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It pays not to work: Hawaii residents receive highest welfare benefits in US

Photo: Emily Metcalf

HONOLULU — In Hawaii, it pays not to work.

A new report by Cato Institute, which examines the state-by-state value of welfare for a mother of two, said benefits in Hawaii average $49,175 — tops in the nation.

Michael Tanner, co-author of the Cato study, said that since welfare isn’t taxed, a person would have to earn $60,590 in Hawaii to take home the same $49,175 a person on welfare would.

“To be clear: There is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy. Indeed, surveys of them consistently show their desire for a job. But they’re also not stupid. If you pay them more not to work than they can earn by working, many will choose not to work,” Tanner said in a summary of his report.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, a member of the Senate Human Services and Ways and Means committees, said the study’s results are “not surprising” to those who have followed the geometric increases in total welfare benefits and expenditures.

“I said in a public hearing several years ago that within a few years, our human services welfare costs would surpass public education in Hawaii. This came to pass late in 2012,” Slom said. “It is a shame that Hawaii has such huge governmental costs and tax burden, which in turn creates more of a welfare class and the growing inability of a middle class to sustain themselves, let alone to privately assist the less fortunate. We have been promised hope and change in this state. There is no change, only hope.”

Suzie Chun Oakland, the chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. The vice chair of the committee, Josh Green, did not return an email inquiry about the study.

State Department of Human Services's director Pat McManaman refused comment on the Cato study, saying she hasn’t had time to review it. But the department did provide statistics on Hawaii's welfare recipients including that supplemental nutrition benefits (SNAP) were provided to 176,676 people in FY 2012; General Assistance was distributed to 5537 individual per month in 2012, the Homeless Programs Office and its contracted agencies provided assistance to more than 14,380 individuals in 2012, the BESSD Child Care Connection Program assisted 20,234 families and MQD oversaw health care benefits for more than 287,000 eligible residents in FY 2012.

Kalbert Young, director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, said that over the next two fiscal years Hawaii is appropriating $2.75 billion and $2.83 billion —or about 20 percent of the state general fund budget — for operating expenses of “social services,” which includes funding for child protective services, community youth programs, adult community care services, general assistance payments, public housing, health care payments such as Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Slightly more than half of those funds come from Washington, D.C.

Tanner said there are 126 separate welfare programs funded by the federal government, 72 of which provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals. That’s on top of state and local program to help those with lower incomes.

“Of course, no individual or family gets benefits from all 72 programs, but many do get aid from a number of them at any point in time,” Tanner said.While it may make sense for people to accept welfare in the short term, Tanner said it may actually hurt them over the long term.

“One of the most important steps toward avoiding or getting out of poverty is a job. Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, versus 23.9 percent of adults who don’t work. And, while many anti-poverty activists decry low-wage jobs, even starting at a minimum-wage job can be a springboard out of poverty. Thus, by providing such generous welfare payments, we may actually not be helping recipients,” Tanner said.

Tanner suggests governments can do more.

“If Congress and state legislatures are serious about reducing welfare dependence and rewarding work, they should consider strengthening work requirements in welfare programs, removing exemptions and narrowing the definition of work,” Tanner said.

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39 Comments for “It pays not to work: Hawaii residents receive highest welfare benefits in US”

  1. Don't let this article fool you. Hawaii has a very high cost of living therefore a high welfare amount to counteract it. It's not like these people are making huge profits from their payment as one would immediately assume from reading this. Cost of living or just visiting there is extremely high and why American or anybody else would visit there is beyond me because your dollar doesn't get you very far. Considering the wages of workers, I can't see how anybody can afford to live there unless you were willing to give up your material possessions for nice weather and beaches.

  2. This is a perfect example of how unfair the authorities can be to the citizens. If a person that does not work at all receives this much money, what example are we giving to our youth?

  3. I bust my butt to make a living here in Hawaii - where everything is taxed and taxed some more and government is stupidly corrupt. Those on assistance here are innumerable to count. Now,it is the Hawaiians complaining that the Micronesians, moving to Hawaii by the hundreds, are taking away their benefits. In a sense, they are right. Logically thinking, there are too many people on benefits here already. There are help wanted signs everywhere, but, they are usually low paying and require you to work. Why do that when the state and federal government is dishing out the cash left and right? Many of the welfare folks over here are fighting for nation status. They feel so entitled, yet, don't seem to be doing much to be a working people. They dislike people that are not like them and are not overtly appreciative for what they receive for NOTHING. Then, here come the micronesians. Somebody else to upset them because they tap into the welfare coffer.

  4. So what will happen if Hawaii does gets the sovereignty they are now fighting for, where will all the welfare paymets come from?

    • I say let them and they can figure it out... They should be able to bring in plenty of money from tourism, agriculture, and leasing out land for military bases.

      All people have a right to determine their own political future, even if that means breaking away. This is why the outcome of the American Civil War was one of the greatest injustices our nation has ever inflicted (dragging half of our country along for the ride for the last 150 years of imperial misadventures.)

  5. Education is important for each and everybody and lot of students getting education online. We help all kind of people with essay services. I am regarded on this post and prefer only discount prices essay. Thanks for share.

  6. Thanks for giving out such productive article and I really appreciate your work. You share some quality stuff in this post and I note down all valid points.

  7. Hawaii....pull out all military and federal aid and give them their land back so they can restore their Hawaiian Monarchy .

  8. “I'm Noah, and you are the ship coasting along the banks and as long as you are my valentine I will sail between your eyes..”

  9. I am currently in the process of getting welfare and I have to say that I am very thankful for that. I am are overing drug addict and receiving treatment for that. Most of the people in my treatment class is on welfare as well. If it wasn't for welfare all of us wouldn't be able to get the help we need to better ourselves and have the opportunity to change our lives around. We aren't lazy or stupid but we have been put in a situation that was a repetitive cycle. Without Government assisstance we can't take that step and I thank God everyday that I don't have to worry about financial stresses so that I can focus on receiving the tools I need not to relapse again. There is no cure for addiction but we can beat it with the tools we learn for self recovery. I truly thank those who do understand this and I pray for those who don't understand to not ridicule those who's life stories and situations you don't understand. Give them and us the opportunity to change, for we are not perfect.

  10. Welfare serves a purpose but too many people in Hawaii seem to be making a living out of it.

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