Posts tagged " EBT "

Am I doing wrong by taking government money?

November 20th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

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

Is the world one of shortage where we must each scramble to get what we can? 
Or is it a world of plenty that has enough for all if we follow Divine wisdom?
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