Debunking the “Welfare Queen” Stereotype

In a recent article entitled “Big Changes Aimed at Welfare” in the (Augusta) Kennebec Journal, Sabattus Representative Stephen J. Wood relayed negative inferences he drew from observing a shopper who used a “government-issued benefit card” to pay for her groceries.  This tale is reminiscent of the “welfare queen” story Ronald Reagan often told on the campaign trail.  “Based on his experience,” the article states, “Wood has proposed legislation, LD 75, to prevent people from taking cash out against their food supplement benefits.”

It is this kind of policy-by-anecdote that Families in Focus: Moving Beyond Anecdotes, puts clearly in its proper perspective.  The report is from MECEP partner organizations, The Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Equal Justice Partners. in collaboration with the University of New England and the University of Maine. Based on a survey mailed to 6,382 randomly selected Maine Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) households with a 17% response rate, “this research examines the lives of Maine TANF families in the context of their experience in the labor market, coping with a disability, and in the aftermath of domestic violence and other family-related crises.” 

Among the 2010 survey respondents, the median length of time on the program was 18 months,” the report states. “The average family size is 1.7 children and only 12 percent of TANF families that were entitled to receive child support actually received it regularly.”  The maximum TANF benefit, which hasn’t increased since 2001, is $485.

For an overview of the report check out an op ed column in today’s Portland Press Herald entitled “Aid for needy families supports those who work and have kids,” written by Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin, co-director of the Center for Research and Evaluation at the University of New England’s School of Social Work and one of the study’s authors.