The New York Times’ Nick Kristof, known for helping to bring attention to poverty and need, wrote a December 7th column titled “Profiting from a Child’s Illiteracy.”
The column contained a number of shocking yet truthful assertions regarding federal aid and the perpetuation of poverty by the very programs liberals created in efforts to stop poverty.
Kristof wrote of his travels to Kentucky’s Appalachia and detailed the failures of some federal aid programs in the region.
THIS is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.
The monthly check Kristof referred to is a $698 payment the Social Security Office of Retirement and Disability Policy pays to parents or caregivers of children with disabilities. The payment is known as supplemental security income (SSI). The qualifications for the federal assistance have greatly loosened over the years and now include “intellectual disability.”
Though the aid has enabled thousands of families with truly disabled children to keep their disabled loved one at home and under family care, it is clearly, as Kristof asserts, being horribly abused.
Prolific conservative writer Ed Morrissey reaffirms Kristof’s assertion and further outlines how the program is being used to abuse children. In a well written piece titled “Time to Stop Social Safety Net Child Abuse,” Morrissey writes:
Kristof finds a number of cases where well-intentioned social-service programs produce perverse incentives that work to keep people in poverty rather than lift them out. Briefly, from a column that should be read carefully in full, those examples include a financial incentive to keep children illiterate, welfare benefits that punish marriage, and the ease in which children move from poverty programs to disability programs as adults.
Both Kristof and Morrissey, one a respected liberal and the latter a respected conservative, correctly identify the tendency of some parents receiving the SSI benefits for “intellectually disabled” children to actually make sure their kids do not learn to read so the checks keep coming. Kristof also details how federal assistance programs penalize and discourage marriage, even when the data clearly indicates the institution of marriage reduces poverty and need for federal aid.
Kristof’s honesty on this matter must be commended. One can only imagine the turmoil he must have felt in wondering how conservatives would use his truthful words in pursuit of fighting against vital federal programs. Kristof has extended the first hand towards an honest national dialogue pertaining to federal aid programs and conservatives should respond in kind. Morrissey apparently sees the matter in a similar way and did so. Morrissey writes:
Does this mean we shouldn’t have safety-net programs at all? Some conservatives seem comfortable arguing for that very outcome, although these programs remain very popular in principle, if not always in outcome. As Kristof also points out, American safety-net programs have a track record of significant success, too. Fifty years ago, 35 percent of the elderly lived in poverty, while only 9 percent do so today – even as the definition of poverty has become rather elastic. The average family living in poverty now has air conditioning, washers and dryers, and microwave ovens.
Morrissey also writes:
Clearly, if we want to keep our social safety net programs – and there is very little political will to do otherwise – we need to re-engineer them to orient efforts to preparing children for success. To that end, we should try to find ways to improve education as a means to escape poverty and strengthen the institution of marriage. We need to find and eliminate marriage penalties in welfare programs, and perhaps look for ways to reward marriage in households with children. That also means orienting the state approach to marriage not as a licensing opportunity focused on adult outcomes, but as an institution where the state interest lies solely in protecting and nurturing children.
Yes, as conservatives, most of us would rather not have the federal aid programs existing. This is not because we do not care about helping others, but simply because we realize the tendencies of centralized federal aid programs to be unaccountable, wasteful, and to perpetuate poverty and need. Most of us would rather see aid efforts administered by private charity or at state and county levels -- with local leadership and control.
The issue we face as a nation in regards to entitlement reform is simply that we have all lost the ability to communicate. In this hostile environment, none of us -- on both sides-- feel safe acknowledging the points of one another. Conservatives feel the need to demand immediate cessation of all wasteful programs, lest our acknowledging need gives ground to the political Left. The political Left feels the need to ignore and not acknowledge any faults or abuses in the federal aid system, lest they give ground to the political Right. Both Kristof and Morrissey made a step in a good direction with their respective arguments outlined in their writings.