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A thread on welfare, from a kid who grew up on food stamps.

Original twitter thread post by Kylo Fren

Okay you want to talk about a welfare safety net? Let’s talk about a welfare safety net. A thread on welfare, from a kid who grew up on food stamps.


There are 83 overlapping federal welfare programs, and all of them together make up the largest budget item in the US. This is all means-tested welfare that excludes Medicaid and Social Security, the total comes out to about 1.03 trillion.

Welfare Types.jpg

For comparison, Social Security cost $725 billion, non-war defense cost $540 billion, and Medicare cost $480 billion. (All of these numbers are from a Senate Budget Committee Report in 2011)

With all of these programs, and all of this spending, this system must be working well, right? Well not really. Let’s look at a breakdown of four “welfare” programs, TANF, SNAP, WIC, and SSI.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the program most people refer to as “welfare.” In 2016, TANF assisted only 23% of families living in poverty. On average, it gave families of three $447 a month, but depending on where you live, that number can be as low as $170 or as high as $1038. For a single person on TANF, you’re lucky to get about $300. And despite this help, many families still lived below the poverty line. So TANF is ineffective.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is more commonly known as food stamps. The average person on SNAP received between $126-$134 a month. But this is food stamps, which means you can’t use this money on:


SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy:

  • Any non-food item, such as pet foods; soaps, paper products, and household supplies; grooming items, toothpaste, and cosmetics

  • Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco

  • Vitamins and medicines

  • Any food that will be eaten in the store

  • Hot Foods


So if your car breaks down and you can’t get to work, or if you have to buy your kid shoes to walk to school, or if you have to pay a bill, you’re out of luck.

I’d like to point out you can’t buy alcohol or tobacco on SNAP, so please quit with that ‘lazy drunk poor’ stereotype.


Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is sort of like food stamps for mothers. You can only be on WIC for a year after your child is born, and it gives you vouchers for specific foods, mostly for your infant.

This program is worth somewhere between $47 and $61 on average to women. Yeah, that little. You can get WIC if you’re pregnant, postpartum, or if you have a child under five that is at “nutritional risk.” So, you can’t help your kid until they’re starving.

Finally, let’s look at Social Security Income (SSI). To get SSI you have to be 65 or older, or blind, or disabled, and you must have limited income and resources. The difference between SSDI and SSI is that SSDI is available to those who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits. SSI is for individuals who have never worked or haven’t earned enough credits. The average payout for someone on SSI is $536 a month for adults, $647 for kids.

So let’s say in some crazy scenario, you manage to get on all these programs at once. (Which would be near impossible). Your monthly income would be $1,033 - BEST CASE SCENARIO. And $195 of that is mandatorily going to pre-approved government food items.

This doesn’t take into account scenarios where a family of three is getting $170 on TANF. It also doesn’t take into account how long it takes to get on these programs: TANF - 45 days SNAP - 30 days WIC - up to a week SSI - 30 days to 2 years Normally, it takes longer.

I remember hearing that on average it takes 2 months for people to get full benefits, which would fit in with my experience but I can’t cite that, so take that with a grain of salt.

So where does Andrew Yang’s UBI fit into this? Well, a $1,000 a month is only $33 less than our imaginary scenario where you are a geriatric or disabled pregnant woman who has waited two months to get benefits. Most likely, you would be getting $1,000 or less currently.


So let’s talk about this last thing. If you read all the descriptions for the programs, you would notice a trend. All of these programs you can only get if you are making too little, if you don’t have a job, or if you have kids.


So let me ask you, why would you risk losing your benefits that you’ve waited months to be on, for a 40-hour work week at minimum wage, which would get you $1160 a month? That’s assuming you have transportation, and that you somehow landed a full time 40 hour work week job.


Which is hard to find if all you have is a high school diploma, or a GED, especially if you have kids. If the minimum wage was raised to $15 you could make $2400 a month, again, at a miraculous 40 hour job, within transportation distance, even with a child or infant.


This is why poverty is cyclical. Can’t get benefits without a job, can’t find a job that pays better than your benefits, can’t get better benefits without a kid, can't work a job once you have a kid. If you could work AND get that $1,000 a month, a lot more people could escape systemic poverty and being on welfare. Everyone wants to say that welfare is a safety net, it’s not. It’s a glue trap that’s impossible to get out of.


Finally, raising the minimum wage won’t help, because companies will get around it easily by automation, moving to other countries, or paying only for part time work in part time positions so they don’t have to pay benefits. Again, you can’t get welfare if you’re working.


A federal jobs guarantee would be great if it wasn’t inefficient, and didn’t force people to work for the government to live. It also doesn’t help those who are on disability and can’t work, which is another argument I see against Andrew Yang’s UBI.


Even though his Freedom Dividend would stack on OASDI, UI, SSDI and VA disability. The FJG does not help the people on these programs but a UBI does help. So please, please, please stop defending the “social safety net.” It doesn’t help.

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