America needs welfare programs in these tough times

By C. Nicole Mason, September 20, 2012

Mitt Romney’s latest attack on Americans who are “dependent” on the government is far off the mark.

Today, despite tremendous need and massive employment, less than 1 percent of the population is getting cash assistance from the government. From 2007 until now, only an additional half million women and children have received cash assistance.

Still, Romney blames President Obama for making it easier for people to be on welfare.

Romney has the story wrong. With the exception of funds doled out to states to shore up budget deficits and to support middle-class families who suddenly found themselves in need during the most recession, there have been no significant policy changes or spending on welfare. In fact, since Obama took office, spending on welfare has been about the same as when George W. Bush was president.

So what’s this all about?

It is about trying to drive a wedge between middle-class Americans who are working full time and everyone else. Romney is sowing the seeds of resentment. He wants half of the country to look down upon those who, in his mind, just can’t pull it together to become successful.

And he wants us to believe that if we all just worked hard enough, we wouldn’t need a safety net.

But that is simply not the case. The Great Recession has taken a grave toll across the lower and the middle classes. With high unemployment and job scarcity, all kinds of families have had to tap into government-sponsored programs to make ends meet.

In 2011, for example, close to 46 million — or one in seven people — received food stamps, a marked increased from 2007 when only 26.3 million tapped into the program. And these are not just the “old” poor, but also the “new” poor who are now accessing programs and services because of long spells of unemployment.

Companies haven’t been hiring, so the only way these Americans can feed their families is with food stamps. Romney can call that “dependency” if he wants to, but that’s what government is for: “to promote the general welfare,” as the preamble to our Constitution states, especially when the private sector is not getting the job done.

We have to be honest about our economic reality. Now is not the time to do away with programs that are keeping millions of families afloat.

C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is an Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a senior consultant with the New York Women’s Foundation. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.