<![CDATA[Federal Safety Net - Articles on Poverty]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 10:57:44 -0800Weebly<![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.    

<![CDATA[The number one rule of mentoring – no money!]]>Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:56:41 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/the-number-one-rule-of-mentoring-no-moneyPicture
A handbok on Charitable Organization, written in 1882, had advice for how to mentor to the poor.  They described the mentor as a “volunteer visitor” and here is the number one rule [i]:

“I. In accordance with the fundamental principles of the scheme the visitor is required strictly to abstain from giving relief or being the almoner of the charity of others”.

In other words the number one rule on mentoring was to give no money.  Can you imagine that?   A charity recommending that people work with the poor but spend no money in the endeavor.  The book makes the postulate that for individuals to be good mentors to the poor it is counter-productive to also be the supplier of money, food our benefits.   Instead it is important for a good mentor to give of their talents and time.  They need to give the alms of good advice not the alms themselves.   Those alms can come from government, charity, family or friends, but not the mentor.  

If all goes well they can achieve what is described in the Handbok of Charity Organization [ii]:

“The Buffalo Society to-day has the confidence of the entire community, and even the poor now see that we are their true friends; so much so, that our Agents are often stopped as they are on their way to investigate cases, with the request, ‘do just stop in, and see how nicely I’m getting along’.”

Across America today there are many people that would experience this same interaction running across someone they once helped.    They are the true hero’s in the war on poverty.   They are the front line fighters giving the most valuable resource of all – their thoughts, care and friendship.    

[i] Stephen Humphreys Gurteen.  A Handbok on Charity Organization.  Published by the author, 1882.  Republished by Bibliolife, LLC.  Page 176

[ii] Ibid. Page 129.

<![CDATA[FCC expands welfare – Congress and the President nowhere in sight]]>Wed, 01 Mar 2017 16:45:27 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/fcc-expands-welfare-congress-and-the-president-nowhere-in-sightPicture
The FCC expanded the Lifeline Program on March 31, 2016 to include broadband internet connection.   In a highly contentious proceeding the FCC expanded the $9.25 per month subsidy to include broadband in addition to phone service.   The commission was split 3-2 on party lines to adopt the new regulations.    The vote is in effect an expansion of welfare without the Congress or even the President involved.   Amazing.   
The budget was raised from $1.6 billion to $2.25 billion, but there is no cap on expenditures.  
Here is a quote from the assenting opinion of Commissioner Tom Wheeler:

“By dramatically improving Lifeline’s management and design, and putting the program on sound fiscal footing moving forward, we will help low-income Americans all across our nation connect to the Internet and the opportunities of the broadband revolution.  Internet access has become essential for full participation in our modern economy and our society, but 64.5 million Americans are missing out on the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.”


Here is a quote the dissenting opinion from commissioner Ajit Pai.
“…..  I cannot support this Order. It is not fiscally responsible. It does not clean up the waste, fraud, and abuse. And it consigns Lifeline consumers to second-class broadband services for the foreseeable future. On top of this, the Order does not comply with federal law. For all these reasons, I dissent.”
Within the assenting and dissenting opinions there is a description of a late night meeting trying to gain consensus from the Commissioners.   It sounds like they almost got there having settled on a cap on expenditures of $2.0 billion and other items.   But it failed in the end and we are left with a partisan vote and ill will.   The new FCC Commissioner in the Trump administration is now Mr. Pai, so the shoe is on the other foot.  Who knows what happens next.   In the meantime the bureaucracy moves forward with complex rules being passed down to telecommunication companies and ultimately to consumers.   A new “National Verifier” program is being created so the FCC can more fully operate as the 8th federal agency to run a full welfare Program (see Safety Net Page).   All this for $9.25 per month per household which is not even 1% of the poverty threshold
As an anti-poverty program Lifeline is like going to your doctor for a broken arm and he decides to trim your toenails.     I read the Order and wanted to cry.   Our poor country - as it relates to welfare we are so off base.   

<![CDATA[$15 billion for sweets?]]>Mon, 20 Feb 2017 14:41:49 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/15-billion-for-sweetsPicture
Does it bother you to think that taxpayers buy $15 billion of sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar for those in poverty?  That is the estimate of purchases by SNAP participants from benefits paid by the federal government.   The Department of Agriculture issued a report in November 2016 which shows how SNAP benefits are spent.    On average individuals spend about 23% of their SNAP benefits on the sweets and snacks [i].       
That seems like an awful lot, but is roughly equivalent to the same percentage non SNAP households spend of their own money on the sweets and snacks.   Still, taxpayers funding the purchase seems different than folks buying the items for themselves.    At least SNAP forbids the purchase of alcoholic beverages with benefit payments.  I would imagine tax payers would have a real problem with that.   In the end, I suppose in the wide world of welfare we have bigger fish to fry than to worry about sweets and snacks.  Quite literally, so do SNAP beneficiaries.   They spend about 19% of SNAP benefits on meat and if you add in vegetables it is over 26% of expenditures.    
In the end I’m not sure how sweets and snacks help the poor get back on their feet, but maybe that is not the way to look at it.   Maybe it is as simple as merely giving the poor the freedom to choose for themselves what they buy to eat and drink.    Which means the poor are just like the rest of us in the struggle to eat better and lead healthier lives.  Welcome to the club.   I know I’d be healthier and feel better if I ate and drank less of that stuff.   If the government outlawed it maybe I’d even have a better chance of succeeding.   But then we’d get into that freedom thing and this is America.   So if you want to eat lousy you have that right – even if taxpayers buy it for you.     

[i] Percentages of food expenditures from:  USDA.  Foods typically purchased by SNAP households (Summary).  November 2016.  [Internet].   Retrieved February 18, 2017.   Available here.   Estimate of 2016 cost calculated as follows; SNAP total benefits of $66,597 billion times 22.6 percent.   SNAP total benefits from USDA. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation and Costs, 1969 - 2016.  [Internet].  Retrieved February 17, 2017.  Available here.