“Each individual has different needs, different capabilities, different dreams. What I see in government programs is an effort to fit people into boxes, to make people easy to administer, rather than to provide resources we need to become our greatest selves.”
Doing Unto Others; The Golden Rule Revolution
With more than 100 government welfare and life-improvement programs potentially available as sources of support, Americans most in need of assistance are often overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of government support structures.
Every year, elected officials debate adding to or deleting from this over-mixed structure, providing never-ending fodder for the divisive hate game dominating politics today. During these debates, accusations quickly turn overwrought.
Hate the poor. Burn taxpayer money. Racist. Enabler. One percenter. Cultural rot. No accountability.
When it comes to social service programs, this debate misses a more critical issue.
Existing programs are bureaucracy centric, designed to remain within the purview of particular legislative committees or to ensure the legacy of a particular elected official. Each has its own application, funding requirements, auditing processes, staffing and timelines aimed more at fulfilling process requirements than at providing support. Many programs are established with set financial cliffs that force participants to lose nearly as much, and sometimes more, in support than they gain in income when they work additional hours or earn a raise, providing dramatic disincentives to career development.
People and their needs don’t fit neatly within congressional or state legislative jurisdictions. They aren’t encased within a government department or program. Some not-for-profit groups have figured this out, helping to manage through a myriad of inefficient government bureaucracies to extract assistance for those they support. I spent a bit of time at two of these programs last week.
- At 360 Youth Services in Chicago’s western suburbs, housing programs take in young adults from the Chicago metropolitan area who have found themselves homeless or otherwise displaced. Program leaders support the young adults in pursuit of the broad range of services they need—first for survival and then to build. Housing. Food stamps. Work acquisition. GED completion. Community college acceptance and financial aid. Budgeting. Mental health and substance counseling. Medicaid. This wide-ranging program tailors much of its support to the particular needs of each resident.
- Deborah’s Place in Chicago follows a similar approach for single, homeless women—supporting these women in the broad range of efforts they need to build or rebuild their lives. Safe shelter is a start, but is far from everything the staff at Deborah’s Place does for the women they assist. Assistance with benefits. Healthcare coordination. Employment training. Access to education. While representing a mental health organization at a recent health fair at Deborah’s Place, it became clear that the staff also provides a source of community for these women.
In Doing Unto Others, my latest novel about a future United States in which Golden Rule-based government replaces our politics of division, one concept advocated by the fictional Tamika is a social service system in which individuals who’ve succeeded in building good lives take on mentoring and advocacy roles for struggling individuals and families. This system is similar to the role counselors and staff leaders at 360 Youth Services and Deborah’s Place serve, but would become more essential and widespread if I were designing our support structure.
Elements that must exist for a mentor-based system to work include:
- Providing better outcomes for those in need compared to the current hodgepodge structure.
- Not discouraging movement toward self-reliance and ultimate escape from government programs by ensuring support lessens, but isn’t lost, as individuals and families gain financial progress.
- Minimizing the potential for corruption among mentors and those gaining support.
- Allowing for competitive solutions to emerge that provide better fixes than currently envisioned.
- Ensuring that parents maintain or develop responsibility for their children, whenever possible.
All of this can be accomplished. If you are interested in how we can create a better structure while almost certainly reducing government spending through bureaucracy elimination, consider reading Doing Unto Others or get in touch with me directly. I’ll be happy to share how I use the Golden Rule as a guide, since it is the single common principle taught in nearly every faith as well as in the teachings of secularists and atheists/agnostics.
When it comes to social services, some groups are doing it right. Government programs shouldn’t make it so difficult for others to follow.