Even in the 21st century, it is often taboo for someone to discuss or disclose their use of one or more of these programs, and many would consider people who utilize these benefits to be lazy or incompetent. However, real statistics reveal that the demographics of people who utilize these government assistance programs spread across all genders, ethnicities, political party affiliations and household incomes. In other words, these programs are not just for elderly, poor people and minority groups. Nonetheless, these programs are crucial resources for helping people in times of financial difficulty.
As the child of a single mother, living with my single grandmother, I learned the importance of these programs to our family’s well-being early in life. Since my mother was a single parent, with three children and made less than a certain annual income a year, we were eligible for TANF and food stamps. Food stamps helped my mother to purchase food for us monthly and allotted a certain amount of money to go towards expenses for my brothers and me each month. Without the assistance of these programs, life would have been much harder for us.
After my mother passed my freshman year of high school, the burden of care fell on my grandmother. Unfortunately, she lost the job she had worked at for nearly 30 years due to downsizing and she qualified for unemployment benefits. Again, without this program’s assistance, I am not sure if my grandmother would have been able to keep a roof over our heads and food in the refrigerator.
I also have a cousin who is single and had a baby by rape. She was still completing high school and only had a part time job at a department store. She was eligible for TANF and food stamps, and as a result taking care of her child as a single mother with a low-income, was made possible. Unfortunately, circumstances like these are realities for many households in the United States, but fortunately we have these government assistance programs to help alleviate some costs for families, provide care for young children, the disabled, the unemployed, those in need of health insurance and the elderly.
Though these programs are in existence, there is still room for improvement and expansion of who is eligible for these benefit programs and how much assistance they can receive. Thankfully, immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens can still apply for these benefits for their children. Permanent residents, refugees and asylees can also be eligible for these benefit programs in some cases (http://www.welcomingcenter.org/immigrants/public-benefits). In some states same-sex marriage couples are eligible for these government benefit programs, but many states have yet to adopt these policies.
Ex-offenders can be refused the opportunity to utilize these resources. However, refusing someone who was just released from prison any initial assistance, and with the government’s permission for almost any place of employment to refuse to hire them—this then increases prison recidivism or re-entry rates. The more people that are in our prison system, the more money taxpayers will have to pay in the long run. Therefore, it would be less expensive to allow an ex-offender to utilize some of these programs anywhere from 6 months to a year, than to deny them and promote recidivism.
However, the federal government does provide assistance for ex-felons through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit or WOTC Program. WOTC seeks to encourage employers to hire those who have difficulty finding jobs. “Employers must hire an ex-felon within one year under this program’s guidelines and in return the employer gets a tax break (http://mygrantadvisor.com/assistance-for-ex-felons/).” The U.S. Department of Labor also has an Employment Information Handbook for Ex-Offenders.
I am glad to see that the Federal government and government regulated institutions recognize the limitations of government assistance programs and are diligently seeking to improve the programs’ policies or at least offer outside resources. In order to continue to improve the availability of government assistance programs, government elected officials, union groups and advocacy groups must continue to identify downfalls within these programs and work towards promoting change. For example communities, unions and advocacy groups can call up their local government representative (i.e. mayor, governor) and request that a bill be proposed for that state to implement the desired benefits. People who have been initially denied from government assistance programs can seek to put in appeals, however, the only downside to this is that appealing is a time consuming process and the person or family can suffer in the meantime.
Realistically, improvements and ratifications to government programs can and often do take years to establish, however, we must continue to utilize our democratic system and push for the services we truly need. As these government benefit programs assist people in need, they ultimately help keep the nation afloat as money can continue to circulate from the government to the families and back into the government and economy.