Thursday, November 3, 2011

Social Services

What responsibility should society and government have in providing resources and assistance to its constituents? How much should government sponsored, citizen funded social support programs and products such as food stamps (EBT), Section 8, Unemployment benefits, government sponsored health care, etc. be available and to whom? Are we entitled to these benefits? Do we have a right as citizens of America to expect access to these services?

Let’s establish a couple of foundational understandings up front before I share my thoughts and opinion on this subject. First, Government is funded by its citizens… always has been and always will be. The revenue or income that the government receives is from the taxes it imposes upon its citizens. Very rarely will you find a government with access to natural resources, goods and/or services that it can take to market and generate enough revenue to sustain itself. By and large, governments obtain their financial resources by the taxes paid by its citizens.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a free lunch…somebody is paying for it. Every time something is “given away”, someone actually paid for it. Buy one get one free…not really… you paid the price for both of them. Get a free whatever, when you sign up for whatever program…not really… you are paying for whatever was free through the services you pay for. Someone give you something with no strings attached, so it’s free…not really… whoever gave it to you paid for it. The examples are endless; somebody is paying for what you think is free. Sometime it’s you paying for it, sometimes it someone else. But in the end, nothing is free, someone is paying the price. Oh, that free lunch… it was paid for by tax paying citizens.

Whenever, the government provides a benefit or service to someone, it is the citizens of that government that pays for it. The taxes paid by the citizens of America are what are funding the various and sundry social services programs that many enjoy. So just because the beneficiary of the social services isn’t footing the bill doesn’t mean it’s free… someone is paying for it!

This is where the first of many rubs I have come into play. Many, though not all, people that are receiving the benefit do not appreciate that someone else is financing their social benefit. It is lost on many of their consciences that what they are getting is not free, hard-working and often times struggling families that pay their taxes are providing the financial resources used to fund the social services their receiving.

I am not opposed to social services support for families and individuals that need them. (I will touch on this too in just a bit) But those receiving the benefits, should appreciate those who are providing them by respecting and not abusing their benefits. Use the benefits for their intended purposes and not more than you need. It is selfish for beneficiaries to abuse the programs and take away resources from others who may genuinely need them or needlessly extract resources from those funding these programs that could otherwise be used for their own families.

This brings me to my next rub, who is receiving the benefits. It irks me to no end to see well abled bodied individuals receiving disability payments. They seemingly are all jacked up when it comes time to be evaluated, but remarkably recover when they want to do something or go somewhere with friends or family. Are you kidding me! Or those who are receiving unemployment benefits because they can’t find a job, but they only apply for jobs they know they are very unlikely to get. C’mon! To add insult to injury, many receive multiple benefits when they shouldn’t receive any.

Those receiving benefits should be restricted to those that really need them. If someone has a legitimate and debilitating mental or physical disability that limits or prohibits their ability to provide for themself, these are the individuals that our society should support with social services. These individuals should not have to live in poverty. They should be afforded a standard of living that keeps their dignity intact and demonstrates a value for their humanity. There are some that have been afflicted with a mental or physical illness that limits their income earning potential, but they can contribute to society and earn some income. I support in these cases subsidizing their income and benefits so again they can live at an acceptable standard of living. In many cases these individuals demonstrate more courage, strength and Christian ethics than do others more capable and less willing.

In other cases, there may be a need for short term or limited support. If you are injured, your benefits should be limited to the time it takes you to recover from your injury. If you are the unfortunate casualty of an economic downturn, you should receive limited benefits for a limited time. I don’t think it’s beneficial for an individual or family to be financially ruined or destitute because of a short lived situation. Because someone lost their job, they shouldn’t lose their home, etc. simply because it took them a month or two to find another job. Sure, we should have cash reserves, an emergency fund, etc. But we should also have access to short term support from the funds we contribute in our taxes to benefit others.

I do believe however, that we must accept responsibility and be accountable for the situations we find ourselves in. For example, if we unexpectedly have an event which creates a financial hardship that we were not financially prepared for, we have to take ownership of the consequences of not being prepared. And while we may receive some social benefits, we also have an obligation to adjust our lifestyle accordingly. Eating out may be a privilege we can no longer afford. Shopping at Thrift or other second hand stores may have to replace department stores and the mall.

I am a proponent of limited benefits, both in terms of time and value. I do not support giving benefits indefinitely, with very few exceptions. Nor do I support providing benefits beyond what is necessary to provide for life essentials. It is insulting to the tax payer to have those benefiting from their tax contributions, eating and living a standard of life better than what they can afford. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How can someone who is in need of assistance afford to eat and live better than those busting their rumps to take care of their responsibilities?

I firmly believe when you take away or limit safety nets, people behave more prudently or cautiously. The quality of decisions improves when we realize we are going to have to live with the full force of the outcomes of those decisions. People will not be a flipped about their jobs or do things that may result in their termination if they realize the loss of the job may not be subsidized as much as they would like through unemployment benefits. Financial discretion will improve if people realize they are not going to get cash benefits for as long as they hoped if faced with an unforeseen event.

Social services are there to be a bridge of sorts over troubled water. There are going to be times and circumstances in people’s lives where they may be in need of assistance for a short time. That can be because of an unexpected loss in the family of a primary income earner, economic downturn resulting in lost or reduced employment, an illness or injury that restricts the ability to earn an income, etc. It is not intended to be a surrogate for working and doing what’s necessary to provide for yourself or your family. Sadly, for many this is precisely what it has become. Instead of working or pursuing entrepreneurial interest, they have chosen to manipulate the system to gain access to benefits that they do not need.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Just because you can get or qualify for benefits doesn’t mean that you should. It is impossible for any government to filter perfectly every request for benefits it receives. In spite of their best efforts, there are going to be loop holes on both sides. There are going to be some who should qualify that don’t and there are going to be some who do qualify that shouldn’t.

Again, let me reiterate, I am not opposed to social services programs, what I am opposed to is the wanton abuse that takes place by those leeching benefits that they do not need. I find it especially distasteful when Christians are included in those that are leeching the system for benefits they should not qualify to receive. You discredit yourself, your faith and your God when you behave and carry yourself in such a desperate and lazy fashion.

It doesn’t matter what justifications are offered, the simple fact is that if you can take care of yourself, then you should! Some people feel that because they are a minority and their ancestors suffered through slavery and other egregious forms of mistreatment that somehow they are owed or entitled something by the government. Others buy into conspiracy theories and believe they are somehow being oppressed by “the man” (whoever that is) and that manipulating social services is the only way they can make it. Still there are others that are flat out lazy and simply don’t want to work.

Sad but true, churches across the country are filled with people who have rationalized or justified in their minds why they should take what someone else has earned and benefit from it. They testify about it proudly during church services. They laughingly share tips and tricks with others either already engaged in this unethical behavior or even worse try to entice and lure others in. They run, shout, sing, etc. oblivious to the shame they bring to themselves, their faith and our God.

Instead of celebrating this condition, we should educate our congregations and inspire them to higher and better attainment in their lives. The Christian ethic requires us to contribute to the benefit of our society and community. We should not look to take, but to give. If we do not provide for our families when we are able to do so, we are worse than non-believers. If we do not contribute to our society and communities, then we shouldn’t benefit from them either.

As Christians, we should be leading the charge and setting the example for society to follow. We should be of the greatest personal integrity and character. If we find ourselves in need of social assistance, we should be busting our tails to get off of it and back on our own feet. God has given us everything that we need to succeed in life, including favor with man when we need it. We should have a sense of personal and Spiritual pride knowing that we are contributing to the betterment of society and are not the source of its draining.

Our children, neighbors, co-workers, fellow Christians, etc. should witness our work ethic and be inspired to emulate what they see and admire in us. And we should not encourage, justify or support in any way those we know are capable of more or better and are choosing not to do so. It is not good for them or for the faith.

Christians should not be dependent on government for their subsistence. To whomever you are dependent is to whom you have relinquished control of your life. If you are dependent upon government, you have handed over control of your life to the government. If you depend upon another person, that person can control and manipulate you through the support they provide that you are dependent upon.

For the Christian, we should only be dependent upon God to provide all that we need in life. This does not abdicate us from our responsibility to be responsible and handle our business. We must do all that we can to take care of ourselves and our families, but in the end accept that after we have done all we can, instead of turning to government, family or other people, God will be sure we get access to what we need. Truth of the matter is that if we truly do all we can and utilize what God has already provided or imparted in our lives, we will have very few if any occasions to have to reach out to anyone or anything else.

We can and should do better. Let’s make it a point to blaze the trail and get off the governments social services and onto our own two feet the way God intended!