"Socialism" is currently used as an epithet by people who advocate less government intrusion in their lives—less taxes, less regulation (don't take my money and don't tell me what to do). These folks see public aid as a moral and political wrong—and they label it socialism. Socialism is seen as a small step away from communism which was the bogeyman of the 1950s and 1960s, and condemned accordingly.
I like to look at the underlying meanings and relationships of words and concepts. To me socialism is the commitment to the preservation of society. Society is more than a collection of individuals, it is a collection with a shared commitment to internal cohesion. This cohesion is maintained by assigning value to the society and by mutual actions to preserve and protect it. Individuals have responsibilities for their society.
Society is held to be harmed when a number of its members are harmed. Societies protect themselves by protecting their members. A nation's society protects itself by providing aid to needy individuals. That aid can take many forms including education, medicine, food, housing, and cash gifts. The federal government currently administers many programs of public aid.
The condemnation of public aid as evil socialism seems to be based on whether the speaker benefits directly from public aid or not. Critics see public aid as a zero sum game, where money is taken from them via taxes and given to someone else who could not possibly deserve it. These critics often have a holier-than-thou attitude. Recipients of public aid are commonly painted as lazy ne'er-do-wells, deliberately so in order to both explain their need and justify its denial on moral grounds. Public aid is often seen as perpetuating laziness and its accompanying poverty.
Christianity and Judaism, the reigning religions in America, have a history of sects that blame the needy for their need, and shun them for it. Forms of Christianity commonly ignore the teachings of Jesus that advocated helping the needy. The only explanation I have for why some religious people favor public aid and others condemn it is that the religion of the latter has been so attenuated from the messages of its founder as to bear no resemblance. Consequently I find the claims of the so-called "religious right" to have no religious component, but to be completely self-serving.
Critics of public aid fear government involvement in business and economics. One definition of socialism as a form of government describes it as state ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods. Capitalism, the well-entrenched form of economics in this country, claims that ownership for itself and vociferously protects its turf. Supporters of capitalism eschew public aid as a government incursion into activities that properly belong to private business. The biggest flaw with this argument is that capitalism can see no accommodation with government, indeed it would prefer to have the upper hand at all times. It is absurd to see public aid as a threat to private business. On the other hand, it is possible to see society as a threat to private business, and this is the real fear of the critics of public aid. Unfortunately they are prepared to throw out the baby with the bath water.
In closing, I see socialism as a good, as something to be admired and supported, and as necessary. Public aid is a rightful and desirable form of socialism. Politicians who denounce public aid as socialism should be retired immediately. They are threatening our society. We should not tolerate it.