The pieces are food, housing, utility bills, school lunches, college, pre-school, work support, welfare to work, community assistance, milk, child care and disability/old age. We created the pieces one program at a time over more than 50 years. The result is that low-income Americans must use separate programs to get aid.
Food? – Here is a debit card
Housing? – Apply for a rent voucher
Pregnant? - You’ll need milk, here is the form.
Clothes? – Sorry, no program for that.
Perhaps we haven’t gotten to the clothes piece yet; or the personal hygiene piece or the transportation piece. Perhaps we don’t intend to. We know we can’t satisfy every personal need with a government program. What we are attempting to do is empower the individual to satisfy their own needs. That is why we have built individual discretion into many of the programs. Debit cards for food can be used to buy any type of food an individual desires. The only rule attached to the card is it must be used for food; not rent, transportation, or clothes. We want the poor to be independent and use their own discretion; we just expect them to do it in pieces.
It doesn’t make sense for a benevolent people to adopt a piecemeal approach. Why the separate programs, payments and rules? Why don’t we roll up all the programs into a single one that pays cash to the poor? Why don’t we join the pieces into a whole? It is much harder and more expensive for the government to run separate programs and for the poor to work within them. So why do we do it? We know why the past lead us to this point, but why do we continue?
Are we afraid to pass a single large cash payment to the poor because we fear they can’t handle such discretion? Are we afraid to address the overall costs and effectiveness of welfare and 12 separate programs allows us to put our head in the sand? Or is it simply that we haven’t focused on the fact that our welfare benevolence has gone to pieces?