I know what you don’t do. You don’t say to yourself "I wonder why that person is not a successful beneficiary of our federal and state welfare system." They shouldn’t have a hungry child at home. We have programs to prevent that. Just the food stamp program alone will pay a two person household as much as $350 every month. So what is their story? Are they outside the system? Are they duplicitous? Do the programs not pay enough? What is going on?
This little scenario plays out millions of times across America every day and is proof what little confidence we have in our federal safety net. We just assume the programs are a disjointed and complex system that doesn’t play into this little scenario. Shame on us. The system should be the first line of defense between individuals and poverty, not the cup in their hand and the change in your pocket.
Can you imagine approaching the beggar and asking why they are apparently outside the system? Are they really not destitute? Are they a victim of a complex system and don’t know how to navigate it? Did they misuse the benefits they got? Were their payments too small?
Most Americans don’t understand how the welfare system works. We don’t know how many programs there are, how much they pay, where you apply or what you get (See the Safety Net Programs Page). And no wonder. The system is so complex and bureaucratic only the experts really understand the details.
If that same poor person were to walk across the street against the traffic signal we would instantly know what the problem was, and strive to fix it, because we know the rules. We can explain all kinds of society’s rules and laws and how they work; like a driver’s license, or a passport. Heck many of us can explain charging fouls in the NBA, but not our federal safety net. It is just a distant tangled web to most of us. It’s the last thing on our mind as we see that poor person asking for money. So what do you do? Do you give them change in your pocket or don’t you?
I have the answer. Give them the change. I’m not talking about the change in your pocket. I’m talking about the change to our system. Support meaningful reform to our welfare system so we can simplify it and make it better (see the Welfare Reform Page). Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that worked and that we were proud of?
Fix the system; keep the change.