Government Assistance Paradox

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times indicates that in California, only 42% of those eligible for food stamps are actually receiving the benefit.  The article further states that California is 51st in the nation in its ranking among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Conversely, Tennessee has the highest percentage with 92%.  The article further identifies that Tennessee, unlike California, has the legislative and executive branches of government controlled by Republicans.

The article stated that the program requirements were different between the two states and that perhaps California’s requirements were too stringent.  These requirements were put into place to help cut down on fraud and has resulted in a lower participation rate.  The article further went on to talk about how these are “free” dollars, that are funded out of federal tax dollars, can help the State’s economy.  It was mentioned that the California state legislature recently passed changes to the program, to lessen the requirements, in an effort to increase the number of program enrollees.

The requirements to get food stamp assistance should be difficult (as well as other forms of government assistance).  There should be very stringent eligibility requirements to encourage people to get on and stay on the program only as long as they need it and to prevent fraud.  Further, these are NOT “free” dollars to the State as the article indicates.  The citizens of California pay taxes and these tax dollars could go to other programs or could potentially go back into the pockets of the tax payers or even pay down the Federal debt.

Another factor, that could potentially explain the lower participation rate, is the entrepreneurial culture of California.  I have lived in California for over 10 years and the people in the state work hard, start businesses, do what it takes to support their families and thrive.  The article ignores this fact.  Perhaps the biggest reason California has a low participation rate is they get help from family and friends, other private organizations or they roll up their sleeves and work a little bit harder.

Having a low participation rate should not be considered a bad thing.  It should not be considered a problem that has to be fixed.  Turning back or not spending all the available Federal tax dollars should not be considered bad for the State or its citizens.  We need to have tough requirements that cuts down on fraud and that makes sure only the most needly can qualify.  The food stamp program is a safety net, not a permanent crutch that people should become dependent on.

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