When I first took office as Wayne Township Trustee I made a personal commitment to learn all I could about my new job. I read all the Indiana statutes regarding township government. I met with other trustees across the state. I conferred with staff members who had years of experience working here. And most importantly, I began talking every day with the clients who were coming to our office for assistance. Having grown up in a low-income family with eleven children, I thought I knew all there was to know about being poor. But I have been humbled to learn so much more over the last nine years I have served as trustee.
One of the things I’ve learned about is how hard it is on people’s sense of self-worth to be poor in our society. Having to ask for help is never an easy thing, but when you are poor, asking for help is something you must do over and over again just to survive. While there are many people who feel compassion and generosity toward those in need, there are also many people who feel anger and resentment when poor people get help, especially when that help comes from the government. Just last month the mayor of Lewiston, Maine made headlines when he called for his state to publish the name and address of anyone receiving welfare benefits, a move that would publicly shame people for receiving government assistance.
In my on-going studies I recently read an article by Mimi Abramovitz entitled “Everyone is on Welfare.” This article pointed out that benefits paid to the poor are actually not the bulk of the welfare spending by the government. In 2000, over 77 percent of federal welfare spending went to programs like Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ pensions, none of which are based on need. Beyond these programs there is what she called “fiscal welfare,” that is tax benefits provided to individuals and families who file tax returns. These benefits cost the government $587 billion in 2000. In comparison, $406 billion of spending went toward social security payments, and the least amount, $235 billion, went to welfare programs for the poor.
This system of spending tax dollars mostly benefits wealthy and upper-middle-class households, in particular investors and owners of large homes. The mortgage interest deduction, for example, was worth about $5,000 a year to households with gross incomes over $200,000, but only $903 to households making under $75,000. In 2000, over half of the tax expenditure on this deduction went to households making more than $100,000.
The article also pointed out that huge amounts of government spending—from tax breaks for capital expenditures to subsidies for foreign purchasers of weapon systems from American companies—are an expensive form of corporate welfare benefiting wealthy investors and high-salaried executives.
And how about the pharmaceutical and housing industries who accept ‘welfare dollars’ from the poor in exchange for their products or services? While mostly what I see locally are diligent, hard-working entrepreneurs charging fair prices to our clients, I think we all need to remember that the money going to these businesses comes from all of our tax dollars.
Now as the township trustee, Indiana law tells me that I have a two-fold duty. One, I must provide assistance to Wayne Township citizens who find themselves unable to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves; and two, I must protect the tax dollars that support this effort by making sure that those who get our help actually need it and qualify for it. As I wrote in my last column, less than three cents of every local property tax dollar collected goes to support the township trustee offices that provide assistance to the needy.
As I study and ponder these issues and my two-fold duty, I am led to ask myself: Is it really fair that we punish the poor with shame when the help they are receiving is such a small portion of our tax dollars?
- TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE STEVENSON ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT– Voice Of The Township - December 20, 2019
- LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE – Voice Of The Township - December 6, 2019
- THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS UPON US – Voice Of The Township - November 22, 2019