A new report on welfare from the Congressional Research Service based on numbers from the U.S. Census indicates that our federal government spent enough on welfare programs in 2011 to have written every household in America that is under the poverty line a check for $59,523. The report considered only means-tested programs, such as food stamps, that are specifically intended for those living in poverty. As a single mom of four under the poverty line, this is rather infuriating to me, even though I have not personally signed up for any of these “entitlements.”
What if this money were to be block-granted to the states, as Republicans like Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney would like for it to be? Democrats will argue, of course, that the federal government should distribute welfare so that poor states will not be left out, but that is a straw man argument. Block granting does not leave poor states out, and it would ensure that fewer people are left behind because there would be more local control of how the money is spent.
My state of Kentucky is a poor state. What if the money were block granted to Kentucky based on the numbers from this new report? Here is what it would look like for us, here in Kentucky:
According to the U.S. Census, there are 1,676,108 households in Kentucky. The census reports 17.7% of Kentuckians living under the poverty line, and if we apply that percentage to the number of households, we come up with 296,671 households in poverty here in Kentucky. If each of these households received a check for $59,523, the total block grant for Kentucky would be over seventeen billion dollars. To be exact, the amount is $17,658,747,933.
Imagine how much better the Commonwealth of Kentucky could allocate seventeen billion dollars in aid to the poor than Washington bureaucrats do. Democrats don’t want Kentucky deciding how this money is allocated, though, even under the condition that it only be spent on programs for the poor. Partial control over this money is not good enough for them. They want complete control.
From a Catholic perspective, the Democrat way of caring for the poor violates the principal of subsidiarity precisely because it focuses on a preferential option for bigger government rather than a preferential option for the poor, who are the ones who need the help. When the lower level of government makes the decisions on allocating the money, it is more responsive to the needs of the people. Any reasonable person would tell you that a locally-owned business is going to be more responsive to their customers than a large corporation is. It is the same with government. When people are treated like mere beans in a jar, instead of as human beings who could be someone you might meet on the street, the services are going to be more personalized and efficient. Having said that, corporations are doing a good deal to help the poor. Wal-Mart’s support of our Kentucky Food Bank is a great example of that.
Money is spent more efficiently when the bureaucrats responsible for making decisions are closer to the people in need. The same works for policy decisions in the law. It is far easier for me to lobby my state representative, who lives in the next county over from me, than it is to lobby a Congressman in Washington, D.C. In like manner, it is far easier to get personal service from a Kentucky office than it is to get it from an office in Washington, D.C. One would think this is common sense, but common sense isn’t so common among Democrats. In their eyes, government knows best, and the bigger the level of government making the decisions, the better for them. The problem is that for us who live in poverty, there is less accountability for wasteful spending.
There would be nothing wrong with a federal welfare system if it were actually the most efficient way to help the poor. In fact, we should prefer that system because the preferential option should be with the poor. But the reality is that the lower level of government is far more efficient in handling care for the poor, and so the more local the program is, the more the poor will have actual help.
As a person living in a poor state who lives in poverty herself, I humbly ask that we all support block granting these programs to the states. I would much rather rely on local people for food when I come across hard times than a Washington bureaucrat or Congressman. Seventeen billion dollars would go a long way here in Kentucky if Kentuckians were in charge of managing it.