Every election cycle, we hear politicians talk all about how so many impoverished families would fall through the cracks if they didn’t have access to government programs like SNAP cards and subsidized housing. These programs spend billions every year not only on actual benefits for low-income families, but also on the bureaucracy behind the programs.
If these government programs do such a good job as a safety net, why does private charity still exist? Shouldn’t nonprofit organizations simply fall by the wayside as more and more people who are going through some form of crisis turn to the government for help?
I want to be fair here and say that some private charities are better than others. You can be sure that the negative reputation of some supposed nonprofits like Susan G. Komen, PETA and Greenpeace exists for a good reason. Charities do deserve to be criticized when they seem to spit in the faces of the people they’re supposed to help. That’s why Charity Navigator exists as a way for donors to make sure that their money is going where it’s supposed to go.
The question is whether the government can do a better, more efficient job than the Salvation Army at helping the homeless, or the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at providing medical treatment for children with serious illnesses. It’s questionable whether welfare programs are even all that effective at lifting people out of poverty. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year to combat poverty and there are still homeless people living on the street. One could almost argue that government welfare programs double as jobs programs because the agencies that administrate these programs hire so many staff members to keep up with the copious amounts of paperwork and with those mountains of paperwork come the inevitable mistakes. It can be easy to make a typo while inputting a Social Security number or misspell an unusual name, and then the application becomes impossible to find when the clerk wants to retrieve the application later. Then the single, low-income mother who thought she could rely on those benefits to help support her two kids will come away disappointed.
— Together (@TogetherOmaha) July 27, 2017
So it becomes a matter of what your tax dollars are being used for if the single mother with two children has gotten desperate enough to apply for government assistance but got rejected because something went haywire with the paperwork. It’s not even wrong to go after welfare recipients who commit fraud or abuse the system because they’re essentially stealing money from those who need it. Remember, welfare programs usually have only a limited budget and a significant percentage of the budget is being eaten up by the bureaucracy even under ideal circumstances. Wouldn’t you want to know what percentage of your tax dollars are actually being used to help the less fortunate when you take into account all the bureaucrats and competing government-funded programs who are competing for a larger chunk of the federal government’s (arguably non-existent) annual budget?
These are dollars that could have gone to private charity, funded a long-overdue infrastructure project, or even just got used to pay down the national debt. Not only is this a good argument for keeping or increasing the tax deductions for charitable donations, but it also becomes a case for reducing the bloated bureaucracy involved in welfare programs. It’s easy to take the knee-jerk reaction and call for increased taxation out of a misplaced Robin Hood complex, while those of us who care about actual solutions to the problem quietly search for ways to save taxpayer dollars by trimming the bureaucracy and reducing unnecessary paperwork. It’s harder to make an unfortunate typo if you simply don’t have to fill out as many forms and trust a file clerk not to misfile them.
This is what makes programs like Amazon Smile and eBay Giving Works so attractive. One could think of these programs as a kind of built-in “sales tax” that adds nothing to the sale price of the items you buy and donates a percentage of the sale price to charity. Amazon Smile donates 0.5% of eligible sales to the nonprofit of your choice. Ebay Giving Works donates between 10% and 100% of the final sale price of listings marked as a Giving Works listing to a charity that the seller chooses. That makes it possible to buy items that you probably would have purchased online anyway and make a small contribution to charity at no additional cost.
This becomes a way for taxpayers who care about helping the less fortunate to steer money into causes that they actually care about without having to sign endless petitions asking politicians to actually do their frappin’ jobs or argue about why X program or Y agency should be funded while there are still starving children on this planet. Deep down, we all know that politicians only care about playing Robin Hood for as long as it get them votes during each election cycle. So why should voters rely on politicians and bureaucrats to do the right thing when they could get better results by looking around at charitable causes that get good ratings on Charity Navigator and can do the job more effectively?