So, Who Are The Welfare Junkies?


So much misdirected anger.

Over at Daily Kos, Zwoof has seen a rash of chain emails about “welfare junkies” who are “drug-fueled slackers.” Obligingly, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has introduced the Welfare Reform Act of 2011 to discipline deadbeats on food stamps.

This is old news. It is Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” (1976) revisited. It is the Lee Atwater/Roger Ailes revolving door, “Willie Horton” campaign ads from 1988. It is the right blaming hurricane victims in New Orleans’ poor, Lower Ninth Ward in 2005 for not leaving town in their SUVs and checking into Shreveport or Dallas hotels until Hurricane Katrina blew herself out. It is conservatives blaming the 2008 financial meltdown on the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. The government, you see, forced private mortgage lenders and Wall Street to fatten themselves on CDOs built from the “liar loans” they invented and sold to shiftless poor people. In the United Kingdom, it is BBC’s 2010 “The Scheme,” a series critics described as “poverty porn,” depicting welfare recipients that London’s tabloid Daily Mail calls “welfare junkies” (Well, what do you know?) and “foul-mouthed, lazy scroungers, cheats, layabouts, drunks, drug addicts” leeching off “the goodwill of taxpayers.”

In 2012, it is Newt Gingrich again calling President Obama “the best food stamp president in American history” at appearances last week in New Hampshire:

“And so I’m prepared if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” Gingrich said earlier today in Plymouth, N.H.

Echoing Lee Atwater, Gingrich again denied any tinge of racism in his phrasing. “This is not an attack … It’s not negative, it’s a fact.” But Newt knows his Republican base grinds its teeth to nubs over the thought that a lesser someone, somewhere is getting something for nothing from programs that government thugs force god-fearing conservatives to pay for with money they earned with no help from anyone anywhere since being born in little log cabins that they built themselves.

Which brings us to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. Food stamps. In 2009, the New York Times reported, “Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.” In 2009, 94 percent of the program’s budget was spent on benefits. Thirty-two percent of recipients were white, 22 percent were African American, 16 percent Hispanic. Forty-seven percent of recipients were children. Another forty-four percent were nonelderly, working-age adults (ages 18 to 59), and nearly two-thirds of those were women. The rest were 60 years-old or older. SNAP provided food assistance to about 40 million Americans at a cost of $53.6 billion, 1.7 percent of $3.1 trillion in federal expenditures. (FY 2009 budget figures used for consistency among available data sets.)

Just for comparison, the Pentagon had a “base” budget of $515 billion in 2009 to staff and maintain 545,000 facilities at 5,300 sites both in the United States and around the globe (not including tens of billions in GWOT supplementals and other off-budget and “black” budget costs). Thus, it is not easy to determine how much all U.S. security agencies spend on defense annually, nor to separate out how much the Pentagon alone spends just to maintain the offshore portion of our global empire. But drawing on various sources, assumptions, and the fact that one-quarter of U.S. troops are stationed abroad, the Institute for Policy Studies estimated the 2009 costs of our overseas operations (wars included) at $250 billion annually “to maintain troops, equipment, fleets, and bases overseas.”

So, the Pentagon spent almost half of its “base” budget, or (at least) 8 percent of the FY 2009 federal budget to maintain 865 or more military bases scattered among the world’s nearly 200 countries outside the United States. And many of those outposts are in countries most Americans cannot even name or find on a map. Strategic planner Thomas P.M. Barnett (“The Pentagon’s New Map“) calls security America’s greatest export commodity.

Now, if there is something else besides personal weakness conservatives cannot abide, it is deadbeats. So one wonders why they focus so much of their ire on the moral hazard of providing food assistance to American compatriots (mostly children) when they pay five times as much on a wide, multicultural world that sleeps under the very blanket of security they provide, and for which the rest of the world pays nothing.

(Cross-posted from Dirty Hippies.)


  1. Andrew Dahm says:

    Another interesting way to look at the “welfare queen” thing is transfer payments. Hard-working ranchers in Wyoming and Montana pay far less in taxes than they receive in subsidies and other transfer payments. In fact, it’d be useful to do a red-black map – states that pay more in federal taxes than they receive in benefits could be red, and those that are suckling at the federal teat could be black.

    I’d be willing to place a wager that dependent states vote right, not left, more often than not.

  2. John says:

    Why is no one bringing up the fact that SNAP – while functioning as welfare – is an excellent way for food producers to move more food before freshness dates require stores to throw it out. Put simply, it’s just another farm subsidy only with a layer of consumer choice built into it.

    I suspect this about nothing. Our food production systems always produce more supply than there is demand in the U.S. And we throw out a lot of food as it sits now even with SNAP. I don’t think this a big secret. Do we really expect the government to allow food to go to waste rather than allot monies for distribution to the needy? I doubt it.