At a recent conference a friend related that frustration drove one of his colleagues to quit his job in a public welfare office. When asked about his chief reason for quitting, the colleague replied, “When I wanted to help somebody, I couldn’t. And when I wanted to prevent someone from abusing the system, I couldn’t.” This sums up the way in which well-intentioned governmental welfare programs tend to fail in meeting the needs of those to whom they are trying to provide assistance.
No one disputes that we have a responsibility to assist those in need. We all want to help, but unchecked zeal can cloud our judgment as to determining the best way to accomplish this biblical directive. Welfare programs were designed to provide a last resort safety net for those experiencing hard times. Yet in the current welfare state, many recipients become hopelessly isolated. Those wanting to help a person find a way out of poverty and despair can lose motivation when they discover that he or she is on the public dole.
But hope remains. In a local school district a teacher watched hungry students digging through trash cans to find food, her heart breaking. Although state programs offered meals during the school day, these children frequently went home to empty cupboards and lamentable home situations. The teacher organized a program to provide dinner bags through the support and funding of several local charities, churches, and private donors. This teacher’s efforts exemplify how people will respond when they perceive a genuine need. Unlike impersonal and unwieldy governmental programs, local communities can respond effectively to the deeper needs of their neighbors.
I thank you for supporting our efforts at the Acton Institute to provide education and programs that help alleviate frustration over bureaucratic ineffectiveness by returning the focus to caring for those in need.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico