As Congress and some candidates in Kentucky debate the value of federal benefits to people, a new study out of The University of California offers some surprising findings about just who receives those benefits.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans who receive help from programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) are members of working families, living in households where where adults earn wages so low they qualify for such assistance.
Of the total $226.8 billion a year in federal benefits, more than half of that, $127.8 billion a year, goes to families where someone is earning a paycheck, according to the study from the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.
About 52 percent are fast food workers, 46 percent are child care workers, 48 percent are home care workers and 25 percent are parttime college instructors, the study found.
Thus, taxpayers not only are helping the poor, they are providing an enormous subsidy to employers ranging from giant corporations to small businesses that offer low wages, part-time work and few or no benefits.
“This is the hidden cost of low-wage work,” Ken Jacobs, a co-author of the report, told The New York Times.
These findings come as House Republicans in Congress offer a proposed budget that includes massive cuts in such programs including billions of dollars in cuts to food stamps, which help more than 800,000 Kentuckians get enough to eat.
House Republicans also want to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, which now helps more than 500,000 Kentuckians obtain health coverage. The study found that even before the federal health law took full effect, more than half of Americans with Medicaid benefits worked at least part-time but were still poor enough to qualify for the health program.
Stereotypes about “welfare queens” and slackers sponging off the government persist but this study finds that the majority of those who benefit from government programs — 73 percent — are members of working families.
The solution is not to strip support from such families. Rather, government efforts should focus on creating a better-prepared workforce and better-paying jobs.
If Congress wants to cut welfare, it should start with cutting corporate welfare.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville