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Cheating Welfare

Cheating Welfare: Public Assistance and the Criminalization of Poverty

Kaaryn S. Gustafson
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Cheating Welfare
    Book Description:

    Over the last three decades, welfare policies have been informed by popular beliefs that welfare fraud is rampant. As a result, welfare policies have become more punitive and the boundaries between the welfare system and the criminal justice system have blurred--so much so that in some locales prosecution caseloads for welfare fraud exceed welfare caseloads. In reality, some recipients manipulate the welfare system for their own ends, others are gravely hurt by punitive policies, and still others fall somewhere in between.In Cheating Welfare, Kaaryn S. Gustafson endeavors to clear up these gray areas by providing insights into the history, social construction, and lived experience of welfare. She shows why cheating is all but inevitable--not because poor people are immoral, but because ordinary individuals navigating complex systems of rules are likely to become entangled despite their best efforts. Through an examination of the construction of the crime we know as welfare fraud, which she bases on in-depth interviews with welfare recipients in Northern California, Gustafson challenges readers to question their assumptions about welfare policies, welfare recipients, and crime control in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3339-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Mention the wordwelfarein a room full of people in the United States and you can expect to see brows furrow and mouths tighten in disgust.Welfare,the colloquial term for some public benefits in the United States, no longer holds its original meaning: well-being. Instead, it has become a pejorative term used to label “welfare mothers” or “welfare queens.” And while welfare use has always carried the stigma of poverty, it now also bears the stigma of criminality.

    Welfare rules assume the criminality of the poor. Indeed, the logics of crime control now reign supreme over efforts to...

  6. 2 Reconstructing Social Ills: From the Perils of Poverty to Welfare Dependency
    (pp. 17-50)

    Assistance to the poor has never been provided without strings attached. Aid to the poor, particularly government-sponsored aid to the poor, has been designed to regulate—markets and the economy, families, morality, even motherhood.

    That is not to say that providing for the poor has been divorced from a public desire to do good for the poor. From the beginning, the provision of welfare in the United States has rested upon some core moral values, particularly the belief that poor and vulnerable members of society require society’s assistance. At the same time, this belief has been accompanied by the idea...

  7. 3 The Criminalization of Poverty
    (pp. 51-70)

    The 1996 welfare reforms were designed, so then-president Bill Clinton said, to “make work pay.” Work, however, was only one of the many areas of life regulated by the welfare reform measure. As a result of the reforms, the federal government and the states instituted a host of policies and practices that equated welfare receipt with criminality; policed the everyday lives of poor families; and wove the criminal justice system into the welfare system, often entangling poor families in the process. David Garland notes that the “themes that dominate crime policy—rational choice and the structures of control, deterrents, and...

  8. 4 A Glimpse at the Interviewees
    (pp. 71-92)

    The following chapters draw upon in-depth, semistructured interviews with thirty-four welfare recipients in a Northern California county called (for this study) Bayview. Bayview County has a population of just over one million people. The county includes a bustling downtown, Bayview City. More affluent residents live in Bayview Hills, while those who have fewer resources tend to live in South Bayview, which at its southern most edge has a sprawling industrial area. In 1999, twelve adults out of every thousand in the county received TANF benefits. Year 2000 census data demonstrate how racially diverse the county is, with approximately 49 percent...

  9. 5 Living within and without the Rules
    (pp. 93-117)

    The welfare recipient interviewees led their economic and family lives wandering a maze of welfare rules and regulations. They also lived within a maze of family needs—both economic and otherwise. Sometimes the interviewees lived within the rules, both specific and abstract, of welfare. At other times, however, they lived without the rules—sometimes because they did not know the rules, sometimes because their economic or family needs outweighed their compliance with the rules, sometimes because they were simply flouting the rules.

    The discussion that follows makes clear that in some cases, or at least to some extent, the interviewees...

  10. 6 Engaging with Rules and Negotiating Compliance
    (pp. 118-154)

    If the interviewees in this study are at all indicative of general trends among welfare recipients, then breaking the welfare rules is the norm. Other studies have found that welfare recipients are often inadequately informed of welfare rules and programs and possess only superficial knowledge of sanctions (Fragile Families Research Brief 2002; Meyers, Glaser, and MacDonald 1998; Hasenfeld, Ghose, and Hillesland-Larson 2004; Kidwell and Gottlober 1999). But ignorance of the rules and penalties is not the only factor. The families in this study generally could not survive on their welfare benefits alone or by following the welfare regulations and requirements....

  11. 7 Contextualizing Criminality, Noncompliance, and Resistance
    (pp. 155-180)

    Welfare reformers of the 1990s hoped to create a new welfare system that would appeal to individuals’ economic self-interest, a system that would spur the poor to leave the welfare system and assume the risks of the labor market. The simplistic model of welfare reform excluded a number of important factors. First, the economic needs of welfare recipients exceeded either the money they received from welfare or the money they would be likely to earn in the low-wage labor market. For many welfare recipients, making the transition from welfare to work simply meant making the transition from a consistent source...

  12. 8 Cheating Ourselves
    (pp. 181-188)

    Four decades ago, Lon Fuller wrote a book titledThe Morality of Lawthat articulated a set of principles he considered essential to law’s inner morality. Fuller wrote that for legality to exist—in other words, for both the legal system and legal rules to be considered legitimate—law must meet certain indispensable requirements. Fuller’s work (1969, 39) describes eight failings that may undermine a legal system. These are as follows:

    1. Failure to achieve rules at all

    2. Failure to publicize rules, or at least to make available to the affected party the rules he is expected to observe...

  13. Appendix A: Critical Methodology
    (pp. 189-202)
  14. Appendix B: Interview Schedule
    (pp. 203-208)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-220)
  16. Index
    (pp. 221-226)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 227-227)