If you needed some help from family or friends in rough financial times, would you soak them for all you could?
If you found out your uncle’s credit card had no limit on it, would you run through the stores and empty the shelves?
If the church gave you a blank check, would you take the congregants for all they’re worth?
Of course not.
Yet, this is pretty much what a frantic formation of food stamp recipients did over the weekend at several Walmart stores in Louisiana when a computer glitch left them with no-limit Electronic Benefit Transfer cards from Uncle Sam.
“Walmart and local police in Springhill and Mansfield (Louisiana) confirmed to CBS affiliate KSLA that officers were called into the stores to help maintain order Saturday as shoppers swept through the aisles at two stores and bought as much as they could carry,” CBS News reported.
The feeding frenzy ended ingloriously with “dozens of shopping carts, piled high with merchandise, abandoned in the aisles of one Walmart after the announcement was made that EBT cards were once again showing accurate spending limits.”
One shopper quoted by CBS saw the incident for what it was: “plain theft. That’s stealing, that’s all I got to say about it.”
Well, we’ve got some more to say about it.
There are worse abuses of the public trust, but this incident exposes the vast difference between public and private charity.
With government aid programs, there’s infinitely more of a sense of entitlement. There’s very little publicly expressed gratitude, and, as we’ve seen in this incident, often no limits on the taking.
In private charitable transactions, there’s also a greater human element – a face or name or smile associated with the help. There’s a tangible reason for gratitude and humility on the part of the recipient.
There’s also more of an emphasis on intervention and helping recipients off dependency.
Besides being monumentally less human, government aid also is decidedly less efficient. According to a 2007 report titled “The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity,” studies show that two-thirds to three-fourths of every public benefit dollar is gobbled up by the bureaucracy – and never reaches the recipient. In private charitable settings, it’s pretty much the complete opposite.
“(O)n average,” the report says, “70 cents of each dollar budgeted for government assistance goes not to the poor, but to the members of the welfare bureaucracy and others serving the poor. ...
“In contrast, administrative and other operating costs in private charities absorb, on average, only one-third or less of each dollar donated, leaving the other two-thirds (or more) to be delivered to recipients.”
And again, as we’ve seen this past week, government aid is much more prone to fraud.
Those of us who rightly question the efficacy of government aid are usually reflexively
accused of not being compassionate. Isn’t it compassionate to wonder if it’s working?
And is it compassionate to waste 70 percent of aid? Is it compassionate to dehumanize charity? Is it compassionate to spend no time talking about how to reduce dependency instead of increasing it?
Nor is it fair or moral to
forcibly remove someone’s money and treat it so indifferently as to be wasted or pilfered the second the computer blinks.
No uncle, no family, would put up with this.
But clearly, Uncle Sam isn’t family.