Puncturing GOP Welfare Myths: A Starter Kit

Seems that Republican candidates are aiming to make welfare a campaign issue this year as a welcome distraction from, say, the disclosure of one’s tax returns or gifts from the Koch brothers.  Mitt Romney has already earned a “Pants on Fire” citation from PolitiFact for his misrepresentations on the topic. And Scott Brown’s dogwhistlers are hard at work to establish “Elizabeth Warren voter” as a proxy for “welfare recipient.”

So, in anticipation of more such distortions and to help you inoculate yourself against them, here are some basic facts about the welfare programs in our state, starting with the one that got Senator Brown so exercised last week.

  • Food Stamps, also known as SNAP benefits.  Assistance to low-income families to help purchase food.  Income tests vary depending on household composition; a family of three that includes one child must have income under $3182 per month to be eligible.  The maximum grant for a family of three is $526 per month. The average grant is $397. Nationwide (including Massachusetts), about one in seven households now receive SNAP. That number is comparable to the percentage of the American workforce affected by unemployment or underemployment.  The number of households in Massachusetts with incomes under $25,000 annually: 513,000; the number of households receiving food stamp assistance in Massachusetts: 478,000.

In addition to Food Stamps, some Massachusetts families and individuals (but as you can see, far from all)  also receive cash assistance under one of these programs.

  • Cash assistance grants for very-low income families with children.  This is the program most people think of as “welfare.” Maximum grant (for a family of three) is $633 per month.  Adults must meet a work requirement and assistance under this program is limited to two years unless the adult recipient is disabled. Number of families receiving this assistance: 51,222 (representing less than two percent of the state’s population). Despite the recession, this number is not much higher than it was during the Romney administration. Fewer than half of the families in poverty in the state receive this assistance.
  • Cash assistance grants for very-low income disabled persons, elders, and children. Maximum grant is $304 per month. Number of individuals receiving this assistance: 24,871 (representing less than one-half of one percent of the state’s population).
  • State supplements to federal Social Security payments for elders and people who are blind or disabled. Average grant amount (grants vary depending on living arrangements) is $100 per month. Number of individuals receiving this assistance: 194,506 (representing less than three percent of the state’s population).

Need more facts and figures? Requests welcome under “Comments.”

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