Tag Archives: Entitlements

When Government Agencies Communicate


I was over at Poison Your Mind today discussing benefits when I remembered this proposition introduced by republicans here in North Carolina:

Raleigh, N.C. — County Departments of Social Service would be required to conduct criminal background checks on those applying for federal benefits under a bill that cleared the House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.

If someone applying for Food and Nutrition Assistance, what many people call food stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which are cash payments, is found to have an outstanding warrant, social service workers would be required to report them to local law enforcement under House Bill 392.

“Local law enforcement and all county agencies should work together to keep the public as safe as possible,” said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union. He said federal law already prohibits benefits from going to fleeing felons and parole and probation violators.

The fact that this isn’t already the case, that it requires a law to make that conversation takes place, comes from a mindset that entitlement benefits should be extended to as many people as possible in amounts that should have no upper limit and have no brake in place that would conceive of an ending to these benefits.

As I mentioned at PYM, I can acknowledge a contract between the state and the individual.  A contract that says society will take care of you if you take care of society.

This contract, perhaps only implicit, requires an acknowledgement that if you commit crimes against society, that society can take steps to discourage that behavior.

And among those first steps is the denying of charity.

Homeless – Help Out or Help Up and Out

I saw the story the other day of that cop who took his own money and bought that guy a pair of boots:

After Officer Lawrence DePrimo knelt beside a barefoot man on a bitterly cold November night in Times Square, giving him a pair of boots, a photo of his random act of good will quickly took on a life of its own — becoming a symbol for a million acts of kindness that go unnoticed every day and a reminder that even in this tough, often anonymous city, people can still look out for one another.

Those boots cost him a hundo.

I like stories like this for two reasons:

  1. I think too often we’re inundated with only bad shit going on in the world.  That everybody is out to get everybody.  More good news would be a good thing.
  2. People ARE capable of giving individually.

Anyway, as I read the story, like I said, I felt good.  But I have to admit that when I got to the cost of the shoes I kinda reacted with a “Uh-oh.”

Sadly, as the story continues, we find that the boots are gone:

Since Mr. Hillman’s bare feet became famous, other people reported seeing him without shoes — one even after Officer DePrimo’s gift — and one woman said she had bought him a pair of shoes a year ago. Whatever the case, Mr. Hillman seemed accustomed to walking the pavement shoeless.

Now, I don’t know Hillman’s story, of course.  The life he leads is violent and full of crime; those boots may have been stolen.  Or, Mr. Hillman may have reacted rationally and decided that the money gained from the shoes was more valuable than the shoes themselves, so he sold or returned ’em.  Again, I don’t know.

But it got me to thinking on the best way to help the folks who have found themselves in the precarious condition of living on the streets.

When I moved to Seattle all those years ago, my buddy and I asked the logical first question, “Where do we go out?”  Everyone told us Pioneer Square.  So we hit that neighborhood 4-5 or 6-7 nights that week.  It was a blast.  Rocking music scene, walking neighborhood with restaurants, bars, shopping and whatnot.  It was great.

But, during that week I was exposed to the folks on Seattle’s streets.  I suspect I had seen homelessness during my time at the University of Minnesota, but I was literally off the farm in rural Minnesota; Right on the Banks of the Plum Creek.  This was new to me.

Over the course of those nights there were two men who were always at the same corner, right in the best place and always seeming, I don’t know – comfortable.  So my buddy and I got to know ’em.  I smoked then and we would sit down and share a smoke.  When it was time for a slice of pizza or a sausage, we’d buy an extra couple and eat with ’em.  I never drank with those guys or gave ’em money, but we got to know them.

I would get a job in that neighborhood and would often walk out of my place and bring them food, take time to smoke and always stop and talk.  To say that we were “friends” probably wasn’t accurate; we never hung out or did anything together.  But then again, when “grandpa” didn’t show up for “work” one night, I found he’d been taken to the hospital.  I told my boss I had to go, she agreed, and I went to visit him.  So, eh, not friends but certainly a connection was present.

One afternoon I was talking to the younger man, slightly older than me at about 30 or so.  I told him that I thought he carried himself well, his conversations displayed a nimbleness and that he was funny and easy to like.  Finally I said that if he needed to, I’d “borrow him” the money for clothes, a tie and jacket and some shoes.  He could use my address and phone number and I’d take messages and I would run him through practice interviews.  “Just puttin’ it out there…..”

He kinda looked at me, not funny – after all, this wsn’t the random act of kindess of a stranger, but still.  And he shook his head, “Naw man, I don’t wanna job.  I’d have to punch in and punch out, do stuff other people told me to do, and then I’d just come here anyway.  I don’t mind my life, I’m not hungry or cold, I have friends and I make enough money – heck, I make 60-80 bucks a night.”

“But you don’t have a home,” I said.

He corrected me, “I don’t have a house.”

Point taken.  And so it was that he decided to live there.  On the corner.  Eating with strangers and other passerbys.  I kept on eating with him, smoking with him.  We remained “friends” until I move, or until I quit working full time down there in the square.  But it was a little different after that talk.  It was different in that he had made a choice.  In the same way I made a choice, to go to school, then to work and to pay rent and all that stuff.

I’m sure that he’s the exception to the rule, I’m sure that the 636,017 folks out of homes today would rather not be out that home.  That they would want to be back in a secure place, warm fed and safe.  And I know that, my friend’s place was unique.  Seattle is a remarkably safe city, hell, I’d walk home, 1-2 miles at 03:00 AM with a bartender’s take of cash in my pocket right THROUGH the heart of the city.  Not once did anything happen.

But it has always made me wonder how is it best to help the folks that find themselves down on their luck?  How many cases are there of otherwise fully capable functioning families or individuals who just got hit with a random life event that knocked ’em off their feet for a sec?  And yes, literally a free apartment, some food, clothes and a razor would get them back on track.  How many would need more than that, perhaps less?  I’m sure that a ton are mentally ill and unstable; there is no amount of money or care that will allow a hope at a traditional functioning life spent working, paying rent and caring for a self and a home.  But what then? And, of course, there is my “friend” in Seattle.  He has made a clear and rational decision to live on those street and finds himself in a perfectly happy place.

I don’t think anyone questions that “we” give assistance through “entitlements”.  Maybe I speak for myself, but I ask the question, “What is the most effective form of aid?  How will we know it’s working?  What will we do when it hasn’t?  Are we prepared to stop providing the assistance in the event it isn’t fulfilling our goal?”

Those are the questions I have.

A Him – Part II

I’ve seen this going around my Facebook.  Thought I’d repost:

Let’s get one thing clear.

  1. I care for the people less fortunate.
  2. The government has no role in that caring.

Okay, that’s two, but the second is important.  The government has a role.  And that role is to act as the referee in disputes.  It is to make sure that we all face the same rules and laws.  Sure, there is a cost in maintaining a government, so we tax to pay for it.  But that role of government is not meant to take money from those who have it and just flat out GIVE it to those who don’t.

When that role is given to the government, bad things happen.  Really bad things.

It creates incentives that aren’t natural.  People begin to look for ways to avoid paying their taxes and people begin to look for ways to maximize their TAKE of people’s taxes.  Neither system works well.

When people slide around money to avoid taxes, the revenues realized aren’t as high as expected, so taxes are raised.  While generating the income, it increases the incentive to defraud the government.  This further punishes the honest man at the benefit of the crook.  Further, taxes relieve a man of his property.  What the government takes is first private property.

People forget this.

The money being taken first belonged to someone who earned it.  Confiscation of that property should be done with significant reluctance.

Most importantly, by taking one man’s property and giving it to another, the second man is less incented to earn his own.  Life becomes simply a series of cons and loopholes meant to get through today.  We lose the productivity of the second man and the power of the money had it been spent in more productive ways.

We lose on both sides.

Some highlights:

  1. 0:08  Do you need a tissue?
  2. 0:26 – You can’t find no job they give you money to live on.
  3. 0:44 – The furrowed brow.  This will be a hilarious recurring theme.
  4. 1:12 – I spent it on myself.
  5. 1:35 – The you’re stealing that money.  BOOM!
  6. 1:36 – No!  See tissue above.
  7. 2:32 – $22,000!  Per year!
  8. 3:15 – My conversation is rent…
  9. 3:24 – I’m 21.
  10. 4:24 – I’m me!
  11. 4:30 – That’s what were creating.
  12. 4:49 – Sending this tape to Congress.
  13. 5:00 – As taxpayers, we have spent at least $70,000.
  14. 5:10 – I appreciate that Judge Judy…Note he can’t keep a straight face.
  15. 5:45 – $70,000 right down the sewer.

I’m not sure if the end makes me laugh or cry.  She was actually suing him for rent.

Incentives Matter: The Nanny State

Don’t think that incentives matter?

Don’t think that government programs that enlarge the nanny state don’t result in poor behavior?

Think again.

Continue reading