I was talking to a friend who had registered for unemployment because they’d recently lost their job due to the shutdown caused by the Corona Virus. What she told me about the process to receive an unemployment check gave me hope that the government support programs were changing in a positive way. Unfortunately, I misunderstood what she said, and my hopes were dashed. However, the conversation revived a view I have held for many years and that is the topic of this blog.

I initially understood that she had to earn $450 a week before unemployment kicked in to give her an additional $600.00 a week. The implication was that, if she didn’t do anything, she wouldn’t get the $600 a week from the Government. The reality was she couldn’t earn more than $450 a week if she wanted to qualify for the $600. Not exactly the same thing. However, that mistake made me think what would happen if my misunderstanding was, in fact, the reality of the unemployment rules.

Why couldn’t the rules say that you had to earn at least $450 a week, but no more than $750 a week, to qualify for the Government’s unemployment payment of $600. That would be an incentive to find some sort of work rather than a dis-incentive. There are obviously extenuating circumstances with the economic crisis caused by Covid 19 but, conceptually, would be a different way of handling Government support. You have to do something to earn government support not just sit on your ass waiting for a handout. Obviously there are many cases where circumstances would mean this approach would result in major hardship but I think this approach to support should be the base with appropriate modifications for particular circumstances. Not the other way around, where there is no incentive to take the initiative to look for some sort of work.

These thoughts then spilled over into the concept of welfare programs. Why not say that, if you are capable of work of some sort, then, in order to receive welfare/food stamp payments you have to work for the good of the community to earn it. If you refuse, you receive no payments.

Every community has things that need to be done: planting trees, sweeping the streets, community building projects, maintenance of recreational facilities as well as a myriad of office work to name just a few. I am not talking about replacing existing jobs but adding to them. Many times there is no money in the community to pay people but there is often some money to pay for materials, or local businesses can be persuaded to donate them. Making perfectly capable people “earn” their welfare checks could contribute significantly to community development as well as encouraging the people themselves to have pride in their community and themselves. It might also encourage them to get off the welfare rolls. Five and six generations of a family on welfare and mothers having more children just to increase their benefits is not sustainable or responsible for any country.

Unfortunately, the politics of welfare in the U.S. is completely divisive. Republicans, in general, would rather get rid of all welfare programs completely. As a staunch-republican once told me, before I came to the U.S., “America doesn’t want poor people”. For Democrats, in general, welfare is a sacred cow that cannot be touched. They fought very hard to pass the laws governing it and they will fight just as hard to stop anyone messing with their victory.

I have little confidence that these positions will change or edge closer to each other and that means little will change in the near term. However, the concept of work for welfare, unemployment and other Government support programs, for those capable of working, is a concept that deserves close scrutiny and, hopefully, positive action.

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