Taking Care of the Needy
In light of the drastic cuts in state budgets, I think it is important to have a dialogue about what it would take to get folks more involved in pushing for these programs. Obviously, everyone here is committed to making the world a better place. But no matter how large our contributions are there are still some functions provided by government agencies and nonprofits that we simply cannot supplant.
Items such as income supports (TANF, food stamps, Section 8) and services to the poor and needy (mental health, health care) are simply too large for us to tackle. Even if we were able to solve the collective action problem, our efforts would come up short. Regardless of one's political persuasion, it is impossible to deny the necessity of a strong safety net.
But how do we translate our mission of bettering the world into substantive political support? Make no mistake about it, in order to ensure government provides for our neediest neighbors we must organize and make our voices heard. Yet, as someone who has spent many years in and around politics, I see very few people organizing to protect and strengthen our safety net. Most often, the only people on the playing field are the service providers, relevant agencies and some clients and their families. This dearth of public support for safety net programs explains why they are always the first to be cut in times of crisis.
In order to prevent future crises from tearing our safety net, we need to do two big things. First, we need to get more poor and needy folks to vote. As much as people are put off by politics, you cannot get around the fact that if you're not on the playing field you can't win the game. Some service providers are already taking steps to increase civic engagement among their clients. But more must be done. Conducting such trainings and lobbying days cost money, and most nonprofits don't have the cash to spare and government agencies cannot do advocacy work. We need foundations to step up to the plate and create more grant programs for innovative civic engagement programs.
We must also find a way to get non-poor and non-needy people to care about these issues. This is not an easy sell, to be sure. People are faced with nearly infinite other items that demand their attention. And, all too often, we assume that the government will simply take care of the needy without our pushing them to do so. The current situation ought to disabuse people of that notion.
It's obvious that those who have given the most money or can deliver the most votes are the ones whose programs and policies are spared the budget axe. Rather than bemoan the injustice in that we need to organize and pressure our elected officials to do the right thing. This may sound like a daunting task. And to some degree it is. But it is not impossible, unless we fail to try.
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