As someone who once had to be on welfare as a single mom, I'd like to bring some hard numbers to the discussion.
I received zero child support, and had two daycare-age children. Daycare costs, at the lowest-priced daycare in my city (and the immediate surrounding area) were $130/week for my younger child and $115 for my older child. My mortgage was $550/month (the housing voucher list in my area is closed; the people that made it on in time were on a 2 year wait at the time. The income restricted apartments in the neighborhood would have run me $600/month for a 2br - more than my mortgage for my 4br house with a yard.) Electricity averaged $50/month (no a/c, no central heat). My car was paid off, but I had to pay for insurance and gas. We didn't have cable/dish service and my dad paid for me to have a phone, otherwise I wouldn't have had one at all. Food stamps and WIC more than covered us to keep us fed.
TANF (what most people are referring to when they say "welfare" - it is a monthly cash payment) for a 3-person family was $87 per month. The childcare voucher only SUBSIDIZED my daycare, and I paid a copay of $18 per week (total for both kids). So, on average, my welfare "payment," what I could use on things other than daycare, was $2 per week. I more than spent that in gas to get my kids to and from the daycare.
By the way, if your kids are absent from daycare for more than 10 days a month, they will pull your welfare. There is no option, at least in this state, to only use the daycare on the days that you need it, for job searching or irregular schedules. You pay by the week and your child is expected to be there every day. If you have children and want to get the TANF/welfare payments, the kids MUST be in daycare. Period.
And, in my state, there is a limit of 5 years on "welfare." That is a LIFETIME limit.
The government paid $230 a week to the daycare. They also paid me $25/week in gas cards, which I had to drive 30 miles round trip to pick up, because they refused to mail them, and refused to let me pick up a few weeks' worth at a time. So I got to drive down there every week - taking time away from looking for a job or whatever else - to sit for an hour in a waiting room and drive all the way back. But hey, the good news is, if you don't have a car of your own, the government will pay for a CAB SERVICE to pick you up at your home and bring you to job interviews, places to apply for jobs, and take you with your kids to and from the daycare, etc. God only knows how much the cab service cost them.
So, the government is shelling out $255/week, plus the cost of the paper pushers, for me to be on welfare. That would more than cover my cost of living, to let me stay at home with my kids, lessen my stress level having to pump milk and store it for the daycare, having to deal with the paper pushers, and be able to spend actual quality time with my children. With money left over. Heck, the government could've kept the leftover money!
A couple of months into it, I got a job that paid almost $20/hour, but it was a PRN schedule and I didn't always work 30 hours per week. (I think it averaged out to 20...some weeks I worked 6 days straight, more than 40 hours total, and some weeks I only worked on Saturdays. Because Saturdays were required, I had to pay a separate babysitter to watch my kids, and ended up making about $50 for a 9 hour workday on Saturdays.) I had my daycare subsidy and welfare payments revoked, because I couldn't get my hours up to 30, and was told to get a minimum wage job and work 30 hours per week and I'd end up with more money in the end. 20 hours a week at $18/hr before taxes is $360/week. Daycare was $245 right off the top. Plus the additional babysitter. 30 hours a week at $7.25 is $217.50 before taxes, but my copay to the daycare would have only gone up by a few dollars, so I would've kept most of that money (after taxes.) That's not counting if I would have had to pay for a separate babysitter if I worked outside of daycare hours.
The counselor said, "Why don't you just get a different job?" What, they're falling out of the sky now? (This was during the depth of the recession.)
It was one of the most stressful things I've ever experienced in my life. Dealing with the paper pushers, who felt like "babysitters", was horribly demeaning and degrading. I had a degree and they were annoyed that while I was getting interviews, if I apply for the same job that 200 other out of work people are applying for, it lowers the odds that I'll get hired, even if I do give a great interview. They never helped me to get a job...the best they did was have a posting of available jobs that you could pick up once you trekked down to their office to pick up your gas card. Once I did get a job, I had to embarrassingly hand papers over to my brand new employer for them to verify the hours I worked. Like I'm a delinquent doing community service or something. It was horrible.
Oh, and God forbid one of your kids gets sick. It's a ton of paperwork and you still have to pay the daycare even if you can't go to work. The state won't adjust your copay because your kid got sick. And we all know how much daycare kids get sick/pass sickness around.
I ended up having to put a lot on credit cards and eventually had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. I was the girl who went to summer school in college to get done faster, who lived in a junky apartment for the first year out of college and kept eating ramen noodles so that I could put more than 50% of my income toward paying off my student loans. And had them paid off by the time I'd been out of college for 2 years. And now I was on welfare and bankrupt. Not something I was proud of.
Every 3-6 months, I had to go in to have a meeting with my counselor (and arrange for a day off work to do it, since the wait always took a few hours, even with an appointment), where they would look at every dime I had. If I ever managed to save any money, it was used against me and my benefits were recalculated. If I got a check for my birthday, it was counted as "income." They once suggested that I sell my paid-off, reliable car (that was worth about $4500) and buy a cheaper car. I am the only owner of my car, it was 8 years old, I know that I have kept it up well, and it would make ZERO sense to trade it in for a car whose upkeep may not have been as good. We bought nothing but food for almost a year. My kids wore the same five outfits to daycare each week, and my dad bought them shoes. I drove on bald tires and had to borrow money to pay to renew my license when it came up for renewal.
I paid into the system for many years, and I ended up in my situation by no fault of my own, and I was horrified when I found out what it was like when you needed the help. Having lived through it and come out on the other side through the grace of a power much higher than me, I wouldn't wish it on any single mom. Ever.
Edited by redbirdlady - 5/27/11 at 9:17am