It is the other flood: The outpouring of concern for the poor of New Orleans. According to nearly every journalist in America, our consciousness has been raised about the invisible scourge of poverty in this country, and nothing is too much to ask when addressing the plight of the disadvantaged evacuees of New Orleans. They should get every form of aid possible — except, that is, assistance that might help give them more control over their lives.
Acton Institute’s Center for Effective Compassion is offering an intensive one-day event in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Oct 28, where nonprofits and community leaders will get practical, how-to skills to help them increase the “return on investment” for charity programs. Foundation grantees, grassroots community and faith-based service providers, students and volunteers won’t want to miss this event. Read more about the event here.
Key speakers include Rev. John Nunes, pastor of Dallas-based St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; Carol McLaughlin, chief programs officer at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation; Craig Folk, a partner with the Fort Myers accounting firm Miller, Helms & Folk, and Karen Woods, executive director at Acton’s Center for Effective Compassion. The event press release is available here.
Government is the only arena in which I can readily see that incompetence and failure, often of the staggeringly ignominious variety, is “punished” with an increase of funding and influence. Many others have observed this phenomena, perhaps most pervasive in the public education system. As we all know, the problem is always a lack of funds.
But we find the same twisted logic at work following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The inadequacy of government at all levels, with most of the focus on the federal, is not leading some to the obvious criticism of the size, complexity, and bureaucracy of government. Instead, we are seeing the contrary call, to increase the size of the government. As Anne Applebaum writes in The Washington Post, a number of figures, including German chancellor Gerhard Schrr, see the problem as too little government, not too much.
Applebaum rightly takes this statist interpretation of events to task, as she writes of the pervasiveness and effectiveness of relief efforts by elements of civil society. While “it is true that the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures,” she observes, “The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country’s incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.”
The political lesson should not be that more government is the answer, but rather a more focused and efficient government. The increase in government should be qualitative, not quantitative. It remains to be seen which will prevail: the axiomatic big government logic (perhaps manifested in an increased FEMA budget!), or common-sense conclusions about the scope and necessary limits of government power.
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Brendon Miniter notes that many of those stranded in New Orleans after the levee breaches were literally caught in a trap set by government “assistance”:
We still only have anecdotal evidence to go on, and we can be hopeful as the death toll remains far below the thousands originally predicted. But it’s reasonable to surmise that Sen. Kennedy is correct about those who wanted to leave: Most people who could arrange for their own transportation got out of harm’s way; those who depended on the government (and public transportation) were left for days to the mercy of armed thugs at the Superdome and Convention Center. It was an extreme example of what the welfare state has done to the poor for decades: use the promise of food, shelter and other necessities to lure most of the poor to a few central points and then leave them stranded and nearly helpless.
The Katrina disaster is yet another in a long line of lessons reminding us that government-mandated charity isn’t really charitable at all. But it also provides all of us with an opportunity to apply the principles of effective compassion.
The House is likely to vote this week on an aid package that will provide nearly $52 billion during the next month or so on housing, clothing and other recovery needs for Hurricane Katrina victims. In the Senate, however, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana threatened to delay passing the bill for more money. Republicans said that any attempt to amend the bill could delay getting the measure to President Bush for his signature before last week’s $10.5 billion disbursement runs out. Instead of delaying the bill for more money can’t Congress simply pass another bill in a few weeks after needs are re-assessed?
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has produced a “Kidz Rap,” designed to alert children to the dangers of disasters and the function of FEMA.
For example, did you know that “mitigation is important to our agency”? Also, “When disaster strikes, we are at our best / But we’re ready all the time, ’cause disasters don’t rest.”
No word yet on what role the FEMA rap played in informing Deamonte Love of how to act in an emergency.
Like everyone else outside the Gulf Coast (i.e., not a direct victim or a tireless rescue worker, volunteer, or military member there to help), the TV remote has become my constant companion. The challenges are unprecedented–which is hard to fathom after 9/11. We are all passionately concerned that Katrina victims be safely and humanely moved out of harm’s and ill-health’s way. But that is only one small step.
Once the scope of disaster and the need became evident, communities all over the country began to evaluate how many victims that their local resources could accept and empower beyond mere emergency support. Governor Bob Riley calls this effort in Alabama “Operation Golden Rule.” Just as small business is the lifeblood of America’s economy, so are small communities going to be the long-term assistance that will be so critical to Katrina victims. Large government and relief organizations will address the large issues and make the big decisions.
But it will take the human connection to regain hope. As people in churches, community centers, and small neighborhood clinics welcome new neighbors so desperate for help, these communities–maybe our own communities–need our help as well. Start where you are with what you have. No effort or outreach is too small.
Pro running back Warrick Dunn, a native of Louisiana, is challenging every NFL player (other than New Orleans Saints) to donate at least $5,000 to hurricane relief efforts. “If we get players to do that, that would amount to $260,000 per team. I have heard from so many players both on my team and around the league who just want to do something. Well, this is the best thing that we can do and it’s something we should do,” he said. Dunn, a former Pro Bowler, starts for the Atlanta Falcons and played college ball for Florida State.
Dunn is from Baton Rouge, but he still doesn’t know the status of his grandfather who lives in New Orleans. His is clearly a heartfelt and genuine plea: “We’re such a great country and it’s at times like this a great country has to come together. We’re looking at people on TV who have no money, no homes, no job and no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. Now is when they need us most. We just have to respond and we have to respond.”
This effort by Dunn is a clear reminder that the purpose of work must be oriented beyond the mere accumulation of wealth. As the Heidelberg Catechism states, one of the major reasons that a person labors is “so that I may share with those in need” (LD 42, A 111).
The donations will be coordinated with the Arthur Blank family charitable foundation and a vote by NFL player representatives will determine which agencies receive the funds.
Dunn’s challenge is a pointed one: “If guys don’t donate they’re being selfish,” he said. He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. Dunn started the Warrick Dunn Foundation in March of 2002, dedicated “to help single mother families obtain first-time homeownership.”
This purpose flows out of Dunn’s experience growing up. Here’s a brief biographical excerpt from the foundation website: “As the oldest of six, Warrick grew up watching his mother, Betty Smothers, provide for he and his five siblings. As a single mother she worked endless hours as a Baton Rouge police officer and several off-duty jobs to make ends meet. During Warrick’s senior year at Catholic high school, his mother’s life was taken in the line of duty, leaving him the responsibility of keeping the family together. Although she worked hard all of her life, Betty was never able to realize the American dream of owning her own home.”
Clearly Warrick Dunn, diminuitive by NFL standards (5′ 9″, 180 lbs.), has a huge heart.
I’ve talked before about the complexities of government funding before with regard to the abstinence-program called the Silver Ring Thing.
Now, on the heels of an ACLU suit, SRT is being faced with a cut-off in federal funding. The AP reports that the SRT may be in violation of Department of Health and Human Services regulations for not adequately separating “worship, religious instruction or proselytization” programs from the government-funded services.
A letter signed by Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau, states “Our review indicates that the (Silver Ring Thing) may not have included adequate safeguards to clearly separate in time or location inherently religious activities from the federally funded activities.”
According to The Washington Times, SRT leaders feel they will be able to assuage the questions of government regulators. “We don’t think there will be any problem,” said Denny Pattyn, leader of SRT. “If we’re not doing it perfectly or correctly, or it needs to be tweaked, then HHS will instruct us and we will tweak it,” he said.
But instead of attempting to meet the government’s requirements, this may be a great opportunity for SRT to wean itself off of government support, ending its state dependency. The false dichotomy between faith and works represented in the HHS guidelines should be criticized rather than accepted by Christian groups.
Food aid destined for Zimbabwe is still stuck in South Africa
Harare (ENI). At least 37 tonnes of food aid sent by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) to benefit victims of Zimbabwe’s internationally condemned “clean-up” operation are still in South Africa due to Zimbabwe government red tape that has held up the shipment for more than two weeks. The aid includes staples such as white maize, sugar beans and cooking oil. “All the paperwork has been submitted. We are waiting,” said Ron Steele, spokesperson for the SACC, which responded to the plight of more than 700 000 Zimbabweans.