I ran across this LA Times article today, about (formerly) middle-class workers who have lost their jobs and are shocked to discover that their families don't qualify for most public benefit programs. In many cases it's because with unemployment benefits, their incomes are still too high to qualify for food stamps or cash assistance; in other cases, they would qualify based on income, but have too much assets -- especially cars -- to qualify.
I don't know whether this makes those rejected for benefits more or less supportive of these programs. I can imagine some people thinking "gee, if I can't live on this, how can people live on far less?" and supporting expansion and other people thinking "well, if these programs won't help me when I really need it, what good are they?" and supporting cuts.
Since the Recovery Act passed, I've been spending a lot of my time at work writing about the temporary assistance (TANF) provisions and trying to convince states to use that money to expand benefits for the neediest families. It's been a tough sell. Even though any increases would be 80 percent federally funded, state budgets are so tight that in many cases, they're saying they can't find the 20 percent. And states are nervous about expanding programs with money that is designed to be temporary, because it's always hard politically to cut services back later. I'm frustrated, but I get it -- I know how hard it is to sell any expansion of "welfare."
That said, I'm really shocked by how hard it is in some states, including Virginia, to get the unemployment insurance expansions passed. For those who believe that welfare is bad, but contributory social insurance, like social security, is good, UI should fall on the "good" side of that divide -- it's based on wages and subject to a history of employment. The fact that it's still under fire makes me somewhat more skeptical about the claims that making programs universal will protect them from being attacked as "welfare."