Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Millions Using Food Stamps—The Functions Of Social Welfare Programs

The New York Times reports that 36 million Americans are using food stamp programs. Here is a portion of the what the story on this subject says—-

“It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs….Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare….While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.”

Here is the full story.

I made a point to use the part of the story that talks about the role former President George W. Bush and Republicans played in making the program more available. I was not aware of this and it was not what I expected to read.

I don’t have any illusions that President Bush and the Republicans who ran Congress for much of his time in office were very nice folks, but sometimes in life you get surprised.

Of course, you never know what people’s motives are.

A book I read some years ago about the history of public benefits for people in need was Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.

Below is an assessment of this book by an Alice Chang. Ms. Chang is an activist and author in Oakland.

I believe that Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare, first released in 1971, is perhaps one of the most important books to read for anyone trying to understand the relationships between welfare policy, poverty and coerced labor. Piven and Cloward expose how welfare policy not only does not give poor people “relief” from poverty, but forces them to accept low-wage, exploitative, dead-end jobs. In fact, Piven and Cloward suggest, poverty policy and practice have historically been coupled with labor practice to accommodate local employers’ demands for cheap labor, particularly in service work and in agriculture. Poverty policy is designed and implemented to serve two basic functions. In times of economic downturn, welfare can be expanded to prevent or quell uprising by unemployed masses. Or, in times of relative economic and political stability, welfare can be contracted to expel people from the rolls, thus ensuring their availability to do low-wage work for local employers. Piven and Cloward describe this second function of welfare policy as ‘enforcing’ low-wage work, and the term is just as useful today in describing the use of so-called ‘welfare-to-work’ policies to coerce working poor people into ever more exploitative low- and no-wage jobs.”

The paragraph above is from the web home of the AFL-CIO. It is from a page on the website called–Books, Films, Plays, and Lessons that Change Lives.

36 million people in a lot of folks. And that is not all the people who would qualify for this program under full enrollment.

I hope President Obama soon takes a more active role in addressing the economic concerns of Americans.

It would be good to hear the President speak about how he thinks Americans will find work in a time when technology is helping employers shed jobs, working people have little money to spend to help fuel the economy, and other nations in the world are entering the global economic mainstream.

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November 30, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Of course W liked “nutritional support”, it’s the biggest corporate welfare program there is. Employers don’t have to pay a living wage cuz the government takes up some of the slack. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those let ‘em starve types. I believe that in a country of our wealth and power no one should be truly hungry. But a great amount of food support goes to working families who are just trying to stay afloat. Shouldn’t the employer pick up the tab?

    I’m also hugely in favor of single payer healthcare. My gf has a MS and an expired LPC. A medical condition which is now much better managed caused her to lose her job and go on disability. She could easily work again in her former field, but the medical costs of her condition make her unisurable and she could never hope to pay these costs out of pocket at any likely salary. So what does she do? She lives on disability and food stamps while working in the underground economy to make ends meet. With single payer she could get a job in her old profession, live a more fulfilled life, and actually pay some taxes.

    Comment by Bacopa | December 1, 2009

  2. Bacopa excellent post. We have a friend whos girlfriend is in the same boat and its very frustrating knowing there is nothing we can do to help them. Single payer is the only solution and we can only hope as hc gets passed it will evolve into single payer sooner than later.

    Comment by bill brady | December 5, 2009

  3. Thanks for both great comments. Not much I can add.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | December 7, 2009


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