When some people talk about taxes and government programs for poor people, they often talk in the abstract about “government handouts” that “create dependency.” Having spent about a decade of my life in various forms of ministry and community with poor people and three years working for the state in the public school system, I scratch my head when I hear this talk about “government handouts.” That phrase just doesn’t describe the interactions that I’ve seen between government agencies and the poor people that I’ve known. There are other problems but free handouts are not. So I’d like to share a list of things I’ve either seen or would like to see and perhaps you can tell me which of these constitute “government handouts” that “create dependency.”
1) For every public high school classroom to have enough copies of every book that is used in the curriculum so that each student can have a personal copy to take home and read for homework instead of only being able to read it during valuable classroom instruction time (Not the case now! Major personal pet peeve!).
2) For homeless people with mental illness to have the medication they need to manage their condition as well as the bus tokens or metro cards to get to and from their psychiatry appointments if they’re beyond walking distance away (which might help them get off the streets if it’s given time to work!).
3) For a single mom who was the victim of domestic violence to have free childcare for her children and long-term shelter so that she can attend nursing school full-time.
4) For children in an elementary school to have free after-school care as an option if neither of their parents have a salaried job with enough flexibility to be able to pick their kids up from school.
5) For kids on Medicaid to have coverage for braces so that their teeth won’t be a liability when they’re interviewing for colleges or jobs.
6) For teenage mothers to have free parenting classes as well as a case-worker who regularly assesses and troubleshoots the safety of the home environment for their children.
7) For military veterans with addiction issues to have a case management team and access to support groups, personal counseling, and job training.
8) For public school libraries to have functional computers that are not more than five years old as well as compensation for librarians to stay after school so that students without computers at home will have a place to do school projects in which access to a computer is a presumed given.
I could come up with many more. Are any of these actually “handouts that create dependency”? These are the kinds of things that get cut from budgets as “inessential” when you approach them with a radical libertarian mindset. There’s one government program I’ve witnessed that could be accused of creating dependency. I have seen poor people spend social security checks on cigarettes and lottery tickets. I don’t understand the social security system. I do think that people with legitimate disabilities that prevent them from working should have a place to live and food. I don’t think it should be a monthly check, but maybe an EBT food card and a section 8 housing voucher instead. Perhaps I don’t understand the issue.
In any case, it’s very different to talk about specific, rational reforms to a program that isn’t working versus using an abstract slur against everything that the government does to support the poor to argue that the government shouldn’t do anything so that you can have a tax cut. So please stop talking in in abstract, oversimplified terms when the changes you’re advocating will hurt real people, some of whom I know personally, that benefit from the government programs that create a level playing field, not dependency.