Tuesday, February 11, 2014

American Generosity

So there I was, watching TV on a Sunday afternoon, when a news item crawled along the bottom of the screen. It said that a 49ers fan who crashed the Seahawks post-Superbowl party turned out to be a 15-year old ward of the state who lives in an homeless shelter. It also said a GoFundMe page had been set up for him. GoFundMe is a fundraising site. So I started thinking, Americans are so generous when a poor person manages to make himself stand out from the rest. Waitress got stiffed by obnoxious guests, we raised money for her. When a bus monitor was insulted by her students, we raised a LOT of money for her. A homeless man with a great voice enthralled us all a few years ago and we all came to his aid.

The point is we Americans are very generous when it comes to this kinds of one-on-one giving. But what if we decide that in addition to helping poor people on an individual basis, we come up with a systematic way to raise ALL poor people? I am talking about social welfare programs. For some reason those never really get the generous side of Americans. Instead we make all sorts of excuses. We say there's fraud involved in the process even though the level of fraud in food stamp program is less than 3%. Meanwhile, that waitress that was insulted by her guests? Turns out she lied about everything. So why is it that fraud in individual giving (i.e. funding people one at a time) doesn't discourage us from coming to the aid of the next waitress but we use the relatively low level of fraud and waste in govt programs for the poor as an excuse to cut those programs?

Americans are generous people. I just wish we would extend that to ALL the less fortunate. It'll be cheaper and way more effective. So next time a politician wants to cut a social welfare program, say Head Start to provide pre-school for poor children, why not imagine the back story behind all the beneficiaries of the program: the single mom trying to make ends meet; the precocious 3-year old whose parents can't afford pre-school; the ex-drug addict trying to keep it together for his son because the mom is dead from a drug overdose. So instead of thinking of those abusing the system (i.e. Ronald Reagan's infamous welfare queens and young bucks), let's personify these programs and maybe we'll find it easier to advocate for those programs. After all, how many of us will refuse to give to a hungry child?