Welfare narrative needs monumental shift

Liberals hate when conservatives bring up examples of egregious misuse of this country’s welfare system. Liberals will argue that most people who use welfare aren’t like that, they really need the help, etc etc.

But if you Google “welfare fraud” or something similar, you will actually get story after story about outrageous and expensive schemes to bilk taxpayers out of thousands, even millions of dollars.

Take this case of the Washington family living in a $1.2 million home on rent assistance, food stamps and myriad other government subsidies.

They allegedly take exotic trips and give extensively the charity, the latter of which obviously being much less offensive than the former.

This story is not indicative of every person on welfare in this country.

Duh.

But it is indicative of the state our welfare system is in.

This website has aggregated story after story about the waste of fraud in public assistance. California reportedly loses $3 billion to fraud in the state’s health care program. That’s “billion” with a “b.”

Although conservative talking heads tend to act like it is, obviously we know that isn’t true. Furthermore, not every person on welfare is poor because they don’t feel like working.

Not every person living in poverty is doing so because they’re lazy or doing drugs or feeding their food addiction.

Liberals cast conservatives as heartless for not wanting to take care of the poor. I’ve argued against this in a multitude of ways.

Most of my time was spent explaining why perceptions were wrong, but not necessarily focused on how we ought to be changing the system.

There’s no quick fix for things like Medicare and Medicaid. If there were we’d have done them.

Ditto for education reform and Social Security.

But something needs to be made abundantly clear: blocking any  kind of reform, as the Democrats do, only enables those who exploit the system.

Furthermore, very few people are so dispassionate that they’d advocate doing away with the programs we use to help people who are unable to help themselves.

Someone with two kids who gets laid off due simply to the economy, should be able to get help when they need it. Not forever, and not necessarily from the government (though I’m fine with the government offering something).

No one is saying that should be the case (or at least not any one with half a brain cell).

However, we can’t assume that because many people are helped by a program, that the program is working. What’s more, we can’t expect that it’s maximally effective or efficient.

In fact, it wasn’t until California passed the The Child Welfare System Improvement and Accountability Act (AB 636) in 2001 that it was even tracking outcomes for children in foster care.

Maryland passed a law in 2006 to measure the effectiveness of its own systems.

These are programs that were decades old and had never been accountable to anyone.

Conservatives aren’t advocating that these programs be eliminated, especially for children. What they want is the ability to discuss improving accountability.

Unfortunately, every time they advocate a change, Democrats and liberals label them as ignoring the poor.

Quite the contrary. Increasing accountability in a system means getting resources to people who truly need them. The case in Washington is a a disgrace to the system and a slap in the face to any family who, through no fault of their own, is struggling to make ends meet.

States lose millions, even billions of dollars to fraud. That is money targeted for helping people that isn’t going to people who need it.

It seems obvious that it is in everyone’s best interest (except, of course, those stealing from the public coffers) to rev up accountability in our welfare systems.

Better screening processes, restrictions on what you can and cannot buy on food stamps, drug tests for welfare recipients, and harsh punishments for anyone caught perpetrating or enabling fraud is a start.

Blaming the poor for being poor doesn’t fix the systems, even if there is a majority of people for whom that applies (there isn’t).

We can’t continue to say the harm would be too great to those in need if we changed the system to save a few bucks. People are better off when the system is better off.

That is truly what democracy should look like.

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