Transcript of Proceedings
Compassionate Welfare Reform: Empowering Charities and Private Citizens
a conference sponsored by
MS. HUFFINGTON: Thank you, Lou.
And now, it's your turn to ask the questions and you can ask them individually of one of the panelists or address them to all of us.
Who has the first question?
QUESTION: You've been talking about community based organizations, how are you see them working--
MS. HUFFINGTON: The question is, is this referring only to private dollars and how does this work with public dollars, is that the question?
MR. BUSH: Well, I think there is money that can come from different directions. I mean one of the interesting points about the proposal that's being talked about today is that there's been a lot of monies that might otherwise go through the tax system, and through government hands might be able to be used to sponsor and give growth to a lot of different types of organizations.
But, at the same time, we're still going to have welfare programs, still going to have that public system there in which states are going to have to be very careful about the way they go about financing and promoting programs to promote employment and to promote family stability in such a way so that they do not damage that character. And that is through restraining from over-regulation and focusing upon performance.
MR. WOODSON: Let me just say that a lot of the nonprofit organizations that we deal with are already addressing the needs of some of these people on welfare and if we had a charitable tax credit and they could receive money from individuals they could still help people on welfare get off without even accepting any public funds. And, thus, the cost of welfare reform would be dramatically reduced.
But, also, I believe that low-income nonprofit organizations could also be providers of first choice. But the bottom line ought to be outcomes. You see, a lot of people who are on welfare are not there just because they lack opportunity, they have some character flaws. They're alcoholics, they're drug addicts, they're otherwise dependent and the neighborhood organizations that we deal with have been excellent in making people job-ready. But rebuilding of character is the best foundation for making people available to take advantage of opportunity. But a lot of the providers of job training and the like don't seem to make that connection.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Also, what the charitable tax credit does is it starts building those connections again. Because every taxpayer would have to choose among different projects that fight poverty. And I'm not surprised, Bob, that you had the different groups, like the orchestras' lobby, comment and speak against the charitable tax credit because it recognizes the urgent need to focus on social problems. It's not against the arts, it's not against all those other good things in our society, but right now, when children are starving, when children are being abused, clearly, there's a higher priority morally that has to be given to addressing those problems.
And the hope of the charitable tax credit is that we start with a tax credit but we don't stop there. Once you get taxpayers involved then with a bit of luck they're also going to give time, as Lou said, they're going to give some more of their own money. They may start practicing the Biblical concept of tithing. I mean it's really is a revolutionary concept.
And John Kasich and Dan Coats recognize that it's only the beginning in changing the way we approach our responsibility to those in need.
MR. NANNI: I think, too, that one of the areas in which it's most dangerous, and perhaps least discussed, about accepting large amounts of government money to run the community social service organization, is that it's easy to loose your soul in the process. You don't lose it--most people think you lose it because government tells you, you've got to do this and you've got to do that. Quite frankly, government is sufficiently disorganized to not know what you're doing in the first place. So, I don't think that that's as much the issue as, the issue is that you have to do so much paperwork and you have explicit guidelines on what you can or can't do, and then, all of a sudden, you find that you're drifting away from your real mission and you're fulfilling the mission of these different grant sources.
And that is, indeed, frightening. So, with this piece of legislation the idea is that it would come through more private donations from citizens and it would free you up, in fact, to do and be true to your mission which, in our case, is breaking the cycle of homelessness.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes.
MS. HUFFINGTON: The question is why are conservatives criticizing this proposal?
There are many conservatives who believe that for government to be involved at all in the provision of support and compassion and caring to those in need is a mistake. Now, the problem is that maybe in an ideal world this would have been the best way to go, but we don't live in an ideal world. You may have noticed that.
So, given that we live in a very imperfect world where people have become very dependent on billions of dollars or government money, what do we do? Do we actually simply attack the existing system and end government programs and say, well, let a thousand flowers bloom?
Or, do we very responsibly say that right now where we are, government has a role to play. John Dilullo has said it best when he said to end government programs is like taking the knife out of a man who has been stabbed, but that doesn't heal him. So, the charitable tax credit is beginning the process of healing the man and the woman and the child who have been stabbed by dysfunctional government programs.
MR. WOODSON: Some of the reasons that I've heard advanced by some conservatives is that some of the money may fall into the hands of people on the left, who would misuse it and, therefore, that's a reason not to allow anyone to have access to it.
And there are all kinds of incredible arguments but I think a lot of these arguments really emanate from arrogance. You know, the proposal did not come from the conservative people, it came from grassroots people, who said that this is an option that we think will empower us. And, so, therefore, it's arrogant for someone who didn't author something to presume to speak on behalf of people who say they need it.
And that's what I'm talking about confronting the arrogance. Charitable tax credits will alter the culture of expectation in society. People would be expected to look to different institutions for help. And resources would be made available to these institutions so those institutions could respond and, therefore, the validation of those institutions would be enhanced. And, therefore, the relationship between the individuals and the intermediary institutions would be strengthened through this seed capital.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, let me just say that to say that assumes that at the moment everything, every dollar is being spent wisely. If you read today the article by Senator Coats and Congressman Kasich, in the Washington Times, you will see that according to a study 67 percent of all Federal welfare spending ends up in the pockets of the non-poor. This is a staggering statistic.
So, I don't think anybody involved with this legislative proposal is going to tell you that there not going to be abuses. Human beings have free will and human beings know how to get around every piece of legislation. So, of course, it's going to be abused. But it's going to make such a dramatic change to the way we approach the problems of those in need that it's worth contemplating the risk that you are bringing up.
MR. WOODSON: Absolutely. And just one footnote to that. Every tax loophole at one point was a tax incentive. So, the question is everything has to be policed. But I believe in pluralism and I believe in the American public. And I believe in their good sense. And, of course, there are some misadventures. But we cannot allow fear of misadventure to prevent us from embracing an innovation that can empower millions of people. I think the risk is worth it.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes.
MR. WOODSON: Okay. The reason that we're at this point now is that we have spent in excess of seven trillion dollars over the last 35 years and most of that, 75 to 80 percent of it, has gone to conventional organizations like Catholic Charities, the YMCAs and the others and what has been the consequence of these expenditures? The problems are getting worse.
And, so, some of us who have been around that long and have been active in helping poor people, when you survey low-income people to find out where they have been cured from drugs and alcohol and teen pregnancy, most of the cures have occurred among the informal, intermediary institutions within their own communities. Two surveys by Don and Rachel Warren and others said, when low-end people were asked, over the years, where do they turn to for effective remedies to their problems? They named seven institutions within their same zip code. The eighth institution that they named was a professional service provider outside of that zip code.
And, yet, public policy in the last 35 years, has spent monies through the institution of last choice of the poor which explains to me why they have failed and what the charitable tax credit, therefore, will do was correct that and begin to allow institutions that are directly in those communities, give them an opportunity to demonstrate.
But the bottom line I think that will end this debate and we are strong advocates for that, there should be some strong assessments and evaluations that compare faith-based, neighborhood-level providers and what their costs are, and those that have different treatment modalities. The public ought to be informed about the result of that and then let them choose where.
But it ought to be based upon specific outcomes and not this treatment modality versus that one. Which one is effective, which one cures people and that cure is sustained?
MR. NANNI: I would just like to add in closing that there are many good organizations that are doing terrific work on different levels. I think as Bob says there are some who are addressing the cutting edge issues. But what we've tried to do at the Center for the Homeless is to work with the YMCAs, to work with those organizations and say, bring your resources down to those who need them the most, be a part of this collaborative effort in the community and, therefore, they can, in fact, access the monies to bring their services down to the people who need them most desperately.
So, I'm sure that--I am not an expert on this piece of legislation--but I'm sure that they can be included in here depending upon who they're serving.
MR. WOODSON: Whether they serve effectively, not who they're serving. Because that's a critical difference. They will always tell you over the past 35 years, these are the people we serve. No. It's whether or not people are effectively serving people based upon what the customers who are the recipients of the service believe about it. The bottom line should not be my service versus yours, but government should devolve that money to the taxpayers and to the customers and let them choose their own service provider.
But, right now, the money goes directly to the service provider and low-income people have no choice, no decision over who will treat them and that's what charitable tax credit will begin to address.
MR. NANNI: It's a combination of both.
MS. HUFFINGTON: As you can see there's a tremendous amount of passion and enthusiasm for the charitable tax credit here and I just would like to thank you all for participating.
I want to bring this panel to a close by just saying that the most important question that we're going to be facing in the next 30 years is how do we care for those in need?
Do we continue to do it through government, or do we start down a new path of reconnected citizens and renewed communities? The charitable tax credit is an incredibly important step along this new path.
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