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Earn It to Get It: Breaking the Cycle of Dependency Through Work

From: The Foundation for Government Accountability

Far too many Americans are trapped in a cycle of welfare dependencyand it’s by design. Decades of bad government policies have staged the latest war—the “war on work.”

The pandemic is largely behind us, and life is essentially back to normal—but the public health emergency persists, which means work requirements for programs like food stamps remain suspended. Welfare programs disincentivize work and, throughout the pandemic, ended up paying more in benefits than many jobs. Now, unsurprisingly, businesses across the U.S. are struggling to fill open positions—with a record-breaking more than 10 million jobs unfilled in 2022—and Americans are struggling.

Work is empowering. It gives a person a sense of accomplishment and independence, and it brings opportunities. One Missouri organization is helping empower individuals to move from welfare to work to pursue fulfilling work and live self-sufficient lives.

In the summer of 2000 James and Marsha Whitford opened Watered Gardens, a non-government-funded ministry dedicated to empowering individuals to break the cycle of dependency by leading them to a path to self-sufficiency. The Joplin, Missouri organization offers programs and guidance to low-income individuals to help them be part of their own solution and lead them away from the unemployment line and into the workforce.

Whitford first found his calling to help others working as a physical therapist. While working with patients to gain mobility, he found that if he did not challenge them to work to improve, it was difficult for them to move forward.

James found that what his patients needed then was not so different from what struggling individuals need now—the encouragement and resources to break free from the cycle of dependency through work. “It’s so exciting to see people take a step away from dependency and into flourishing life,” Whitford says.

Empowering others through work

James and Marsha’s vision to empower others to become contributors to their own upward mobility has proven successful. Watered Gardens has helped many individuals find purpose through work by helping them gain the skills necessary to succeed through training programs, relationship building, and an “earn it to get it” mindset.

Here’s what staff and other individuals at Watered Gardens have to say about the cycle of dependency and the value of work…

Work is the textbook solution for escaping dependency.

“Challenge folks… incorporate, exchange, incorporate work. If we don’t do that, then they’ll never develop what is necessary to escape… poverty.”  –James Whitford, co-founder

Welfare programs do not create opportunities.

“The government robs you of the choices and the opportunities that you should have if you’re caring for yourself… Not contributing impacts me mentally, so I feel certain that for folks who don’t have that as part of their life, that has to be a key component to how they feel about themselves, about their value, and their worth.” –Beth Zimmerman, Director of Care Coordinator

Welfare programs employ classic bait-and-hook tactics.

“To get help with housing, you’ve got to sign up for food stamps first… and it becomes a little bit of a hook.” -Doug Gamble, Outreach Center Director

Welfare disguises itself as a safety net.

“I’m a generational welfare recipient… I was on government assistance… so I had all this stuff… It was my security net, but I didn’t know that I was capable of employment.” –Jocelyn Brisson, Shelter Director

Welfare and dependency can become a way of life.

“I never realized that I could be somebody. I now have the opportunity to study, to grow, to learn, and how to build healthy relationships.” -Tony Sutton, Forge Student

Escaping the cycle of dependency can be difficult.

“I didn’t think that I’d be able to hold a full-time job ever again, and then four weeks ago, I got my first full-time job cleaning houses… I get to go back and be a functioning adult that has self-worth and value again. That is an amazing feeling.”  -Misty, Watered Gardens participant

Through organizations like Watered Gardens Ministries, low-income individuals and families can find purpose through compassion, work, and a sense of responsibility.

To learn more about how welfare reforms can help Americans break the cycle of dependency and experience the power of work, visit our Welfare Reforms page.