Million dollar lotto winner on welfare: why I don’t blame her

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A 25 year old Detroit area woman was receiving food stamps despite the fact that she had won $1 million on a state lottery game show.

Amanda Clayton is being charged for fraud after receiving $5,475 worth of food stamps and medical coverage from the period between her lottery win in September 2011 and last month. If convicted, she could potentially face up to four years in prison.

Certainly the normal responses are outrage the cynicism.

But I’ll be honest, part of me doesn’t really blame her.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying her, or anyone else who commits welfare fraud.

But I do think that many people feel that food stamps and/or welfare are things that are rights which they are owed. And it shouldn’t be surprising when people have that mindset when we live in a society where there are politicians who continually reinforce this thinking.

We’ve taken shame out of this system. Some will probably think that it makes me heartless to even suggest that their should be shame associated with food stamps and welfare. But there should be. I’m not saying for people who are in unique circumstances where they truly need help.

But for individuals who are able bodied and who could be working and who aren’t, I do think that there should be a certain amount of shame associated with the fact that society has to support them.

Even the distribution of food stamps is different than how it used to be. At one time, they were multicolored pieces of paper which you would use to buy your products. It looked like what you would need to get into the Wonka Factory. Now it’s setup like a debit card and can be discreetly used just like anyone’s Visa or Master Card.

Again, it’s an effort to normalize the institution.

Ultimately, my bigger concern is that if Clayton is as reckless with her winnings as a lot of other lottery winners, in a few years, she might be able to again receive food stamps legitimately.

Obviously a few hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. But if you buy a house and a car (as this woman did), and once every obscurely connected relative and friend comes out of the woodwork to ask for money, that type of income isn’t going to last forever.

According to the Detroit News, Clayton was on food stamps from August 2010-March 2012. During that year and a half period, she worked a total of five months. Part of the reason why she thought it was ok to continue to receive the food stamps is that she is still unemployed.

So what should be done? Clearly, she should payback the $5,475. Some people may advocate for her receiving prison time. I think that the state footing the bill for her to be in prison is an unnecessary waste of money.

I feel that Clayton’s actions are a very small symptom of much more significant societal issues. I feel that we don’t do enough to address the root causes of these problems. She lives in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a city in which 44.7% of the population lives below the poverty line. More work needs to be done in these impoverished areas to empower people to succeed because of their own talents, effort, and intelligence instead of by leaching off of entitlement programs.

This story is catching a lot of attention, and it’s because the idea of a “millionaire” receiving food stamps is novel and egregious. But again, it’s not troubling to me because a lottery winner abused the system. While I do believe that there are people who justifiably receive government assistance, this story is no more outrageous to me than the thousands of other Americans who abuse the system and live off of handouts. And until the outrage begins to match the scorn for a lottery winner on food stamps, serious welfare reform in this country will be all but impossible.

jrb

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