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Throughout American history, there have always been those that have fallen on hard times. From British poor laws, brought over by the colonists, to today’s myriad of welfare programs, America has a strong foundation of seeking to help those in need. However, what started as a very simple program has become convoluted, corrupted and ultimately fails to lift people from poverty to prosperity. While examples of government assistance failures abound, none may be so evident as that of the current situation in New Mexico.
New Mexico’s Human Services Department (NMHSD) was created in 1919. The department’s website proclaims (proudly?) that it serves 1 in 3 New Mexicans through its four main programs: Medicaid, Income support, Behavioral Health Support and Child Support Enforcement Services. Income support includes Food Stamps, General Assistance and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The NMHSD mission statement reads, “To reduce the impact of poverty on people living in New Mexico by providing support services that help families break the cycle of dependency on public assistance.” However, today, the majority of New Mexican children are born into welfare, 71% to be specific, and 1 in 4 New Mexicans are enrolled in the Medicaid program. The evidence of dependence on government assistance in New Mexico indicates that NMHSD is failing miserably at its stated goal. While it cites accountability as being somewhere on its radar, the failure of that may point to one reason as to why so many in New Mexico cannot seem to break out from under the government.
The welfare programs in New Mexico provide over $77 million on EBT cards, which work like bank debit cards, for those qualifying. According to New Mexico Watchdog, to qualify for the TANF program, “the recipient must live in New Mexico and have dependent children. Their children must be citizens or have eligible alien status, and be age 18 or younger. If age 19, they must be a full-time student expected to graduate before the end of the month in which they become 20. The more children in a family, the greater the monthly cash benefit.” However, records show that transactions using New Mexico EBT cards have been found across the country, including Hawaii, which indicates that people may be living elsewhere while claiming residency in New Mexico. As for accountability, only one person at NMHSD is responsible for making sure New Mexico EBT cardholders actually live in the state. A recent report indicates that recipients are also using their cards at strip clubs, bars and racetracks. For instance, over $5,000 was withdrawn from an ATM at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Now that news has gotten out about the irresponsible spending, New Mexico is scrambling to pass a law barring welfare recipients from using their EBT cards at liquor stores, bars, casinos and strip clubs; which accounted for $44,000 in taxpayer funds last year. The lack of keeping track of how New Mexicans are spending their welfare money is only part of the reason the programs are failing the people.
While part of the TANF program is supposed to be helping participants obtain and keep a job, the state’s rising unemployment rate tells a different story. As of December 2012, 59,600 people (6.4%) were unemployed in New Mexico. Coupled with the high percentage of citizens on Medicaid, the reality in the state is that the government programs aren’t effective.
The typical government response to such evidence would be to pour more money into the programs, assuming the millions spent already just haven’t been enough. Yet considering the situation on a nationwide level and the fact that America has spent untold amounts since the British poor laws to eradicate poverty, the time seems well overdue to rethink the game plan. In fact, the United States now spends more on welfare than any other government program; $1.03 trillion in 2011 alone. And for all that spending? According to the Heritage Foundation, "roughly 100 million Americans get benefits from at least one low-income assistance program each month." The number of citizens on food stamps has jumped 50% to 47 million people.
Not only are nonprofits held to higher standards of accountability, their stories of success abound. Perhaps it’s time for the government to take a step back from trying to provide every need for every American and instead focus on fixing an economy on which citizens can’t depend. With 1.1 million nonprofits registered in the U.S., it would seem Americans are ready to take care of each other.