<![CDATA[Federal Safety Net - Articles on Poverty]]>Mon, 19 Feb 2018 18:57:52 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[“Something for something” is catching on]]>Sun, 18 Feb 2018 15:35:36 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/something-for-something-is-catching-onPicture
The requirement that an able-bodied person work before they can get welfare has always been a controversial issue.   Americans generally like a work requirement (see Welfare Opinion Page), but many worry that if jobs are scarce a work requirement can be unfair and hold up welfare benefits at a time they are needed most.    But I saw a most ingenious poll taken in January 2018 from The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA).  They polled whether likely voters support requiring able-bodied adults to work, train, or volunteer at least part-time in order to receive welfare.    That is a very interesting little addition to the work requirement – or volunteer at least part-time.  That is brilliant because all people of sound mind and body can help out in our communities and it is a great way to bridge the gap between welfare and a full work requirement.  

Poll responders liked it too – 90% supported requiring able-bodied adults to work, train or volunteer at least part-time in order to receive welfare.   Chances are you agree as well – it makes a lot of sense.   Most of our welfare programs today are just handouts with no expectations in return.    See the Welfare Reform Page for how we should fix the welfare system, including getting "something for something" and that something can be volunteering in our communities.   

<![CDATA[Welfare reform; higher benefits and lower deficits - Really?]]>Mon, 29 Jan 2018 15:33:57 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/welfare-reform-higher-benefits-and-lower-deficits-reallyPicture
Our current system of 13 welfare programs handing out “in-kind benefits” is very expensive and hard to use.   In-kind benefits are things like vouchers for rent, school lunches and food cards.   If we instead adopted a simple cash payment system to the poor we could hand out cash benefits of up to $8,000 annually to a person in poverty and $5,000 per child.   A Family of four could be supported by as much as $23,000 in guaranteed income.  

Such a program would be much cheaper for the federal government.   It would cost us an estimated $264 billion per year versus the $364 Billion we spend today on 13 independent programs.  So we could get more cash to the poor and save $100 billion on the deficit.   I know that sounds like crazy talk, but our federal programs are just that inefficient.   See all the details of such a plan in the Welfare Reform Page.  

It is not often we can get more cash and more savings, but this is one of those times.  

<![CDATA[We are going to have to earn our way out of this]]>Tue, 26 Dec 2017 15:42:46 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/we-are-going-to-have-to-earn-our-way-out-of-thisPicture
​The living wage gap in America is estimated to be $900 billion.    That is what it would take to redistribute wealth so that all Americans had income at the level of a “living wage”.  Will America ever create and implement such a government program?  Probably not – it would just be too big.   Here is how the numbers line up.  
The poverty threshold is a level of income below which an individuals or family is considered to be in poverty.   There are 40.6 million Americans in poverty in 2016 (See Poverty Statistics Page) as measured by the Census Bureau.   There are another 54.6 million Americans below two times the Poverty Threshold, a good approximation of a living wage.   See more on Living Wage Page.  A comparison follows:

​The cost to move the 40.6 million to an income level above the poverty threshold totals $171 billion (see Poverty Gap Page).    The cost to move the 95.2 million to an income level of two times the poverty threshold is estimated to be about $900 billion.    Today, not including health care expenditures, the U.S. spends $363 billion on welfare, almost twice the level necessary to eradicate poverty (See Safety Net Programs Page).    But that is only about a third of the total necessary to achieve income redistribution at a level of a living wage.  
In fiscal year 2016 we spent $977 billion on social security which is generally funded by payroll taxes from workers.  The second largest federal expenditure in the year was $813 billion for defense (See Entitlement Spending Page).  I don’t see anything approaching a living wage being distributed by the federal government - at a $900 billion annual cost it is simply too big.  We might tweak welfare programs and even expand them some in the future, but creating a new entitlement program to distribute a living wage is just a “bridge to far.”
If that is true than it is the private sector that must supply a living wage.  The roll of the federal government therefore, is a secondary one to support the private sector to create good paying jobs.  Government welfare programs can help with a “hand up” in support and education.   Charities and mentors can add support and advice.   But if an individual wants a living wage they are going to have to ultimately earn it themselves.    That is the hard core reality.    
<![CDATA[If you “get” you ought to “give”]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 16:40:04 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/if-you-get-you-ought-to-givePicture
​A very interesting article entitled Our Miserable 21st Century lays out chilling statistics about the numbers of Americans living with alcohol abuse, drug addiction or as ex-cons in our society.   Many of these individuals live in poverty and if we want to help them we can’t have government programs, charities and individual mentors ignore these challenges.   But how do we do that?  

"Something for something" can be our means to measure and address the challenge.  Most of the time in our welfare and charity programs we give something for nothing.   Benefits are handed out with nothing expected in return.   Instead we should get “something for something.”  (see more information on Welfare Reform Page).  It doesn’t need to be fully reciprocal – the value of the something given doesn’t have to equal the value of something received.   The something given can be money or things, the something received an interaction of some kind.   The something gained can be the further education or training of the person receiving aid.  It could be volunteering at charities, schools or churches.   It can be helping kids with homework, reading to toddlers, cleaning up parks, helping elders, etc.  For those working full time this fact must be respected but there are still simple things they could do which is valuable to the community, does not put a job at risk and helps achieve a cultural encounter.   The idea of something for something is to help us establish community, together, while the individual grows in life skills.   The poor have much to offer our communities and our communities have many needs.

PictureNicholas Eberstadt
​Here are three quotes from Mr. Eberstadt’s article Our Miserable 21st Century and comments as to why something for something could help us solve these problems.   The point here is not that you agree with Mr. Eberstadt statistics or his description of the attributes of the individuals, but that something for something would be a positive policy step even in these most difficult situations.             
  • We already knew from other sources (such as BLS “time use” surveys) that the overwhelming majority of the prime-age men in this un-working army generally don’t “do civil society” (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering), or for that matter much in the way of child care or help for others in the home either, despite the abundance of time on their hands. Their routine, instead, typically centers on watching—watching TV, DVDs, Internet, hand-held devices, etc.—and indeed watching for an average of 2,000 hours a year, as if it were a full-time job. But Krueger’s study adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind’s eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.
Pulling these individuals back into our communities is paramount to helping them help themselves.   Something for something will tell us if they can contribute to society on a daily basis.   If not we need to address the reason why before we continue to pass along welfare benefits that enable the problem.  
  • Of the entire un-working prime-age male Anglo population in 2013, nearly three-fifths (57 percent) were reportedly collecting disability benefits from one or more government disability program in 2013. Disability checks and means-tested benefits cannot support a lavish lifestyle. But they can offer a permanent alternative to paid employment, and for growing numbers of American men, they do. The rise of these programs has coincided with the death of work for larger and larger numbers of American men not yet of retirement age. We cannot say that these programs caused the death of work for millions upon millions of younger men: What is incontrovertible, however, is that they have financed it—just as Medicaid inadvertently helped finance America’s immense and increasing appetite for opioids in our new century.
Many individuals on disability have skills to help America.   Our communities have diverse needs any many of them don’t require physical strength, like helping kids with homework or reading to toddlers.   We can’t let those on disability check out of our communities.    That is not good for them and not good for America.    Something for something can pull them back in and should be a quid pro quo for receiving a disability check from the government.      
  • [Addressing ex-cons]  We have to use rough estimates here, rather than precise official numbers, because the government does not collect any data at all on the size or socioeconomic circumstances of this population of 20 million, and never has. Amazing as this may sound and scandalous though it may be, America has, at least to date, effectively banished this huge group—a group roughly twice the total size of our illegal-immigrant population and an adult population larger than that in any state but California—to a near-total and seemingly unending statistical invisibility.  Our ex-cons are, so to speak, statistical outcasts who live in a darkness our polity does not care enough to illuminate—beyond the scope or interest of public policy, unless and until they next run afoul of the law.
Ex-cons that are on welfare should contribute to our communities through something for something.   If we are to be a positive force to help ex-cons turn their life around then we need to involve them into our communities.  If they have no desire to contribute than their welfare and charitable support should end.  
In all of these difficult situations, something for something can be our rudder and our guide.    It helps maintain the link to community.   Without that link problems grow and poverty governs.   Something for something is the magic elixir in the poverty fight.   Too bad we don’t use it.   

<![CDATA[How do you measure a food banks success?]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:01:08 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/how-do-you-measure-a-food-banks-successPicture
Can you measure a hospitals success by how much medicine they give out?   Can you measure the success of a police department by how many tickets are issued?    How about measuring a food banks success by how much food is distributed? 

Of course, the activity of an institution is important, but the positive impact on the people served is the success criteria.   We think that way with hospitals and police departments but not with food banks.   Most food banks don’t really get to know the people using them – they just measure their success by how much food they get and how much they hand out.   Too often it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the food, whether they are in need or not and whether the handout is a positive or negative influence on the individual’s life.  

Can you imagine a charity that handed out $100 bills to anyone who walked through the door and then was proud of how much money they gave away?     Could you then imagine them asking you to donate to their cause because there are more and more people coming to get money so the need must be great?    We would think that is absurd wouldn’t we?   But in the food bank world that is exactly what we often do, except instead of money we hand out food.  

Many food banks need to up their game – they need to get to know the people they serve and help them gain their financial independence.   Medicine helps the doctor achieve his goals – food banks should think of food in the same manner.   

<![CDATA[That stubborn 10%]]>Fri, 29 Sep 2017 11:43:32 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/that-stubborn-10Picture
We have had two great years on the battle against poverty in the United States.   The poverty level dropped to 12.7% of the population in 2016, down from 14.8% just two years earlier in 2014.   That means there are six million fewer Americans in poverty.  Good news.   Could we get it even lower?
Perhaps we can beat the all-time low of 11.3% of the population in poverty, recorded in the year 2000.    The graph above shows the level of poverty compared to the unemployment rate.   Jobs are the best solution to poverty and in times of low unemployment poverty drops.   As shown on the graph, when the unemployment rate is low the poverty rate has dropped to below 12% of the population.   Perhaps we can break that level over the next couple of years if jobs stay strong.  
I wonder what it would take to get the poverty level in the U.S. to drop below 10% - that stubborn 10%.   I hate to think that no matter the economic health of the nation we will always have over 10% of the population in poverty.   As shown on the poverty statistics page the level of poverty for those that are working full time is just 2% - so we have to get more people working.  We are going to have to change our approach to fighting poverty.   We are going to have to get stronger in preparing those in poverty to be able to access jobs in a good economy through education and job skills.    Unless we solve that problem we seem to have a poverty floor of at least 10% of the population.   I’m just not willing to accept that anymore – how about you?                

<![CDATA[Our Miserable 21st Century]]>Wed, 30 Aug 2017 12:42:20 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/our-miserable-21st-centuryPictureNicholas Eberstadt
I ran across a most amazing article entitled Our Miserable 21st Century.   It was written by Nicholas Eberstadt and include in Commentary Magazine in February 2017.   The article accumulates some chilling statistics regarding labor-force dropouts, opioid addiction and felony convictions.   Here are some quotes from the article:
  • In the fall of 2016, Alan Krueger, former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, released a study that further refined the picture of the real existing opioid epidemic in America: According to his work, nearly half of all prime working-age male labor-force dropouts—an army now totaling roughly 7 million men—currently take pain medication on a daily basis.
  • By 2013, according to a 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration, more Americans died from drug overdoses (largely but not wholly opioid abuse) than from either traffic fatalities or guns.
  • A short but electrifying 2015 paper by Anne Case and Nobel Economics Laureate Angus Deaton talked about a mortality trend that had gone almost unnoticed until then: rising death rates for middle-aged U.S. whites…. accounted for by suicides, chronic liver cirrhosis, and poisonings (including drug overdoses).
  • Health has been deteriorating for a significant swath of white America in our new century, thanks in large part to drug and alcohol abuse. All this sounds a little too close for comfort to the story of modern Russia, with its devastating vodka- and drug-binging health setbacks. Yes: It can happen here, and it has. Welcome to our new America.
  • A little more rough arithmetic suggests that about 17 million men in our general population have a felony conviction somewhere in their CV [curriculum vitae]. That works out to one of every eight adult males in America today.
These are scary statistics.   If we think about it we probably know people and families impacted - many of them our relatives and friends.   Many of the poor in our nation suffer from addiction and/or past felony convictions and yet our welfare programs generally don’t address these problems (see Safety Net Programs Page). Mr. Eberstadt used the phrase “beyond the scope or interest of public policy” when talking about ex-cons.   I think that is accurate and can be used to describe how our welfare programs address addiction as well.   Our welfare programs have an underlying principle that handing out stuff always makes lives better.  Unfortunately that isn’t always true.      

<![CDATA[Welfare for People or Corporations?]]>Tue, 11 Jul 2017 15:42:29 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/welfare-for-people-or-corporationsPicture
The Lifeline program exists to help poor people get phone services.   The Program is administered by Telecommunication Companies that hand out the subsidies to low-income households.   The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just completed a report demonstrating that the Companies are stretching the rules in a self-serving manner.    The fox is running the henhouse.  
Here is what the GAO found in the report issued on June 29, 2017:
  • GAO was unable to confirm whether about 1.2 million individuals of the 3.5 million it reviewed, or 36 percent, participated in a qualifying benefit program, such as Medicaid, as stated on their Lifeline enrollment application.  
If Lifeline applicants are not in “qualifying benefit programs” they should be denied the Lifeline subsidy (see qualification rules).   This is a big problem resulting in millions of improper payments which ultimately benefit the Telecommunication Companies.  
Here is what the GAO says about the problem:
  • Lifeline's structure relies on over 2,000 Eligible Telecommunication Carriers that are Lifeline providers to implement key program functions, such as verifying subscriber eligibility. This complex internal control environment is susceptible to risk of fraud, waste, and abuse as companies may have financial incentives to enroll as many customers as possible.
So what do we do now?   In typical Washington fashion it looks like the answer is to study the problem some more.   GAO tells us, “In a July 2016 Order, FCC announced plans for an independent third party to evaluate Lifeline design, function, and administration by December 2020.”  So the fox can dine for three and a half more years and then we’ll think about some changes – is that it?

<![CDATA[Only 13% of poor people want welfare benefits free of obligations]]>Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:32:48 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/only-13-of-poor-people-want-welfare-benefits-free-of-obligationsPicture
I saw the most amazing statistic the other day.   A statistic that confirms my faith in poor Americans.  

In an American Enterprise Institute/Los Angeles Times survey conducted across the U.S. in the summer of 2016, only 13% of Americans in a poverty status believe that welfare benefits should be given to the poor with nothing received in return (See more information on Welfare Opinion Page). 

Wow – the poor don’t want free handouts, they want to give back and contribute to society.   They want to participate in community and the progress of the nation.   I guess I knew that but seeing it in such overwhelming numbers was heartwarming just the same.   

<![CDATA[A Local Poverty Saint]]>Mon, 29 May 2017 13:57:05 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/a-local-poverty-saintPictureNancy Gripman helping a local boy with his reading
A few good deeds here and there and then at the age of 86 you look like a saint to all of those who know you.  That is how the town of Parker, Colorado feels about Nancy Gripman.  She started the Parker Task Force (PTF) in her garage collecting extra food from local merchants and distributing it to those in need.  As PTF developed it moved beyond merely attacking hunger and steadily gravitated toward helping those of sound mind and body to become self-sufficient.  Now thirty years later the PTF helps hundreds of people every year obtain their financial independence.    It’s a food bank that changes lives.  It has volunteers getting food, stocking shelf's and running a store so those in need can choose what works for them.   It pulls in local citizens willing to donate half a day a week to work as counselors.   It has developed great policies on how to interview clients, how to keep data confidential and how to work together to come up with a plan for self-sufficiency.   It limits clients to just 10 visits to obtain food or other benefits which establishes a sense of urgency to make progress.   The visits can be extended if the plan is on track.  

PTF is an all-volunteer organization – not a paid position from the President to the cleaning crew.   PTF restricts its efforts on helping citizens living in the community as opposed to those living outside the community, so it can align local citizen to citizen.  The operation is set up such that it can help its clients in need in any way that promotes solution – rent payments, doctor bills, child care, food, personal hygiene, job search, etc.  

We are lucky in Parker, Colorado that we have the PTF.   We are lucky that the community sends those in need to PTF for help and organizes volunteers to mentor them.   PTF has a relationship with the town, the schools and the churches and all try and coordinate their efforts.   The police in Parker carry vouchers from PTF for a paid night in the hotel if they find someone they feel should be taken off the streets.   The next day they are encouraged to visit PTF and be interviewed.

PictureBill Gripman next to a statue of his wife Nancy; shown gardening for those in need.
I don’t think Nancy had all this in mind when she and a group of women started collecting food for her fellow citizens.   She saw the need and jumped in to work on it and invited the community to join her.   They didn’t wait for government sponsorship or direction from anyone, they just got going.   The truly remarkable thing is that they didn’t just hand out food, they decided to take that next step, get to know the people and seek to help them gain their financial independence.   Giving stuff away is easy, changing lives is hard.   Nancy did the hard stuff and for that our town is eternally grateful.  So when she died at the age of 86 in 2015 a statue was put in the park to help us remember her – she is a local hero.