Time for a Social Welfare Paradigm Shift
Last week, in light of our half-a-billion dollar budget deficit, I linked to a piece by William Voegeli in which he explained that conservatives, while they can accept the necessity of a welfare state, must continue to try to apply the throttle to the always-growing amount of money we spend on government social welfare programs.
Right now, the state’s taxpayers are paying some of the highest levels in the country and are faced with a half-billion dollar deficit. Cutting state jobs is only part of the solution. Our relatively generous social welfare programs have to be cut. The Governor is going to try to shorten the length of payment by cutting the time people can spend on welfare from 60 to 30 months as well as changing the level of income (% of the poverty level) at which various subsidies (health care, day care) kick in. He also may try to institute a family cap for welfare recipients. None of this will be popular, but it is necessary.
A lot of money is going to pay for the mistakes being made by other people. There is little left to give. Dan Yorke has been calling for the state to stop subsidizing the lifestyles of those who continue to make bad choices while continuing to take care of those in need due to circumstances beyond their control (his “baby mama” plan). Over the weekend, it became apparent that Governor Carcieri (link is to video) is thinking along these lines. Basically, he’s going to try to change state’s social welfare operating philosophy.
Part of this is reflected in his request of churches and charities–and communities as a whole–to do more to reach out to those in need. As the Governor explains, the solutions lay beyond simply giving more money: he’s not asking others to take up the financial slack in the face of state government cuts. Instead, he recognizes that the state government has given plenty of money in the past and the effect has been, in many cases, to do nothing more than enable the same bad behavior over and over. Communities–and the organizations and churches within those communities–can better and more effectively serve as moral touchstones than can government bureaucracies. Individuals are held more accountable by the other members of their “little platoon” than by a faceless, nameless bureaucrat, after all.
We’ve tried it the big government, high-tax way for at least 30 years now. It’s time to change the way we unfurl our state’s safety net. That means setting stricter time limits on how long the helping hand will be extended as well as raising our–the Rhode Island community’s–expectations of all of its citizens. It’s time to ennoble the independent spirit within people rather than to continue to enable a helpless dependence. Yes, instead of giving them the fish, let’s teach them how to fish for themselves, and more quickly. Isn’t that truly the more moral path?