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Sunday, June 7, 2015

No More Lifetime Handouts For the Poor

When it comes to the epidemic of poverty in our country, many people want to help. The truth is, however, that what we ultimately wind up doing is not helping the people, but perpetuating the problem. There are so many examples one can point to that clearly demonstrate that welfare and food programs are doing nothing to solve the issue of poverty. If nothing else, all of the statistics clearly point to the fact that the problem is only getting worse, and since the inception of welfare programs instituted largely during the Great Depression era the number of people on the poverty level is substantially higher today.

Part of the problem is the way that the welfare and food programs are set up. The system does not encourage work, and for many people once you are on the dole, you never get off of it.

And it's not just government programs that can be to blame for the failure of welfare and food programs. Churches, for example, are large contributors of food to families in need. To either the government officials, or church officials, one question should be asked.

If the same person has come to my door for the past 30 years needing some help, how has my program worked to help that person?

Fixing the problem is difficult. But not because it is complex. It is difficult because many people, especially politicians, are convinced that even bringing up the issue of welfare reform is political suicide. Moreover, many Americans are simply convinced that taking anything away from the poor is cruel and inhumane.

In my opinion, keeping a person on the dole is akin to keeping an animal in captivity. Or perhaps, it can even be akin to a form of slavery. The fact is that the true potential of an individual cannot be realized when it is trapped in a system for which there is no foreseeable escape.

Welfare programs should be designed to seek to help those who truly need some help. But it should not be designed to allow individuals who have no interest in helping themselves continue to receive benefits.

Imagine, if you will, being an investor. A businessman comes to you and says he wants to expand his business. He invites you to fork over some cash to invest with him. He tells you to contribute money every single month. All the while the business does not expand. The investment dollars are only paying for the daily operating expenses of the current business. How long do you continue to invest knowing that the dollars are not improving the business? How long do you continue to invest knowing that the businessman has no intention of using the money to improve the business? And if the money keeps coming anyway, what incentive does the businessman have to do anything about improving the business?

Welfare programs can be thought of the same way. You are investing dollars into an idea that you will help the poor to get back on their feet, and get off the dole. Only the truth is that the dollars are only paying for the daily operating expenses and nothing more. There is no expansion, and the result of the dollars spent are static at best. This is largely a zero gain investment.

It needs to be clear that welfare reform should not be considered by anyone to be cruel in any way. Even churches should appreciate welfare reform. After all, it is in the Bible where it says, "Feed a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." Yet churches have virtually no work programs, but their food programs rule the day.

So, what should be at the heart of an effective system of welfare? Education and encouragement to seek employment. And I'm not talking about higher education when it comes to that term. But rather educating people on money management, how to conduct themselves in an interview for a job, and how to write an effective résumé. Things that will have greater impact on the lives of the poor than simply handing them a few dollars and a loaf of bread.

Some of the reforms I would institute would include many things. And again, the system would be geared to helping individuals who truly need the help, while leaving behind those who have no intention of truly benefiting from the help they are being offered. It may seem cruel. But at some point it simply makes no sense to me to be an enabler simply because. In no other areas of our society do we accept this, but when it comes to poverty we do it openly.

At some point the weakling chick must be tossed from the nest to ensure the survival of the stronger chicks. 

  • Welfare recipients would be required to seek work, and would be required to report the results of their job search efforts.
  • Welfare recipients would be required to do a specified number of hours of community service such as keeping up parks, street cleanup, and other projects deemed beneficial to the communities in which they are receiving benefits.
  • Welfare recipients would be required to attend job training sessions such as how to conduct oneself in an interview for a job, how to write a résumé, and would be educated in areas of money management, how to open a savings account, and how to balance a checking account and how to avoid credit pitfalls such as payday loans and title loans which are devastatingly destructive to poor communities.
  • Welfare recipients would be required to be tested for drugs. Welfare recipients tested positive would be required to seek rehabilitation in order to maintain their benefits. Failure to pass drug tests in the future would make them ineligible for future benefits.
  • Welfare benefits would not be unlimited. Benefits would be reduced on a graduating scale over time, and at some point it would be expected that the benefit of work would outweigh the value of the benefits. Benefits would also eventually expire.
Comedian and radio personality Dennis Miller once said of the system of welfare, "I don't mind helping the helpless. I mind helping the clueless, and these days there are more clueless than helpless." An effective system must be one in which productivity, responsibility, and real hope is encouraged and offered. The system as it stands today offers none of that, and therefore poverty remains an epidemic, and one that is expanding rather than contracting even though more and more dollars are spent on these programs each and every year.

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