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A handout is something given freely or distributed free to those in need.
It can refer to government welfare or a charitable gift, and it may take the form of money, food, or other necessities.
During the Great Depression, many people lived entirely on handouts of one kind or another when they could not afford to buy food. The term became especially popular among hobos, who developed a system of signs and symbols to describe the nature, quantity, and availability of handouts.
The term "handout" is used specifically in sociology and welfare analysis to identify direct payments or provision of goods, and to distinguish them from other forms of welfare support such as low-interest loans, subsidized housing, or medical care. However, some people feel it has a negative connotation, with the implication that a handout is unearned and undeserved. "Give a hand up, not a handout" is a common remark among proponents of workfare or other welfare-to-work systems. The term "government handout" is often applied to both welfare systems as well as corporate welfare or pork.