Some say the problem with poverty is that too much money is given to the poor. Some say that too little is. Neither group is right.
If the number the NY Post gives this week is correct, a half a million dollars does sound like a lot of money. The Post wanted to make the point that the family of ten profiled in the NY Times this week, has gotten more than enough help to save itself, and that therefore, the homeless system is blameless that they are still poor.
A half a million over 12 years is about $41,000. Surely that is a lot, enough to help a family.
But now consider that in any state, only 27 percent of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grant is spent on cash aid to families. 27 percent of $41,000 is only $11,000 of income per year. For a family of ten. The rest is for substandard and unsafe shelter, for “counseling” and for invasive and unproven job trainings that every national study done has shown leave people worse off or as poor as before. Less than $1,000 in cash a month for the needs of eight children. Now that half a million is starting to look like not much at all. They can’t pay for what they need with health care, or with a social worker.
Andrea Elliot’s writing on Dasani and her family in the NY Times will hopefully open some eyes to the lack of coherent and rational system to help low income New Yorkers, a system so absurd, that it prefers to spend $3,000 a day on a vile and unhealthy shelter arrangement rather than make an investment in real apartments. And for those who wish to be hard on her parents, well, the fact is that we have no way of knowing how much of their dysfunction is caused by their own internal problems and how much is caused by the stress of being forced to live with about 30 percent of the income the state itself has figured out to be the minimum income required for survival.
There will always be detractors who will insist on focusing on the defects of the poor in order to justify a system that makes their situation impossible to overcome. But that is awfully shortsighted of them, because we can’t continue with a system this broken without losing thousands of children to poverty, malnutrition, and anxiety. And that costs all of us, besides which we should really do better. It’s not about money, it’s about people. Even Pope Francis said last week that our system no longer appears to serve any human purpose. The NYC shelter system is proof he is right.