budget, yet any mention of raising the Medicare tax to pay for these shortfalls met with strong resistance by the AARP.

For years, local and state governments have engaged in a “folly of corporate relocation” offering $50 – 80 billion a year in incentives that do not create new jobs (the federal government will dole out an additional $100 billion). Jobs are simply shifted around the country as local governments outbid each other to see who can most destitute their local school system merely so that a politician can say they’ve “created jobs.”

General Motors knows how to exploit governments as well as any company out there, while Texas is the worst state at this behavior, doling out $19 billion a year in free public money to big businesses. Local school boards have provided $1.9 billion in tax abatements. Despite this lavish treatment offered to corporate America, the Lone Star state still had to cut education spending by $5.4 billion last year. This leads to an unmistakable conclusion that corporate tax breaks exacerbate widening income inequality. Corporations get richer while education cuts inevitably lead a more defined “haves” and “have not’s” society.

Until Americans see corporate subsidies as welfare, it will be poor individuals that don’t have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and accountants who will continue get the short shrift from government.