Our perception of people on public assistance is not usually positive.
It may frustrate you to go to the grocery store and watch someone on food stamps purchase more food than you with the money you earned from working. It’s frustrating that those on state Medicaid get more health benefits than you do when you purchase your own health insurance.
You may see someone you know who is on many public assistance programs but they seem to function just fine. You think there has to be a job they can do. You know many more people with similar diagnoses yet they continue to work every day. Heck, you have the same diagnoses as your neighbor on disability, back pain and depression, but you go to work every day, sick or not.
The difference between you two may be based on how often the mental illness keeps them from working and earning a wage. Your mental illness may not prevent you from working at all while their illness puts them out of commission three days each week. You may be underestimating how mental illness can affect one person one way and another person completely different.
Are there some people, some bad eggs, which are on public assistance that are lying to get benefits?
Does that mean all people getting assistance are doing this?
Do all people on public assistance love being on public assistance and laugh like the Grinch each time they get a check because they are screwing the rest of us? Absolutely not!
There are close to 68 million people on welfare or some other form of government assistance in America. This means over 21 percent of the United States is enrolled in some type of assistance program. That means 79 percent are not on assistance. These statistics are based on 2016 survey results and show that not as many people are getting assistance as you thought.
Poor assumptions about people on welfare and other assistance programs may be part of the overall problem.
The best thing you can do before you get mad and make judgments is learn all you can about welfare and public assistance programs, about the people benefiting from these problems, about their mentality and determine if there is anything you can do to improve the situation.
Public Assistance Programs Defined
Welfare began during the great depression as a way to help the overwhelming number of needy children and families. It stayed this way for sixty years. There has been several welfare reforms since then that have both improved public assistance and made them worse.
Welfare was set up to help people go from welfare to work. That was the temporary plan. Over time the programs available have increased in size and the amount of money available has increased, and decreased, and increased again.
Some of the early public assistance programs that exist were established to aid the physically or mentally disabled, dependent children, and the elderly.
Today there are a lot of programs out there to help people in need. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. There are at least 80 federally funded programs that include Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps and the earned income tax credit.
There are also benefits for Veterans, the elderly, worker’s compensation, housing assistance, and homeless shelters. You can get help with weatherization, heating, telephone discounts, prescription drug costs, cash assistance, daycare costs, employment training, and even free tax filing. These are just a tiny few of the hundreds of programs available at all three levels of government.
If you have ever filed your taxes and received money for having a child or two or three, then you have received government assistance. Ever had your child enrolled in your State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)? Then you have received public assistance. You may be receiving public assistance now and not even know it.
While there are many programs, there are just as many reasons people accept public assistance.
Who is on Public Assistance?
Famous people have been on some form of welfare at different times. People like Dr. Ben Carson, Moby and Chef Sandra Lee have been on public assistance when they were growing up. These are just a few of the celebrities who grew up poor and on assistance. They are great examples of just how possible it is to overcome adversities in a big way. Being on public assistance has been noted by them as influencing them to be successful in life.
Believe it or not, many people receiving benefits from public assistance programs do work. Their main job just doesn’t pay enough for them to support their entire families. If you don’t have a college degree you qualify for many of the lower paying jobs. It is very hard to support an entire family making minimum wage, which does not seem to keep up with the cost of living across America.
According to research, the majority of people on welfare are women who are single parents. It is understandable that a single mom with more than one child may have more than one job, or may need to utilize public assistance programs.
If that single mom works at least forty hours a week and makes an annual salary of $35,000 before taxes, she will have a hard time providing health insurance, mortgage payments, school needs, daycare, groceries, gas and all of the other expenses involved with raising a healthy family. This single mom may very well need assistance. She could benefit from healthcare assistance if her job does not pay for health insurance for her family. She could benefit from heating assistance in the wintertime. She could benefit from food stamps. She may even want to get a college degree and could benefit from Pell grants.
The government’s intent for these programs is to assist those in need, especially children. Previously, the more kids you have the more money you could get. But this is changing and in some states like Mississippi there is a cap on how much money you can receive. What they do receive is not enough to survive. The government does not pay well, which makes it hard to understand why some people get stuck in the welfare system. Why wouldn’t getting a job be a much better solution than staying stuck in the welfare system that pays very little? For most of us, getting a job would be our only option. However, there are many people that don’t see a way out of public assistance.
People staying on public assistance for longer than five years may have issues more related to their mental health than their need for financial assistance. The majority of people on disability have proven they have a disability, sometimes through legal processes. Their disability may very well be mental health related.
Mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar make it extremely hard to hold down a job for an extended period of time. It is difficult for people with such mental health disorders to control the disorders and maintain a balanced lifestyle due to the many surprises these disorders can bring. So receiving assistance of any kind can make it easier for people with mental illness in all areas of their life. Assistance can make it easier on their family members also by removing some of the stressors that can exacerbate triggers and symptoms.
So it is not that people with mental illness want to be on assistance, but they find it easier on themselves and their family to receive the help. In doing so, they can focus on maintaining their mental health through the medications and doctor appointments required to remain stable.
Mental Illness of Those with Assistance
Many welfare recipients have disabilities related to mental illnesses that become barriers for them to work. Some have multiple barriers or multiple mental health disorders. About 35 percent of the millions of people receiving disability benefits are doing so based on a mental health disorder.
The types of disabilities most likely to get approved for assistance programs include schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, borderline and personality disorders, autism and developmental disorders. These disorders have to be a barrier to a person maintaining successful work experience before they can be awarded any assistance. You have to have faith that the government or state approval process is set up to prevent fraudulent cases. Yes, some people with lesser disabilities fall through the cracks. But for the most part, disability cases are approved through a long and extensive process.
So when you go to Bingo on Friday nights and see many people there who are on welfare or public assistance spending their assistance money gambling, keep in mind that this too may be related to their mental health disability. Gambling and other addictions are controversial these days with many states implementing drug testing for those receiving financial assistance. What they are finding is that the people being tested are passing drug tests, not failing.
It is not the government’s policy to give benefits to people on drugs or alcohol. However, there are many instances where people on disability are addicts, either through self-medicating their mental health issues or physical issues, or just because they are addicts.
Substance Abuse of Those on Assistance
There are many welfare recipients admittedly using drugs and alcohol. This means they are spending their financial assistance on drugs and alcohol, and not on what it is supposed to be used for. This infuriates many people. While addiction is usually related to other mental health disorders, it can still be frustrating for hard-working non-addicts to comprehend that tax payer dollars are helping someone else maintain an addiction.
People who are substance abusers become dependent on assistance programs just as much as they do on their drugs. Addicts don’t usually maintain steady jobs so when they are given public assistance, they have found a way to stay addicted. It’s rare to meet an addict who doesn’t have help in getting their drugs. Whether it is through family members, friends or in some cases, public assistance, people find a way to continue using.
Instead of just being mad about these types of situations and instead of just assuming all people on assistance don’t deserve help, it is time to start stepping up to the plate and making a difference, even if it’s with just one person.
What You Can Do
So now that you know more about public assistance, you can take steps to make a difference rather than just making assumptions about the people who receive assistance.
If you have the ability, offer them a job with decent pay and benefits. Offer them something that pays more than the assistance program pays. Why would anyone go and work forty hours a week for less than they make more money on assistance? Would you do that?
Don’t stigmatize them for being on assistance. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports we can help eliminate mental health stigmas by educating ourselves. We can also start talking about the subject more rather than keeping it hush-hush. Show empathy and compassion and remember that people with mental illness are people first, then all of their other components.
Help them get treatment for their mental health disorder so they feel like going back to work. You can help them by talking to them kindly about what you see and feel regarding their situation. Stand beside them as they walk through this journey.
There are bad seeds in every program. This is true for any type of program out there, not just assistance programs. There are bad priests in the Catholic Church, pilots who drink before flying, teachers who have sex with students and even wives who murder their husbands. Does this mean all priests, pilots, teachers and wives are evil? No, of course not. The same goes for people utilizing the public assistance system.
They are not bad people; they are simply taking advantage of opportunities that may help them have a better life for themselves and their kids. This is something we can all understand and appreciate.