The United States of Welfare: Handouts vs. Helping Hand?

The following article was originally written for Millennial Influx.  

Welfare (n):  the state of being happy, healthy, or successful

When our nation was founded patriotically on July 4th 1776, it courageously declared to protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  Flash forward two centuries later, men and women on the urban streets are unhappy, poor, unemployed, and unsuccessful.  That is the description of an American welfare program recipient.  Is this what our founding fathers imagined the future of America to be?

Before diving into contentious waters, we need to answer the question – What is Welfare?

The word “welfare” describes a healthy state of well-being, security, prosperity, and fortune, however, American politics and culture has associated its meaning with the Welfare Program, a system in which families in need are provided assistance through governmental programs like food stamps and TANF.  The word gets thrown around excessively during presidential elections and debates that not only affects people in need of aid, but also you and me – the American taxpayers.

Though numerous presidential promises have been made, the problem has yet to be solved.  No one is happy with American welfare policies, and no one has come up with a practical solution.

And we continue to condemn welfare recipients.

Most Americans have a negative perception towards welfare recipients, and deem them as able-bodied people who are “undeserving” and too “lazy” to find a job.  The act of bashing welfare recipients took off during the Reagan administration, when former President Reagan created the “Welfare Queen”, denouncing Linda Taylor, a woman who committed welfare fraud, cheated the system and lived off of government handouts.  Taylor made up over 80 names and 30 addresses and successfully collected food stamps, social security, and many other benefits by creating nonexistent individuals.  To this day, the public refers to terms such as Reagan’s “welfare queen”, “poverty pimp” and many more derogatory expressions to describe those who abuse the social welfare system.

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Though welfare recipients who cheat the system such as Linda Taylor exist, we tend to forget that the welfare program also includes, in large part, children and the disabled, who are unable to support themselves and still need protection and aid.  Many welfare recipients who are able-bodied, despite popular opinion, strenuously attempt to get off the welfare program as soon as possible.  They are ashamed of their distressed state and would do anything to rid themselves of the resentful stigma.  Nonetheless, parents who have children desperately need a source of aid in order to start in the workplace.  Real people need these welfare programs to get back up on their feet – a boost to give them a head start.  And they have their success stories too.

Americans want to help the poor, but they hate the welfare system.

They imagine their hard work in taxpayer dollars going towards welfare recipients who sit around and wait for their monthly handout.  At the same time, that money is protecting a child from abuse and hunger, and giving those in need a chance to succeed and “pursue happiness”.

So how do we, Evangelical millennials, respond to this conundrum?

And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. -Micah 6:8

We have been taught to become lights of the world and to help those in oppression and need.  We hate injustice.

In a fallen world, there are people who abuse the system excessively, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.  Yet we tend to lump welfare recipients into one condescending description: “able-bodied, lazy cheaters”.

When will helping become harming?  Is there such thing as helping too much?  Where is the line drawn between a helping hand and a handout?

The biggest fear of being a source of aid to those in need is the potential that recipients would develop dependency on assistance.  Statistically, it has been shown that those who are opposed to welfare believe that the welfare program broadens the potential of dependency on the part of the recipient.  In the extreme case of Linda Taylor, such is true.

Our responsibility is to care for those in honestly dire situations and listen to their stories.

Yes, there are people who depend on cheating off of the social welfare system for a living, but there are also people who want to live an honest life, and are willing to rely on the Lord as their backbone before standing back up again.  God’s presence is most apparent in life’s most hopeless circumstances, and we are called to love and interact with those in need.

For those of us who don’t need to worry when our next meal will be – We should be encouraged to reach out, love, and graft ourselves among those in need.

Stop condemning welfare recipients and the needy – hate injustice, and love mercy.

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