Forget the "Welfare Queens" of the 1980s, the GOP has a new scapegoat of government excess: Welfare Millionaires.
Today, the House votes on a payroll tax bill which includes a provision prohibiting Americans who make more than $1 million from receiving unemployment insurance or food stamps. Republicans say it will generate $20 million in savings which go toward financing the payroll tax break to 160 million middle class Americans. But to qualify as successful populist politics, Republicans would need to convince Americans of a rather unusual public menace: "a recently laid-off millionaire, luxuriating next to the pool eating grapes bought with food stamps while waiting for an unemployment check to roll in," envisions The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer. Do such people exist? Furthermore, don't laws preventing this sort of thing exist as well?
On the legal front, yes. As the U.S. Social Security Administration website explains, household income may not exceed 130 percent poverty to be eligible for food stamps. That's the same requirement the USDA imposes for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which breaks down the requirements by household size in this chart.
However, there's still a loophole for these lazy Welfare millionaires! As The Times notes, the problems arise at the state level, where the benefits are distributed. "Of the 53 states and territories, 40 have no asset tests, which means that in some situations it would be possible for someone with, for instance, a large house or a luxury car — or in the case of Michigan, current lottery winnings not yet delivered in full — to receive food stamps."
Well OK then. Our evil unemployed millionaire could indeed be eating food stamps-purchased grapes by the pool—and because of the lack of asset requirements, we don't know how many wealthy usurpers there are.
But how about that unemployment insurance? According to Republican Senator Tom Coburn, millionaires reaped $74 million in unemployment benefits from 2005 to 2009. The estimate was taken from data offered by the Internal Revenue Service, which Coburn has posted on his website. Curiously enough, it does appear that the phenomenon exists. The IRS breakdown of the filings from individuals making $1 million or more who received unemployment benefits between 2006 and 2009 shows that some states, like Hawaii or Idaho, don't have any millionaires applying for unemployment benefits. But in other states like California or Massachusetts, it happens with some frequency with almost 2,000 millionaires applying for benefits in the Golden State from 2006 to 2009 (for all 50 states, see the PDF here).
Behold 99 percenters, these are America's bottom-feeding 1 percenters!