<![CDATA[Federal Safety Net - Articles on Poverty]]>Sat, 07 Oct 2017 10:26:29 -0700Weebly<![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.

<![CDATA[Religion and the calling to take care of the poor]]>Sat, 28 Jan 2017 15:23:39 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/religion-and-the-calling-to-take-care-of-the-poorPicture
​Deep in the heart of Christians is a calling to take care of the poor.   We know the bible instructs us to do so.   Here is how the authors in a synopsis of the Poverty and Justice Bible described it [i]:
"We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and we love them by serving them." 
“Serving them” are the words that make us often times feel guilty.   We ask ourselves if we are doing enough to serve the downtrodden.   Are we sharing enough of our resources and our time?  Religious and charitable leaders often remind us we must do more.     
But we also know that we want to help the poor to help themselves.   We want to provide a hand up not merely a hand out.   Does serving include instruction?   Coaching?   Tough love?    Or is serving just the giving of money and time without judgement or the expectation of anything in return?   

​I ran across a little book from Dr. Lawrence Mead which might shed some light on the issue.   Here are some quotes explaining his interpretation of how the bible instructs us regarding the poor [ii]  
“In the New testament, Like the Old, helping the poor is a priority, but helping means primarily to restore the poor to community rather than simply to subside or liberate them.  The community is based on mutual expectations about good behavior.”
“Assistance is not a substitute for engagement.  The answer to poverty is not redistribution but the rebuilding of relationships with the poor where both sides give and receive.”
“Properly understood, the biblical commandment is not to spend more or less on the poor.  Rather it is to do what they most require.”
That last phrase is a good one – do what they most require.   That changes the whole ballgame.   Dr.  Mead sums up the problem quite well [iii]:
“Ordinary people sense in their bones both that helping the poor is a priority and also that the poor must help themselves.  Some will ask, how can we do both?  If we help the poor, they are not self-reliant, and if they are self-reliant we do not help them.    But the two priorities conflict only in political ideology.  In local anti-poverty efforts, it is quite possible to combine them.”  


[i] The Poverty and Justice Bible.  Contemporary English Version.  American Bible Society New York.   The Core.  Page 3.

[ii] From Prophecy to charity, How to Help The Poor.  AEI Press, 2001.  Lawrence M. Mead.  Page 62.

[iii] Ibid.  ​Page 63.

<![CDATA[Charity or friendship?]]>Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:29:06 GMThttp://federalsafetynet.com/articles-on-poverty/charity-or-friendshipPicture

It isn’t money that is missing from the fight on poverty.   It is time.   Time from people willing to mentor and time from those in poverty willing to listen.  We are all a product of being helped to become self-sufficient.   The guidance usually comes from loving mothers and fathers.   Many people become self-sufficient without loving relatives to teach them, but the route is harder.   But no one makes it without help, instruction, advice, and key mentors along the way.   There is just too much to learn about money, spending, budgeting, saving, debt avoidance, hard work, attitude, personal hygiene, interviewing, job skills, career paths, personal interests, personal skills, education, study skills, testing skills, government programs, child rearing, child education, etc., etc., etc.

Mentoring is important, but equally important is encouragement, interaction and involving the poor in community – in other words, friendship.  People need to hear they are important, that they matter, that their effort is appreciated, that we know what they are up against and that we are pulling for their success.

A Handbok of Charity Organization published in 1882[i]  put it this way:  "We hold that the chief need of the poor to-day is not alms giving, but the moral support of true friendship …"

Well put – the moral support of true friendship isn’t talked about much in the poverty debate. Perhaps it should be.                                   

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