Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot more use of the so-called EBT card, probably because I’d never heard much of it until a couple months ago. I knew there was a food card, but I didn’t know the specifics. There was the young man in the gas station trying to withdraw cash with one, then someone who stopped by and tried to sell me premium steak, and when I said I couldn’t afford to pay so much for meat he asked whether I had an “EBT” (that’s the first time I heard the term). Just the other day, I picked up a pizza at a local pizza place, and noticing how empty it was remarked on the slow business. The manager said “it’s because they’ve all run down their EBT money by this time of the month.”
Maybe I’m naïve, but it’s been an eye-opener to see how widespread the use of supplemental food assistance is. I must be a real chump, because when I was dead broke after divorce I made heavy use of my crockpot and subsisted on beans and rice for the most part, losing over 35 pounds in the process (sadly, I’ve gained most of it back). And here I could have been eating roast beef and artisan bread pretty much every day…
What’s sad about this program is that the need for welfare at the level it’s currently used is largely the state’s fault. In order to prop up our “equal” utopia we’ve structured society so that working people are having a harder time getting by on a full-time paycheck even as their jobs disappear. Add the destruction of the family and costs are even higher. Working class people and below are now at the point where they really do need state support to live an adequate modern lifestyle, which includes a car, medical and dental, a place to stay and food on top of the rest. It didn’t have to be this way, but here we are.
Any attempt to cut social costs is going to involve one of two things, or both:
1. We are going to have to drop the pretense of equality
2. We are going to have to cut people’s support across the board
The implications of 1 are that people are going to have to settle for what may not be their ideal lifestyle. Enforcing an equivalence between a married mother and a single mother is very costly, and involves state costs for the father(s), mother, children, lawyers, social workers and jails. The EBT, section 8 and other programs are essentially a subsidy to single motherhood and illegitimacy. Family law is a subsidy to courts, jails, child support agencies, etc. The taxpayer foots the bill in all cases.
As an example, say a woman gets pregnant and has a kid with some babydaddy, their relationship falls apart or never was much to begin with, and the process begins. First, the court puts a child support order on the father. Often, he can’t pay, or it isn’t much. On top of the CS, his living expenses go up, and he is now unable to pay for necessities. The father, although he won’t get nearly as much as the mother, will have to apply for some support in the form of medicaid and/or SNAP to make it possible to pay his CS. Or he’ll potentially be jailed, costing the taxpayers another $30,000 per year or so.
The mother will not be making much with a baby or two, so she’ll get WIC, EBT cash benefits, section 8 and so on. It all adds up to a lot of money, and in the meanwhile you’ve got to pay the social workers, courts and so on.
However, say the mother and father stay together. They may need some support from time to time – say WIC when the children are infants – but in aggregate it will be far, far less than if they hadn’t stayed together. And in fact they will be eligible for less if they do stay together. On a very simple level, it makes sense: two-parent families don’t need as much support, so they shouldn’t be eligible for as much. But this obtusely ignores human nature. When you privilege one group of people with subsidies, the others will make efforts to join them.
Even well-to-do young families with income differentials between father and mother are beginning to get on the bandwagon. I know a young man with a good job, a wife, and a baby who refuses to get married legally because it would increase their expenses significantly. His baby’s mother is in fact his wife as we understand the term. She’s a good one, too, raised on a self-sustaining family farm by a traditional Catholic family. But if they get married legally her health insurance costs go through the roof, and they won’t be able to pay the mortgage and other important bills. She works, but doesn’t make much money, so she gets subsidized healthcare because she isn’t ‘married’.
The setup is totally counterproductive, as it’s guaranteed that every dollar spent will only result in increased costs in the future, because the welfare system is structured to encourage people to pursue the most socially costly lifestyles. Not only does it encourage high-cost choices such as single motherhood; it actively penalizes people for making socially responsible choices. This is a disaster in the making.
Reform would be easy practically speaking, but politically it would be very difficult at this point, thanks in large part to feminism and the politics of female sexual liberation.
One thing I’d propose would be structuring welfare so that two-parent households had access to better benefits than singles. Perhaps cash benefits should only be granted when both parents live together with the child, section 8 only to two-parent households (widows exempted of course) and so on. All mothers and children should be at least fed, clothed, doctored and sheltered – we have enough for that these days – but that should be about it if they are single mothers by choice. Even if we gave more to two parent households than we currently do, it would amount to less on a case by case basis than both parents cost when separate today. Actually, it would probably be significantly less than one single mother costs.
On top of that, a two-parent household is better for kids by all measures, which means the kids are less likely to end up in jail or on welfare themselves. The stability of the home would be more conducive to productive work, would decrease promiscuity and its associated costs, and would soon lead to far lower social costs. It would be the right thing to do, so why not do it?
Sometimes I get so cynical I almost believe there’s a concerted effort on the part of higher ups to keep people down by wrecking families, creating dysfunction when it’s unnecessary and so on. But that’s too complicated. The real reason it’s happening is that some people can profit from this, and they have created powerful interest groups, such as our courts, the AMA, feminist groups, bar associations and so on to perpetuate the scam. It’s all about the same old sins: greed (on the top) and lust (at the bottom). People find a way to game the system, consequences be damned, and they just keep at it as long as the getting’s good.
At its root, the welfare system, like so much else that characterizes the US today, is just another enormous racket. Ordinary Americans, as usual, are the victims.