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Wrong on welfare

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Letter to the Editor
Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians wants to set the record straight on the Cato Institute report “The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013” and the editorial “Welfare vs. work: Government's perversion” (Aug. 23 and endorsing it.

Cato finds “(t)he current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits ($29,817 annually for a family of three in Pennsylvania) that it acts as a disincentive for work.” The report suffers from fatal flaws.

First, welfare benefits fall far short of Cato's claims. The $29,000 figure counts housing benefits ($8,947) only available to one in six families due to limited funding and equates Medicaid value with premium costs ($8,100) for comparable private insurance. It's not cash available for living expenses, and it exaggerates full value — most workers with coverage have some employer subsidy. Adjusting for these distortions, actual benefit value is $12,180 annually.

Second, public benefit programs don't discourage work. Both SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid, for example, offer work incentive deductions from earned income to encourage work. In 2011, 86 percent of low-income children receiving Medicaid or CHIP were in working families. More than half of able-bodied adults in households with children receiving SNAP work.

Reports like Cato's unfairly portray low-wage earners and persons living in poverty as lazy and waiting for the next government handout. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Rev. Sandra Strauss &

Peter Zurflieh

The writers — respectively, director of public advocacy for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and staff attorney for the Community Justice Project — are co-chairs of the Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians (

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