Last Thursday, The New York Times ran an interesting op-ed piece by Gary E. MacDougal, author of "Make a Difference: A Spectacular Breakthrough in the Fight Against Poverty."
MacDougal cited the results of a Cato Institute study about inefficiencies in delivering help to the 46 million Americans living in poverty. Cato is a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The op-ed column noted the work of Cato's Michael G. Tanner, who found there were 126 federal programs that annually spend $668 billion on low-income individuals. Tanner's work found state and local governments spend about another $264 billion. The combined total is almost $1 trillion every year.
MacDougal postulates imagining if we could simply give that cash to the poor, it would come out to $21,700 per individual ($1 trillion divided by 46 million). A family of four would get almost $87,000 per year. Suddenly, they are a well-to-do middle-class family, making almost four times more than the $23,050 the federal government sets as the poverty level.
The author says there are various reasons why direct payments of that cash are impossible, but he suggests that block grants like those given to states by the Clinton welfare reform effort could cut out a lot of the bureaucratic waste and overlap that eat up so much of the money.
MacDougal says that Paul Ryan's budget proposal last year contains a template on delivering Medicaid and human services that could start the discussion in Congress for finding more efficient ways to deliver aid to the needy. He is not advocating adopting Ryan's proposal - merely using it and the Clinton-era welfare reform measures as jumping-off places to streamline our delivery systems.
It seems obvious that the money in these programs is designed to help those living in poverty help themselves - not maintain inefficient bureaucracies. One can only hope Congress will look seriously at changing the wasteful ways we deliver that help.
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