Busting welfare myths

Sharon Parks

Last week I attended a press conference that launched a statewide campaign to combat myths about welfare in Michigan.  The campaign is led by the Michigan Department of Human Services and is intended to reduce the widespread negative misperceptions about the welfare system and those who receive assistance. 

Given Michigan’s wretched economy, it should be a no-brainer that lots of folks in this state are in need of assistance right now.  Nevertheless, the stereotypes that have persisted over the more that three decades that I’ve been involved in this issue, are still widely held today. 

It wasn’t always so.  When the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was created in the 1940s it was viewed as a humane and just way to ensure that widows and their children were not destitute after the husband and father died. Somewhere along the way, attitudes changed as the divorce rate rose and poor women without earnings could not support their children.

At the press conference various speakers talked about how Michigan’s cash assistance and other programs help families meet their basic needs, how the dollars from this program are spent in local communities and help to maintain jobs, and how even the small amount of fraud (yes, it is small) that occurs in the program is aggressively investigated.  The speakers also expressed concern that the public’s negative views of our assistance programs create a powerful stigma that prevents people in need from seeking help.   

What wasn’t said at the press conference is that these negative perceptions are not just alive and well with the general public, but with our elected officials as well.  That’s why a mom with two children must be 44 percent below the federal poverty level to qualify for cash assistance.  That’s why the maximum cash assistance grant for this mom and her children is a meager $492 per month—66 percent below the poverty level.  That’s why less than one-third of children in poverty in Michigan are covered by our cash assistance program today, compared with more than two-thirds during the period from 1979 to 1996. 

Heaven forbid that we would have done something to strengthen our safety net when the state had the resources.  Yes, we need to educate the public about welfare and encourage people who need help to come forward.  I just wish we had more to offer in the way of a safety net during these extremely difficult times.

— Sharon Parks

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2 Responses to Busting welfare myths

  1. Heidi says:

    Thank you for posting this. I came across this post while looking for information about FIP, and it made me feel much better about applying for the assistance. We’ve (Me, husband & 1 yr old daughter) have been on food stamps for a while, but yet I have resisted going for the FIP partially because of the stigma attached to it. Now however, I’m at a point where I feel I don’t have a choice, and wish that I would have taken action sooner.

    I’ve been unemployed since Dec. 2008, a rarity for me as I’ve been a solid worker since I was 15 years old back in my home state of FL, sometimes even working 2 part time jobs while in high school….just because I wanted to be busy. Now at 26, I’ve applied everywhere and for everything, from McDonalds to Office Positions which I’m highly qualified for with no luck. We’re living off of my husbands $674 SSI check every month and its been a nightmare to try and dance around figuring out who’s going to get paid and who’s not every month.

    I honestly belive that by being on FIP assistance, it will save us from being evicted, and will lower the stress level for me enough that I can better focus on my college education so that I am able to one day fully support my family.

    I think people need to open their eyes and learn that there are a lot of situations in which people never dream that they will end up on welfare, but its that welfare that will keep them from ending up on the streets. And, aren’t we supposed to care enough about people to not let that happen?

  2. cass says:

    I don’t think the amount you will get will really be of much help. The truth is in MI low income families “NEEDS” are not being met.. People are turning more and more to crime just to survive. This is why the crime rate is so high in some cities. There is enough to pay rent , but as far as any other bills , your lucky if you make it. Cost of water has gone up, consumers energy about kills you, forget TV who can afford comcast,. Then there is gas for the car, thats gone up also. People are poor and the price for “EVERYTHING” just keeps getting higher.. Do not be fooled that NEEDS are being met for the poor. yes they can get help but not enough to at least meet their needs any more..

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