We averted a government shutdown when both sides of Congress struggled for a compromised budget. This battle was over COVID-19 and how to keep the economy going and help those affected by the pandemic’s economic toll. But each year Congress debates, cajoles, and negotiates who in our country gets assistance from the government.
Government assistance on the individual level is often scorned by those suspicious that those undeserving will be assisted. A lasting example of this scorn is the myth of the welfare queen. It is a false myth of a welfare recipient as an undeserving parasite that drains government funds for her own benefit. In this myth, she games the welfare system becoming rich on welfare checks, free housing, and healthcare all on the back of taxpayers.
The problem is the myth is largely and verifiably false.
Instead, let me introduce you to the real welfare kings: the 1 percenters, those who don’t pay taxes, yet receive the benefits of all of our paid taxes: the roads to their businesses and houses, the fire stations that save their homes, the police force that protects them, the Army that defends them, the Covid tests and the vaccine. These welfare kings enjoy the services we make available through our taxes.
I felt the slap of wealth privilege in my face when it became known that President Trump paid little if any taxes. Our corporate welfare policies have paid Trump when he failed in business and provided him with countless tax laws that enabled him to not pay taxes in 10 of the last 15 years, and only $750 in the last two years while he has been in office.
On average, a welfare recipient with two children receives $404 per month. The average taxpayer pays about $50 a year toward these governmental programs.
However, corporate welfare costs American taxpayers from $800-6,000 each year per family.
How does this happen? Why do the wealthiest pay less than the poorest?
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an Associate Professor of Social Work at San Jose State University. Social justice is a core value in Social Work. I know professionally and personally the effects of social injustice on children, individuals, families, and communities. Social injustice is more than income inequality, but a multi-systemic weaving of laws, policies, institutions that enable a small group of people to benefit in major domains of our society at the expense of others.
As a social worker, I have had to assess if someone ‘deserves’ financial assistance. Social workers are often placed in the role of being the gatekeeper of government aid, trained to determine who gets aid and who doesn’t. A very uncomfortable position for a caring profession that is often poorly paid. As social workers, we understand the strengths and value of each person, and how societal structures oppress groups and privilege others. We know that those needing financial help are not lazy or parasites, that poverty is a policy issue, not a moral issue.
Ok, let’s suppose that a welfare recipient “games” the system in order to collect more welfare. Let’s say 10 percent of welfare recipients cheat the system. This still wouldn’t cost us nearly what we pay each year for corporate welfare.
Why does this matter? When Trump doesn’t pay his taxes, the taxpayers must pay for him. People who work multiple jobs to support their families are providing free health care, housing, and an income to a self-described multi-millionaire.
Workers who pave the roads to president Trump’s hotels pay his property taxes for him, as well as those who provide the clean water he drinks, the medical technology he benefits from, including the recent top-notch care that he received at Walter Reed hospital.
And then, there is Trump. A man in the position of power who could shape policies, decrease income inequalities, and provide the same quality of healthcare that he receives to all of us. Why is it okay for Trump to benefit on our backs?
Our policies have made Welfare Kings, our policies can make them pay us back by having the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share.
About: Dr. Nicole Dubus
Dr. Nicole Dubus is an Associate Professor of Social Work at San Jose State University and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.