Who Should Provide Social Services?

During the debt ceiling “negotiations”, republithugs demanded cuts in federal social services to low-income, unemployed, uneducated, disabled, and elderly Americans. As usual, President Neville Chamberlain appeased the bullies. Now we’re waiting for the Congressional Superthug Committee to tell us who among us will suffer the most. While we wait, we’ll debate whether government or private agencies should provide those services.

There will always be some people who just can’t support themselves. Yes, it is our duty as a civilized society to help them. First, let’s look at who gets to be poor in the United States.

  • People who are so physically or mentally disabled that they can’t hold a job,
  • Those who are capable of learning, but for one reason or another are uneducated – functionally or financially illiterate,
  • People who are just not capable of learning how to do complicated jobs that pay well,
  • Those who have incredibly bad luck. Yes, they do exist; I’ve known many. One thing after another keeps happening to them, interfering with their ability to get and keep a job,
  • People with drug, alcohol, and mental health problems.

Thanks to the cheneybush recession, now we can add the un- and under-employed to their numbers. The Republicans can’t wait to punish those people for being poor.

In 2009, the federal poverty threshold was $22,050 in annual income for a four-person family. 43.6 million people, 14.3 percent of our population, lived in poverty that year. That’s the most people ever in the 51 years that the Census Bureau has kept such records. These are the most recent figures available.

In July 2011, about 13,914,000 Americans collected unemployment compensation. That’s roughly 9.1 percent of the workforce. Actual unemployment figures were much higher. We don’t know how high because the government only counts people who collect benefits, thanks to Ronald Reagan’s handlers. Apparently, the rest of you can go to hell. Tens of millions more of our family, friends, and neighbors are under-employed. They don’t count either.

In May, 45,753,078 people in 21,581,234 households received average SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits of $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household.  That’s a program record. An average of 4,375,022 people, 1.4 percent of the population, received TANF, or “welfare”, benefits each month in 2010.

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the 1,046,719 public charities in the U.S. spend more than $1 trillion annually providing food, clothing, shelter, health care, childcare, elder care, legal, financial, advocacy, mentoring, counseling, artistic and cultural, education, transportation, utilities, consumer protection, safety, and other services to countless people every year, often on an emergency basis.

The federal Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs provide services in those categories through dozens of programs, some of which date back to the Great Depression.

Who in their right mind would consider gutting these services just when we need them the most? Your friendly neighborhood republithug, that’s who. We are smack in the middle of one of the worst recessions in history. Anyone who’s unemployed can tell you that a record bad economy creates a record demand for social services. Yet Republicans insist on cutting social services from state and federal budgets.

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said that government should not provide any service if a Google search would yield the name of a private company that does the same thing. So there you have it, folks. Pawlenty wants Google rankings to set public policy for the United States of America. These people have no earthly clue what they’re babbling about.

The Republicans contend that all poor people are lazy, drug-addicted criminals who would prosper if only they would “get a job”. They demand that people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and then they steal the boots. They ship the jobs overseas, decimate public education, revoke collective bargaining rights, and install roadblock, after roadblock, after roadblock to prevent people from improving their own lives. They make sure that our schools turn our students into financially, politically, and economically illiterate citizens who can’t survive without services, and then they remove the services.

Our public social service system needs a major overhaul, but we do still need it. We need both public and private social programs.

Government has the capacity to fund and manage the large programs that we need in times of recession, high poverty, and high unemployment. It can deliver services on a national scale by distributing resources where we need them the most. The government can maintain consistent criteria, policies, and procedures for its programs, but those programs can’t meet everyone’s needs.

Private charities play an important role in our society and our economy. While they can’t possibly handle the enormous need for social services, even in a good economy, they are much better at catching the people who fall through the cracks in the government safety net. Because they are small and private, they are much more flexible and can respond quickly to unusual situations and abrupt changes than government agencies, which often require an act of Congress. And we all know how long that takes.

Republicans like to claim that private charities can do a better job than public agencies. That just isn’t true. I’ve worked with both public and private social service agencies for nearly 30 years. Public and private agencies do not duplicate each other’s work. They don’t provide the same services. They don’t use the same eligibility criteria. They don’t compete with each other. In my experience, government and private service providers usually work very well together, referring clients back and forth, solving problems, and cooperating on many projects. If the government were to shut down a significant portion of public social services, the private charity system would collapse. America’s charities couldn’t possibly handle the added burden.

I love recessions. Every time we have one, the great American middle class gets an education. People who never thought it possible find themselves in dire straits and depending upon the programs that their tax dollars have paid for. Then they learn how the system really works. And the programs are always there for them. They don’t have to depend upon the kindness of strangers. Government programs are stable, while private agencies often come and go like television series.

If we do allow massive social service cuts, the great American middle class will get another hard lesson. We are all welfare recipients.

Wealthy people, who are primarily Republican, think they don’t have a duty to pay taxes and like to call themselves “job creators”. Well guys, if you really want to cut social services, then quit sitting on your lazy hands and your trillion dollar reserves. Stop outsourcing overseas and create some damn jobs. Hire some unemployed people. Teach politics, civics, economics, and personal finance in our schools. Then the demand for services will decrease on its own.

For More Information

Welfare in America: Myths and Facts

We Are All Welfare Recipients

Watch Out, America. They’re Coming for You Next

Who Should Pay Taxes?

Get Your Message to Your Legislators

 

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