Perhaps we can get liberals and conservatives to agree on one thing when it comes to the nation's welfare system - something has to change.
That doesn't mean end welfare altogether. There is something compassionate and, frankly, something American about having a safety net for those among us who truly need help getting by. Americans take care of our own and should continue to do so.
However, a recent Cato Institute study should provide more than enough reason for consensus about the need for change. In New York state, a welfare recipient who takes advantage of all the programs available would bring in the equivalent of a job at $21.01 an hour, or roughly $43,700 a year. The study also shows the welfare benefits package available, a number that totals $38,004, is 194.6 percent of the federal poverty level.
We have gone from taking care of our own to paying people not to work, and it comes at a cost. The federal government funds 126 separate programs targeted toward low-income people, including 72 that provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals. Welfare programs cost federal taxpayers $668.2 billion each year, with another $284 billion spent on state and local programs. Perhaps most interesting is that the problem could actually be worse since not all welfare recipients receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.
What should be even more galling to taxpayers is that the situation isn't new. The 2013 Cato Institute study is a follow-up to a 1995 study that showed the value of welfare benefits greatly exceed the poverty level and that, because welfare benefits are tax-free, their dollar value was greater than the amount of take-home income a worker would receive from an entry-level job. It is obvious that little has changed in the 18 years between studies.
Locally, there are jobs available for which, either by choice or lack of education, there is no local labor force. There are local efforts to bridge that employability gap and decrease the local reliance on welfare programs. There are also local efforts to increase welfare-to-work participation and to find ways to ease the transition from welfare programs while people are earning benefits like health insurance at a job. Local communities across the nation are fighting a similar fight - and it's pretty obvious they need help from New York state and their federal representatives.
There will always be a segment of the population unable to work who needs the safety net America provides, and not even the most conservative citizens in our midst want to see those who truly need assistance cast aside. Still, a strong message should be sent that America prefers work over welfare.