A coalition of advocates for the poor want political candidates to stop "bashing" people who receive welfare. They say recent political ads are "misinformed, misleading and demeaning to the thousands of Utahns struggling to provide for their families under difficult economic circumstances."
In a letter sent Wednesday to all candidates for state-level and congressional offices, the 14-agency coalition said "suggesting the welfare system and the families who receive assistance are somehow to blame for the nation's economic problems shows a lack of understanding about the real problems facing our country. Perpetuating myths and stereotypes which suggest that people on welfare do not share the same values, work ethic and desire to be as economically self-sufficient as other Americans is not only offensive and divisive, it is inaccurate."Cindy Haag, Office of Family Support director, believes candidates running for national office may be looking at "the big picture," but the people who will elect them are looking at the state's programs and that they are placing blame.
"What's upsetting to Utah's population is we've been involved in self-sufficiency for years. We really focus on that. People don't want to be on welfare. The problem is finding jobs with high enough pay and benefits to go off assistance. It may take a couple of raises and a job change to get totally off assistance," Haag said.
David, a single father with four children ages 2 to 7, receives public assistance while he cares for his children and attends school. "These commercials give the message not to hate or fix the system, but hate the individual. It's difficult enough to keep my head up without someone trying to get my neighbors to hate me because I need help for a while."
The letter says if candidates do their homework they will discover:
- Most welfare recipients are children. One in five American kids lives in poverty.
- About half of all parents on welfare work or are involved in self-sufficiency activities.
- "Able-bodied" men and women not caring for children do not qualify for welfare or must work for their assistance.
- The average length of stay on welfare is two years.
- A Utah family of three on welfare receives $402 a month to pay all non-food expenses like rent, utilities, clothing and transportation.
- Welfare spending is not "out of control." Aid to Families With Dependent Children amounts to 1.2 percent of Utah's total budget.
- National studies indicate that there are at least 10 unemployed people for each job opening.
- Including spending programs and tax subsidies, one-half of all entitlements went to households with incomes over $30,000 and one-fourth went to households with incomes above $50,000. On average, families with incomes under $10,000 a year collected $5,690 in benefits, while those with incomes over $100,000 received $9,280 in benefits. Only one in eight federal entitlement dollars reaches an American in poverty.
"We just hope political advertisements and rhetoric are not reinforcing misunderstandings about safety-net programs. We need public support in order to improve the programs and the lives of the people who are forced to use them," said Steve Erickson, Utah Issues, one of the groups that signed the letter.
Other signers were Salt Lake Community Action Program, People Opposed to Unfair Characterizations Everywhere, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County Commission on Youth, Utah Children, Utah Public Health Association, Shared Ministry in Utah, Crossroads Urban Center, The Decency Principles Project, Community Coalition of Utah, Disabled Rights Action Committee, Utahns Against Hunger and the Women's Resource Center.