October 26, 1995 | Commentary on Welfare and Welfare Spending

ED102695a: Gimme A (Welfare) Break

It's almost a year since the 104th Congress was voted into office to shake things up. And, if you judge such things by the volume of complaints, they seem to be doing just that.

In the process, they also have done a number of things President Clinton had promised to do when he was campaigning for the White House -- promises he soon forgot. For example: "end welfare as we know it."

I'm a middle-aged receptionist. To the tens of millions of us around the country who get up early in the morning every day and punch a time clock (figuratively, if not literally), welfare has become a costly joke. But the joke's on us: We pay our hard-earned wages so millions of others don't have to get up each morning and punch a time clock.

According to studies, the welfare system has cost us taxpayers more than $5 trillion since the War on Poverty was begun by President Johnson 30 years ago. How much is $5 trillion? I looked it up in the 1995 "Information Please Almanac." It is an amount equal to the combined economies of Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Great Britain, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain and Sweden.

That's an awful lot of money, especially when it is obvious to almost everybody that we have lost the War on Poverty. All over the country -- from the "hollers" in my late husband's home state of West Virginia, to inner-city Chicago, where I grew up, and right down the street from The Heritage Foundation building where I work -- two and three generations of the same family have been raised on welfare: the mother, her mother, and the kids.

The new Congress seems serious about ending this. The liberals already are screaming about the fraying of the "safety net." I say: Fray away. Welfare was intended to provide temporary help to people down on their luck; it was not supposed to become a way of life.

Not everybody on "welfare" is down-and-out and poor. For example, lots of film-makers -- graduates of UCLA and NYU and other expensive schools -- would have to go out and get real jobs if the National Endowment for the Arts and Corporation for Public Broadcasting stopped giving them our money. There are also hundreds (probably thousands) of artists, composers, musicians and writers of one sort or another who are dependent on government grants.

This is welfare for the well-to-do. And it also needs to end. There's no reason on earth that when the creators of Miss Piggy bring home the bacon, it has to be mine. I don't get a free ride -- why do they?

After more than 40 years of working, I know what they mean by the term "wage slave": I earn the money and Washington decides how much I get to keep. Whenever tax cuts are mentioned, you hear something like this: "If we cut taxes, the Treasury will receive $160 billion less."

So? What's wrong with that? It means you and I will get to keep -- and spend on ourselves and our families -- $160 billion more. The new Congress has put the focus back where it belongs. This is not and never was "the Treasury's" money. It's my money and your money.

If Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole's 104th Congress successfully slows down government spending, it will be a banner year for the working people of America. As many of my fellow wage earners know, it is real hard to get excited about working hard when 40 cents out of every dollar is going to the tax man.

The young families in the apartment complex where I live want the opportunity to save for a home of their own and their kids' education. They don't have their hands out, saying "gimme, gimme"; they don't feel anybody owes them a living.

All we really want Congress to give us is a break. So to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole I say, "Carry on. You're doing the right thing. Keep up the good work."

Let's end welfare as we know it, for people who won't work, artists who can't support themselves, and big business alike. The "gimme" times are over. And none too soon.

Note: Mildred (Annie) Hambleton is a receptionist at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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