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Unprincipled, Part 2

September 26, 2012

We are examining the question whether public moneys should be set aside for those in need, despite the knowledge that an unprincipled few will benefit from aid programs dishonestly.

Today we explore the arguments surrounding such aid. The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly “Food Stamps”, serves as our case study.

Arguments for Aid

A.  Spiritual

Scripture informs us that those giving from a generous heart will be blessed in the hereafter:

“ ‘But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just’ ” (Luke 14: 13-14).

B.  Public-Spirited

There is no indication in Scripture that those in a position to render aid will be reimbursed monetarily[i]. Along with bringing spiritual rewards, however, largesse is recognized as benefiting society as a whole.

If the Bible is not sufficiently persuasive:  It has been a mark of civilization since the Neanderthals that the able-bodied and well-off help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. Aside from being compassionate, this preserves for the community the knowledge and wisdom aged individuals or those not constantly engaged in labor may have acquired.

Though the benefit to society may not always be quantifiable on a dollar for dollar basis – how would one quantify the musical talent of a boy like Beethoven, born into poverty – that benefit is, nonetheless, “real”.

SNAP, for instance, provides a direct and indirect fiscal boost during economic slumps. A food purchase by a SNAP program participant not only impacts the store where food is bought, and the trucker who delivered it, but the warehouse that stocked it, the plant that processed it, and the farmer who produced it. Each $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits is estimated to create or maintain the equivalent of 18,000 full time positions.

The value of “food security” to a family is incalculable.

C.  Humane

The fact that some of those receiving assistance may be masquerading as poor or disabled – committing outright fraud, and depriving those truly in need of assistance – is an obvious disincentive to anyone generous enough to consider giving (not to mention taxpayers required to contribute toward government programs).

The ethical reason to give is the same as the reason to protect the rights of criminal defendants. Better that 99 guilty parties go free, than one innocent man be wrongly imprisoned. Better than 99 fraudulently receive aid, than one child go hungry. We recognize that arithmetic as a bad compromise, but have not come up with anything better.

D.  Pragmatic

Children are born into family settings. Some of those settings are ideal. Some are tragic. How much is society responsible to correct? How much is society even capable of correcting? These intangibles have an enormous impact on child development and adult performance.

Are the children of cheats to be abandoned? Penalized for the wrongs of their parents? Can we afford to lose all that potential? What about the children of the working poor, those who will never make enough to cover basic necessities, no matter how hard they try? Are these children sufficiently “deserving” of aid?

What exactly must they demonstrate to qualify for our mercy?

 Fraud and waste will be examined in Part 3 of this series.


[i] There is no biblical foundation for what is termed the “prosperity Gospel” (the belief that donations to Christian ministries will result in wealth).  Scripture verses taken out of context may suggest a promise of financial well being. And God does desire our well being. That does not, however, amount to a promise of wealth. The Bible repeatedly points out the insignificance of material possessions. “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Matt. 4: 4). We may ask God’s guidance or assistance with our finances (or any other aspect of our lives). We cannot “purchase” wealth from Him, in exchange for donations.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  http://www.avoicereclaimed

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