That Old Welfare Draw Question Poorly Answered, Again
A weekend PolitiFact giving Colleen Conley “half true” for a statement regarding the generosity of Rhode Island’s welfare system illustrates the flaw in the media enterprise’s entire methodology:
Do welfare recipients really have it that good in Rhode Island? We decided to check.
The simple answer: When it comes to how folks commonly define welfare — cash assistance to poor people — they don’t.
The RIPEC report, released in 2010 using data from 2008, doesn’t have a state-by-state comparison of cash payments.
Instead, it examines them by two different measures. And both show we’re far from the most generous in New England.
The real lesson, I’d say, is that folks making such statement’s as Conley’s have to add a parenthetical note to include other welfare programs than just cash assistance. It has long been a tactic of social service advocates (and therefore the mainstream media) to focus on cash payments as (in the ubiquitous phrases) “how folks commonly define welfare.”
Personally, I’ve yet to see any evidence that most “folks” do not intend to include every variation of payment and service rendered to needy people when they say “welfare.” Ask a person on the street, that is, whether child care subsidies are part of “welfare,” and I’d wager you’ll get a “yes.”
More to my point, it misses what’s relevant to investigate aggregate state spending in order to compare social services, as PolitiFact does. Conley said that Rhode Island leads New England in being “known for its generosity toward its welfare recipients.” That calls for measurement from the perspective of those who receive services, not the government that processes the redistribution of money.
The problem, as Andrew noted a few years ago (here and here), is that such information is difficult to come by. To answer the question of whether Rhode Island is a “welfare magnet,” one must know whether the state is perceived to offer benefits that can’t be garnered elsewhere.
That shift emphasizes, first of all, that cash payments are not all that should be considered, and second of all, that such conclusions as PolitiFact’s should be based on an analysis of actual program offerings. For example, it’s been a number of years since I’ve had the opportunity to look deeply into this question, but it used to be the case that Rhode Island didn’t count other states’ cash payments when considering eligibility. That has changed, but I believe it remains unlikely that dishonest applicants will be caught.
Moreover, Rhode Island was (and still is, as far as I know) generous in allowing other sources of income when calculating check amounts. It isn’t enough, in other words, to note that a family of three would get $554 per month in RI, but more than that in every other New England state but Maine. One must see how quickly other states adjust their payments to address other household income. When last I looked into it, Rhode Island quickly exceeded Massachusetts for those who were able to find a couple hundred dollars a month from other sources.