We need to prioritize

There's no shame in receiving public assistance.

Yes, despite the overwhelmingly negative perception of public assistance which has only been fueled by the back and forth budget debate that shut down Washington last week, I argue there's no real shame in receiving welfare benefits – at least, not for those who truly need the help and use it only as intended.

For others like the couple in Norwich who were arrested this week for taking over $13,000 in benefits they were not entitled to receive, it's obviously a different story. Those who intentionally violate the rules of the welfare system should, in my opinion, be reprimanded to the most appropriate extent. But as long as there is a need for public assistance programs, which there is and will always be, I think welfare programs have a definitive place in our socioeconomic climate. All we can do is administer such programs to the best of our ability.

That said, I was relieved – and yet oddly disappointed – to hear the recent government shutdown had little to no immediate impact on federally funded public assistance programs.

Let me elaborate.

Many public assistance programs have already been slated to receive funding. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) will not be promptly effected by the Democrat/Republican stalemate as it remains funded by the 2009 Recovery Act until the end of October. Likewise, the WIC Program, while unable to receive new funding until the government shutdown ends, continues to be supported by money set aside by New York State. The HUD Program is also expected to receive funding for now. And jobless benefits nationwide are expected to continue as usual.

While it's true the financial security of most of these programs is uncertain beyond the end of the month, they remain funded for the time being, which is more than can be said of many federally funded programs that were cut off as of Oct 1. No doubt, it's good news for the approximately 16 percent of Chenango County residents who rely on public assistance and will not have the rug pulled out from under them.

But on the other hand, the fact that public assistance programs are not immediately effected by the recent shutdown is, to me, a bit unsettling. Taxpayers have called on public assistance reform for years, citing instances when individuals have cheated the welfare system to receive thousands of unnecessary and undeserved benefits. Given, the amount of welfare fraud in our area is just a drop in the bucket compared to those who use their benefits fittingly. Nevertheless, money lost is money lost. Perhaps a drastic shakeup like what would have – and may still be – caused by the government shutdown is what's needed to take the necessary steps toward public assistance reform.

At the same time, veterans receiving compensation for service or combat-related wounds and injuries are even more at risk of losing pension checks. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said if the shutdown lasts into late October, it will run out of money for the 3.6 million veterans who rely on this money for self-support before month's end. In addition, military death benefits have already been depleted of funding, meaning the families of service men and women are denied burial assistance from the government.

Although I maintain there's no shame in receiving public assistance, there's something faintly distasteful about ensuring welfare programs are funded while assistance to the families of military members runs dry.

Regardless the outcome of the current government shutdown and what happens as the Oct. 17 U.S. debt deadline draws near, perhaps the best thing to do as a nation is prioritize.

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