Head Start doesn’t work. More people than ever are now on food stamps. Medicaid is staggering under the weight of its own bloat. Why are we continuing to fund bad programs?
This is what Stephen M. Krason is asking. Such programs keep expanding:
There has been a sharp increase in the food-stamp and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Obama has proposed more federal funding for Head Start and pre-school education generally, job training for laid-off workers, and Medicaid. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has bloated the Medicaid rolls. He is even seeking free federally subsidized community college education. I have seen numbers ranging from 79 to 126 federal programs aimed at reducing poverty and an annual price tag of $668 to $927 billion.
The question is: are we getting our money’s worth? Krason says absolutely not.
In one sense, the programs “work,” Krason says. They give poor people a lot of things like food, rent assistance, job training, etc. The problem is that too many people don’t really want to give all that up for actual jobs. Reliance on these systems becomes generational far too often. And such dependency was never the goal.
Another unintended consequence? People above the poverty line are getting benefits that were never meant for them:
As Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute points out in a recent article, as of 2012 there were twice as many people above as below the poverty line receiving anti-poverty benefits (he calls it “defining dependence upward”).
Krason goes on to link such tragic consequences with Catholic social teaching, specifically the teachings of subsidiarity and solidarity:
The principles must work together: solidarity stresses the affinity of different groups in the community and obliges them to assist each other. Subsidiarity specifies how it’s to be done.
Also, the Church hardly embraces a nonjudgmental perspective that would just give things to the poor without expecting them to assume responsibility. John Paul spoke about the necessity of work (Laborem Exercens #16) and the Church has never encouraged indolence.
The obligation of Catholic teaching to help the poor hardly requires us to be oblivious to how effective the efforts are, much less to jump on the bandwagon of every initiative that proposes to do that. As just stated, it does not require a federal or any government-run effort but seems to discourage it when other alternatives are available or can be constructed.
What we need is not just a heart for the poor, but a head as well.