Am I doing wrong by taking government money?

Is it wrong to receive EBT and cash aid? Am I being selfish by not working?

I’ve considered your topics on serving others and receiving money for it, would this be making money without serving others?

I would appreciate your general thoughts on this subject, but I want to describe what my personal situation is like currently.  Maybe you can address both?

For my personal situation… I am 20 years old.  I am single with no children or dependents.   I am not in any way disabled or unable to work.  I am working to get financial licenses and become self-employed (100% commission or even become business owner/broker in the future.  In the meantime, I have accepted EBT and Cash Aid in order to pay bills if I fall short on my income goals rather than (in my eyes) restrict my time to hourly paid position, leaving me less time to pursue something I feel I am more qualified for and can do-  I also have accepted EBT and Cash Aid because I felt an hourly job would/could my distract my mental focus or take energy away from the project I really want to pursue.

I really appreciate any thoughts you can share even if it simply points me in the right direction!

Thank you, (Rabbi) Daniel, Susan, and team!


Dear Stephanie,

The fact that you are asking these questions tells us that you want to live a life of principle and morality, for which we salute you. We would like to answer on two levels, one of objective morality, but also that of your own personal good.

On one hand, you are not lying to the government in order to get these benefits. In fact, the government tells you that you are entitled to them. Nonetheless, as a moral person, we think that in your head and heart you feel uncomfortable. In this case, your feelings are correct. The fact that the government allows or even encourages something makes it neither moral nor prudent.

We would suggest that you randomly pick a name out of the phone book and say out loud to that fellow citizen, “Gretchen Johnson, I thank you for paying high taxes to support me, and I appreciate your putting off getting your daughter a winter coat so that I can have some of your money without having to work.” “Mr. Henderson, please thank your wife for understanding that you couldn’t celebrate your anniversary with dinner out, because your taxes were raised to allow me not to work.”  We think that because of the person you are, saying those words out loud will make you feel uncomfortable.

You see, Stephanie, the government has no money of its own. It can only take it from some citizens and give it to others. The only other option it has is to print more money, which makes whatever money people do earn worth less than it was worth previously. So, by availing yourself of these programs you are choosing to live off the sweat of other people’s brows.

A useful way of judging the morality of any specific action is to ask yourself how would things work out if everyone did it.  By this measure, for instance, we can know that dropping your candy wrapper on the sidewalk or in the park is an immoral action.  It’s easy to see that if everyone starting living on government handouts, the system would quickly collapse.  (This is, of course quite different from someone who lives on welfare during a crisis for just a short time. ) You are asking because you’re a bit uneasy at having essentially made it your lifestyle, not because of a crisis, but because it seems to advance your goals.

Obviously, as one individual, your share in this is minute. What originally was intended to be a way of helping those who are desperately in need has turned into an immoral scheme. The fact is that with so many others around you taking advantage of these options, you might even think of yourself as a patsy for not participating in the plunder. In fact, the system, including many of the plans that help with college tuition, are set up to benefit some to the detriment of others. Nonetheless, even if it is common, honorable people should feel uncomfortable at taking money from other people’s pockets, not because they are at the end of their rope, but so they can have an easier life.

This brings us to the destructive effect that taking this money has on your personality. To be sure, working at a job would theoretically leave you less time to pursue your goals. We think, however, that seeing others not as those whom you take advantage of, but rather those with whom you can have a mutually beneficial relationship will increase your earning potential.  For most people to be successful in business, they need to feel good about what they do. Suspecting deep down in your heart that you might be a selfish and greedy individual is like being constantly sabotaged by invisible enemies undermining all your efforts.

Because you asked us this question, we think that you are a good person, just one whose country has ill-served you by placing other people’s money so easily in your reach and encouraging you to take it. But mindset begets action which in turn, begets mindset and we think that taking this money diminishes you as a person. In the long run getting your credentials or skills more slowly while proudly being able to look at yourself in the mirror, will end up making you financially more productive.

We’d like to share this a wonderful poem with you that is posted in Susan’s Practical Parenting column. You can read it here:

With confidence in your future,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

25 thoughts on “Am I doing wrong by taking government money?”

  1. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. I currently work for a county government. I’ve been here 12 years. I plan on quitting in 2 months.

    Unless someone has worked for a government they cannot comprehend the overwhelming amount of inefficiency, and the soul sucking nature of it.

    I actually have a plan to write a book about it. If you try to make your job efficient they will actually purposely prevent it. So the agency stays bloated.

    I also run a business on the side. That’s been my only window into how the world really works.

    I don’t care the size of the check. I would advise anyone to think twice before working for a government.

  2. Stephanie’s dilemma reminded me of my work/don’t work choice during college. I wanted to work (in the dorm cafeteria) to have money my parents did not give me; but I did not want to work because I thought I had a heavy course load. To my surprise, I found that I managed my time better when I had 10-15 fewer hours to study, plus having some income! During the quarter I did not work, I wasted the “extra” time and had little pocket money. Serving overcooked cauliflower, clearing tables and running the dish machine was also good motivation to quickly graduate to a better future.
    Maybe Stephanie can find a job that will both pay some bills and provide experience in her field, networking contacts or even a mentor. Working while she studies can benefit both the studies and the work.

    1. Lyna, this is a wonderful insight. We too have personally found that a tighter schedule makes us utilize our time better. Your suggestion that Stephanie can get a leg up by trying to find work that will help her in her future goals is a great one.

  3. Wow, the comments are just as interesting as this fantastic “Ask the Rabbi” post. As I read each comment, and I wanted to reply right there and then I concluded that I have only to add that there are so many people who stand to gain from this screwed up system. There are also many lawyers and others right now who gain from getting illegal aliens into our country and they fight for them in our courts (where they should have no standing as law-breaking entrants to the U.S.!)

    The reason for the ease with which some people can get welfare on the backs of others is simply that it benefits the people who work in those industries: government, lawyers, agents, accountants, supervisors and others.

    There was a time in the U.S. when homelessness, the way that it exists today, did not exist in the same fashion (with tent cities popping up in major cities accross the nation.)

    We’d likely have a three-party or multi-party system if many problems were fixed. However, if problems were solved then people would find a way to break the system for the sake of employment in the broken system. It perpetuates itself because there’s often too much for some people to make or to lose. I often think of the stupid Mueller probe of so-called “Russian Collusion” in this same light.

    Yeah, I also think that there should be no free education. People should know how much it costs to attend school and to pay it more locally than even the state (due to its relationship with the feds). All of the problems have solutions but those solutions will result in readjustments. Readjustments in life are the things that humans most often repel.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for the Federal Department of Education, President Jimmy Carter,
      Best wishes LJ

  4. Hmmm. Once with a growing family of four I was under-employed via postdoctoral assistantship in a “socialist paradise” state. Local families on good salaries were claiming “State Heating Assistance” but we Right-to-Workers paid proudly out of our own pockets until it bankrupted us. The straw that broke the camel’s back: the scientific society pulled the plug and the soft grant money ran out, so we were floating without visible means of support. I was encouraged to apply for benefits: “After all, it’s the System here, and just consider it unemployment insurance.” The really discouraging thing was, as I noticed: the payments are not pro-rated. Accepting ANY employment while on benefits would terminate benefits. I was willing to sling hamburgers or dig ditches or anything to get by and to reduce benefits, but the system did not allow it. It was there that I decided that such a system is Satanic, for recipients are forbidden to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Luckily, I kept my nose to the grindstone and found another position after but two weeks “on the dole.” And thank God, we never again had to go on unemployment “benefits.” But the lesson was very clear: benefits deny and inhibit the self-esteem and enterprise of those willing to work.

    Blessed Thanksgiving to the Lapins!

  5. Alexander Freylicher

    I was forced to pay social security tax for almost 40 years. However, when I retire, I will not get “earned benefits”, because in fact it was like bad investment and I ended up not earning anything. The government already stole and wasted the money that I paid! Now others will be forced to pay me my social security benefits. Very sad, but these are the rules of the game. The system is immoral but gaming it maybe not. Isn’t it similar to using legitimate tax breaks to reduce your tax burden?

    1. Alexander, you are asking a valid question and I’m not sure the answer is clear-cut. Two generations ago (?), most Americans would do just about anything in order to not need public assistance. That is worlds away from the idea of being entitled to it. We do think that Stephanie is doing damage to her own psyche and ability to earn money in the future by taking the money rather than doubling down and working harder. But, you are right that the system is immoral and there are decisions up and down the line in all our lives.

  6. This Is the Sad State of American Handouts!
    I once had to accept food stamps, free school lunches for my kids, utility bill aid, and real estate tax relief when I was a single parent with no child support for five years. But this is abuse, and it is getting worse. Moreover, Yeshua said: “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give unto your bosom” (Luke 6:38). He did not say: “Take from others, and it shall be given to you…”

    1. Sharon, the programs were meant for people who really needed them as you did. But a lot of people’s jobs hinge on always finding more people to use the programs. They are now marketed to those who wouldn’t think of using them without being invited.

  7. Economist Thomas Sowell always refers to those things that the government calls “entitlements” (really a misnomer, because it’s the government who determines who is and is not entitled) as “government sanctioned theft.” And yes, government policy has not only transformed these programs from “last resort” into “lifestyle choices.” When FDR implemented the WPA, my grandfather opted out even though with 6 kids the family was entitled. Instead, he did handyman work for cash (he was a carpenter by trade), and every child over the age of 12 worked, as did my grandmother. Charity was only for the truly needy.

  8. I love this so much.

    Thank you for this. It may not be easy to hear but it’s the truth and it’s really appreciated.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Hilda. It is not easy to hear and we think Stephanie was brave to ask.

  9. Since our representatives, no matter the party, seem intent on fostering the immoral system of redistribution, perhaps the answer lies in one of the sentences in your response. Maybe we should all quit working and get in line for a handout. This will quickly collapse the system and we can start over without any of our congress-critters having to make any tough decisions and without fuzzy-thinking voters having to commit to destroying their pet government programs. That makes it OK get on handout circuit because the intent is well-meaning. Right? OK, not. The end doesn’t justify the means and even though I’m 73 and still working, and I’m still being called a fool for not applying for the V.A. benefits to which I’m entitled, it wouldn’t feel right to get in the gimme line. Does catering to my feelings make me a liberal? Say it isn’t so!

    1. Jim, I don’t think you are a fool, but neither do I think that veterans should feel bad about accepting many of the benefits. In most cases, those were greatly earned.

    2. Jim,

      Laughing about the thought we should all get in line and collapse the system LOL 😂 who has time for all that 😊 Plus we would probably just borrow the money to give the system a bailout 😐

      I agree with Rebbitzen Susan re the VA benefits are earned. Not an “entitlement”. If you need them I think it’s ok to get them! And even if you don’t feel you have an immediate need it might be prudent just to get the paperwork done (less waiting if you want to use the system later)
      Having the benefits might help you to help someone else too! There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the VA. Not that you need to be signed up for benefits to volunteer but having more resources might make it easier.

      I respect your feeling about it though. My comment reflects my own feeling of concern and understanding about the nature of the VA benefits. But please think it over/ pray about it.

      Thank you for your service 🇺🇸 💖


  10. Well said. I know of someone whose husband would not work. He would get good jobs and then find a way to be fired by not showing up for work or not learning how to do the job. They finally convinced the government with the aid of a free lawyer to issue disability checks each month. That is not all. while he would not work and she was not able, they were behind on house payments. They went from government agency to government agency until their house was paid for, not a small amount. And they thought they deserved this money. Free telephone, free house, free checks each month. You can guess how they voted. Breaks my heart.

    1. Alice, there is a wonderful letter from Abraham Lincoln refusing to help a relative because the relative won’t help himself. Taxpayers are doing this man no favor by allowing him to be lazy.

  11. Very well put… when in college, I did get some food stamps one semester… however, after getting a real job… the government did get their money back and then some… in fact to this day they continue to get it back…

    1. Ah, Art. The government did not get “its” money back, because it wasn’t “its” money. They took it from other people. The system is not functioning the way it should.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Art,
      While sympathizing with you over the confiscatory rates of taxation that the government imposed upon you once you started working, I must correct your plaintive observation. Your fellow citizens whose money was taken and given to you in the form of food stamps never did get their money back. The government just took more from you and redistributed it to someone else. We all accept that our elected representatives need some of our money to do the things that the constitution allow the federal government to do. What greatly displeases most of us is how much more those politicians have chosen to do and how much more of our money they are choosing to spend. Thanks for writing, friend.

  12. This post was very timely. I’m trying to decide on insurance for my family. Once upon a time, I could afford the monthly premiums for a catastrophic plan. Now, it’s 3-4 times the monthly cost for the same plan, due to the current Affordable Care Act requirements and subsidies. I’m struggling because the tax credit will make the cost for insurance completely unnecessary, but I realize my fellow Americans will be paying for my insurance. However, the system is set up so that paying almost double my monthly mortgage payment for catastrophic insurance is a bridge too far in the budget. I am more than happy to pay my own way, but when government gets involved and drastically increases the cost (because now everyone has it and everyone, almost, is getting a subsidy), what is the right answer? I hate that the system is so horribly rigged! Thank you for making my concerns justified. I just wish there were a good answer.

    1. Rebecca, we don’t know the specifics of your situation, but they are very different from Stephanie’s. With Obamacare, the gov’t is almost forcing some people to get in the loop of taking from the gov’t by making it prohibitive to do anything else. It is a serious problem but it is not the equivalent of the case in this letter.

  13. Well said. The government shouldn’t offer these programs. Stephanie, I hope you really consider the Rabbi’s advice.

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