When I worked at the homeless shelter, the knowledge that our budget depended on the government’s generosity never could truly leave our minds. Most of our donations were won through tax incentives that we needed to continue to be passed, and others came from community development grants and other charitable contributions that all seemed to lead a trail back to capitol hill. While the churches that housed our guests and the people that fed them every night did so out of charity, my paycheck and the paycheck of those I worked for, the money that kept the lights on and put gas in the van, all traced back to the government.
This is even more true at the residential treatment facility I worked for, where huge portions of the funding were directly tied to social security and medicaid. Without those programs, we would have had no one to treat and our patients would have been homeless, fully symptomatic, and dangerous to society.
In both places I can say with absolute certainly that the work we did improved our communities, kept them safer, and filled vital needs.
In both places I can say that I am worried what the future holds.
When people talk about the Government’s “wasteful spending” I am horrified that the things most people point at are tax incentive community development programs, medicaid, and welfare. The argument usually goes like this, “these benefit programs create a dependency that deepens the problem they are meant to address.” Let’s look at that for a moment. The first assumption of that argument is that if people didn’t have government incentive programs to develop their communities, they’d be equally able to do it on their own. It also assumes that people who receive welfare and medicaid are capable of providing for their own needs if they didn’t receive help from the government. To further that logic, the assumption deepens into a belief that we are wasting our money by giving to people who are capable of, and should be, caring for their own problems. I will concede that such programs are self-feeding. (That is, that by giving the benefit they often weaken resolve to move beyond the need for it, or in worst case scenarios the program actively works to keep people in it.) What I don’t understand is the logic behind the assumptions being made.
Why were these programs created in the first place? If we believe that people are both capable of providing for these needs on their own and would do so if the government didn’t have them a check, then why would the government have ever handed them the check in the first place? These programs address real, persistent problems that people can’t fix on their own. Poverty has always been endemic to our society. Sociologists will say things like that it fills a societal need by creating the impetus for people to work jobs that are necessarily low paying, or by saying that since there is a conflict over necessarily limited resources it is inevitable that there are people who end up without insufficient resources for survival. The debate as to the reason extreme poverty exists is ongoing, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that even God himself is quoted as having said “the poor will always be among you.”
It’s a fact of life- the need exists, whether or not a program is created to address it.
The reason the government took on the burden is because it is demonstrated that by raising the basement and making even the poorest in society capable of achieving more, everyone benefits. It is beneficial to all of us that the children of the very poor have healthcare. It is beneficial to all of us that children do not starve or have the meal they eat at school as their only meal of the day. It is beneficial to all of us that community development programs offer tax incentives that drive community members to donate more to food banks, homeless shelters, and beautification programs that remodel the homes and apartment complexes that the very poor live in and cannot care for by themselves.
Do these programs create a self-feeding cycle? Perhaps they do. But even so the money is not wasted, the more the programs are cut the more people end up starving, or homeless, or literally insane and on the streets.
It isn’t safe to cut them without a backup plan, and I’ve yet to hear any backup plan other than social darwinism.
And do you know what social darwinism leads to? Dead babies.