The Ongoing Welfare Argument in Rhode Island


The generosity of Rhode Island’s welfare system is a matter of recurring debate, with taxpayer advocates’ having a general sense that it’s too generous and welfare advocates’ giving the impression that they’re picking points to serve their script.  The latest iteration of the latter comes from Scott MacKay on RIPR.  His first salvo pretty well sets the tone:

Well, let’s start with the basic welfare program that helps the poorest folks in the Ocean State. That’s a program called  Temporary Aid to Needy Families, known by the acronym TANF. The vast majority of these families are single-parent families headed by a single woman. A typical family is a woman with two children. The monthly welfare benefit for such a family is $554 a month, a figure that has not been increased since the 1970s.

MacKay next compares this payment amount to those in other New England states, finding that Rhode Island’s payment is lower than every other state’s in New England except Maine.  First, for clarification, let’s note that it overstates things to say that “the vast majority” of TANF families are single-parent.  Sixty percent are, with another 33% being “zero-parent families” and 7% being two-parent families.  I haven’t found a good definition of “zero-parent families,” but they’re likely children in foster care and teens who, in both cases, have other sources of support.

The more important point, though, comes with MacKay’s comparison to other states.  I looked into this point back in May 2004 and noticed that Rhode Island is slower to reduce benefits for those with other income, which quickly improves Rhode Island’s comparative standing.

Another point I made back then was that it’s too narrow of an analysis to define “welfare” as only the simple cash payments; there are so many other ways that taxpayer dollars flow to social services.  To his credit, MacKay addresses this argument to some degree, giving comparisons for a few other programs, but then he undoes any reasonableness by getting on a high moral horse to spear some straw men, calling on us to “dial down faux rhetoric that demonizes the poor.”

MacKay should dial down the faux rhetoric that demonizes the taxpayer:

  • Who is generous in many ways, including healthcare, education, and more.
  • Who already has the second-highest state and local tax burden in the region.
  • Who has long been struggling to make ends meet in New England’s worst employment environment.
  • Who has a relatively low median income and a struggling middle class.
  • And who has reason to doubt the effectiveness of the state bureaucracy, considering that only 11% of participants in the TANF program are actually fulfilling the program’s theoretical requirement for work or work preparation.

MacKay goes so far as to complain that Governor Raimondo’s budget would remove the extra tax that businesses pay for electricity, but households do not.  That’s shortsighted, inasmuch as every dollar that a business doesn’t have to pay for taxes (or energy) is a dollar that can be spent directly on somebody’s paycheck, or indirectly on employment by growing.

  • Warrington Faust

    This discussion reminds me of the immigration problem we have created, we
    have allowed so many illegal entries that it is no longer reasonable to think of
    deporting them. We can only think of integrating them into our society. Here we
    have a problem that has been with us since Johnson’s “Great Society” of the
    1960’s. Over the course of 50 years we have converted “unwed mothers” to “single
    mothers”, illegitimate children to “fatherless children”. We have introduced the
    idea that children are “profit centers”. There is no real effort to
    require support from the fathers, reality is that they could not provide
    anything approaching the costs. We have created a whole industry, I hear stories
    of non-profits that coach parents on obtaining a crazy check for the kids. I
    think this when I visit a local Dunkin Donuts. I see the same women with 3-4
    children of all different colors, suggesting a multiplicity of fathers. We have
    created a new tier in our society where the idea of advancement is that the
    mother should obtain SS Disability, or one of the children may qualify for a
    “crazy check”. The idea that they are a responsibility for their families was
    severed long ago, they have been accepted as society’s problem. Where an “unwed
    mother” was once unusual, a woman with three, or four, is now ordinary. The
    idea of eliminating an entire social class is no more politically possible than
    deporting 5-10 million illegals or terminating Social Security. That they have
    “rights” is a political reality. “Tightening the reins” will do little, a social revolution is required.

    I cannot begin to endorse this, I offer it only as a “reality check”.

    • Terry Gorman

      All we need do is implement and ENFORCE E-Verify. The Illegal Alien problem, as many as 18,000 currently employed in RI, would resolve itself within 5 years. As with ALL other Social programs it could never be totally eliminated. Unfortunately there is absolutely NO political will to do it . Democrat or Republican will !!!!

  • Mike678

    Cherry-picked arguments and other logical fallacies are grist for the mill for these people.

    • Warrington Faust

      I think I posted about this previously. About 8 months ago, I replaced a roof with a pick up crew of 4 guys. They were all white, relatively well spoken and probably capable of gainful employment. Listening to the conversation about their “baby mommas”. I think I counted about 12 children among them. They laughed about being “pulled in for support” as they were able to show they had no regular income. All seemed to live in “cost free” housing. At least one lived with a grlfriend who had “Section 8″ accomodations. There is a whole culture out there.

      On the other hand, I know a guy in Mass who had his car destroyed in an accident. Before payment, the insurance company had to “check with the state” The entire amount (about $2200) was seized by the state for child support payments he missed almost 20 years ago.He did pay regularly for 17 years. He tells me that the “child” would be 36 now. He has never met him. The child is the result of a single “date” when he was 20. I wonder about that too, meaning grabbing the money 19 years later..

      “Logical fallacies” how about “denying the consequent”.

      • Mike678

        Good one.

        I disagree, however, on your first post, more specifically, the elimination of a class. The “live off of others” is a culture, not a class; it’s a result of 40 years of enabling–the end result of not holding people responsible for their choices. this teaches that they have no responsibility–to be informed. work, civility, etc.. To eliminate the culture, all we need do is remove the incentives. The “class” we need worry about are the bureaucrats and grievance industry jackals that live off the misery they perpetuate.

        • Warrington Faust

          I agree and could fill several pages with examples from real life to support your position. But, I cannot imagine that we could find the political will to combat “it’s for the children”.

  • Ihatesection8

    Most of these “low income” families are purposely not getting married in order to avoid paying for their own insurance. The women are purposely keeping their work hours low. They work the minimum hours to get the big working tax credit which is less than half of my 40 hour week. The women can’t work too many hours because it will mess up their benefits and its sickening. The “low income working family” is really just the dad works and they have 5 ppl living under that 30 k a year. It’s disgusting. I wanna see mom and dad both working like I’ll have to do if I stopped being taxed so much I may be able to afford a home and start a family (the right way) and I will still be working full time so will my husband. I don’t feel bad for them… I know a couple doing this and they just got a 300k house given to them. I’m trying to qualify for a 200k house and it makes me sick. They brag about it and everything. It’s a slap in the face to people who work hard. Why do these losers need to be on the same level as the hard workers?