Never has there been a clearer manifestation of the addictiveness of our entitlement culture than what occurred recently in the state of Michigan -- not once, but twice.
For several months after winning a $1 million state lottery jackpot, 25-year-old Michigan resident, Amanda Clayton, collected thousands of dollars in state assistance. Clayton reportedly received approximately $5,500 in food stamps and public medical benefits. She was exposed by a Detroit news station, WDIV-TV4, in March and has since been arrested for welfare fraud.
When confronted by the Detroit station and asked if she felt that she had a right to the money, Clayton replied, "I mean I kinda do." She further added, "I feel that it's okay because I mean, I have no income and I have bills to pay. I have two houses." Clayton then declared that she intended to continue to use her benefits until she was cut off.
Perhaps Ms. Clayton learned her trade from 60-year-old Leroy Hick. In June of 2010 Hick won $2 million in a Michigan state lottery TV show. In May of 2011, the Detroit News noted that, according to Hick's attorney, Michigan's state "Department of Human Services determined he was still eligible for food stamps."
The News also noted that, "Eligibility for food stamps is based on gross income and follows federal guidelines; lottery winnings are considered liquid assets and don't count as income. As long as Fick's gross income stays below the eligibility requirement for food stamps, he can receive them, even if he has a million dollars in the bank."
Fick declared, "If you're going to try to make me feel bad, you're not going to do it." His attorney added, "I am not going to sit and debate the ethics of this...from his standpoint, he did what he was supposed to do -- he informed the state, and the state said he could keep using the card. The problem is with the state."
No doubt that "the state" has its problems. Among them is the fact that it has created generations of entitlement leeches who are so embedded that, even when they come into a fortune, they are loath to be removed from their bloated (yet bankrupt) host.
Not only are Mr. Fick and Ms. Clayton guilty of defrauding the taxpayer, they are an example of the worst kind of greed. Other than get "lucky," neither of them did a thing to accumulate their wealth. Yet they continued unapologetically to seek more through other means that would again require them to do almost nothing. They are the poster children for an entitlement society.
Certainly not everyone who receives government assistance turns out like these two. How could they? I mean, the number of million dollar lottery winners is, by definition, quite small. Thus, very few would ever even have the opportunity to be as lecherous as Fick and Clayton. Sadly, however, I'm afraid that there are far too many who would choose the same path.
Also, note the logic of an entitlement driven government. Michigan has since changed its law, but how asinine is it that, after winning his millions, Mr. Fick was still eligible for government assistance?!
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just published some interesting data and graphics. It reveals that in fiscal year 2011, the U.S. federal government spent $3.6 trillion while taking in $2.3 trillion. Of the $3.6 trillion spent, $2 trillion was "mandatory" spending that includes entitlements. In fact, the vast majority of the "mandatory" spending was for Social Security ($725 billion), and healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid $856 billion).
Also, the CBO estimated that one in seven Americans received food stamps last year (and one in ten said they would give them up if they won the lottery!). The CBO concluded that the number of Americans receiving food stamps would continue to grow until 2014.
The reason that automobile giants GM and Chrysler went bankrupt in 2009 is that they had, for the most part, ceased to become car companies and had instead become pension and healthcare providers for millions of Americans. (See my column here.) The U.S. federal government is not only a pension and healthcare provider, but it also has massive housing, food, and child-care programs as well.
What's more, most of these programs are quite popular. Too many Americans love their entitlements and have a difficult time giving them up (see Fink and Clayton), or even accepting the slightest reforms. This is one reason many liberals want to see Obamacare implemented. Once an entitlement begins, ending it is harder than keeping Keith Olbermann happy.
Thus, not only do conservatives have the task of reining in current entitlement programs and preventing new ones, but also of changing our very culture. The U.S. literally can afford nothing less.
Trevor Grant Thomas, at the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason. www.trevorgrantthomas.com