Operation: Foundation America

          Imagine slowly dying everyday from an addiction you have no control over. Imagine struggling to keep yourself alive. Imagine being a child born into a situation of unstable moods and unpredictable financial situations. Unfortunately, a part of the population suffering from these, and many other, hardships do not have any resources to help. These situations among others are realities for many homeless people and those on Welfare all across this land of the free. Is living in America truly free if you are dependent on the government for every necessity in everyday life? It is time for a program to be put in place that helps extend professional resources to those who live in poverty and gives them an opportunity to better their situation in order to grasp what the American dream truly is.

            Before diving into issues about Welfare, it is important to understand what and who qualify to be put under the definition of Welfare and Welfare State. Nancy Folbre is a New York Times columnist who writes and reports on business and economic topics. Folbre has done extensive writing regarding the economic position of America. In Folbre’s article, “Define ‘Welfare State,’ Please”, she dives into the confusion and rhetoric involved in defining Welfare. Different bodies, whether academic or political, define Welfare in ways that best support their position. Some go as far as adding education as a whole and government official paychecks into the definition. For the purpose of this research paper, Welfare will include anyone whose day to day survival is dependent upon government programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, low income living to name a few in addition to those who are homeless whether or not they accept governmental aid. Now that it is understood what and who falls under Welfare and Welfare State, a better evaluation of assistance programs can be made with a more specific definition than one encompassing a broader demographic.

            Today in the American Welfare state, there are a variety of programs that help supply basic needs to those in poverty; however, most of these programs help the struggling continue to struggle, and lack the opportunity to improve their standard of living or gain access to paid professional services such as medical professionals and legal council. Martin Gilens has done in depth research into discrimination practices around Welfare. Gilens provides through his research that children, women, and minority groups (blacks in particular) are heavily discriminated against within the system and need a stronger support network (Gilens 324). Tracy E. Roberts and Steven P. Martin support Gilens through their work, Popul Res Policy Rev Population Research and Policy Review. Roberts and Martin bring to light pressing issues regarding children and women. They show that women who marry as they exit Welfare are more likely not to reenter poverty. This result is because of several things including but not limited to addition income streams, someone for emotional support, and men are not as discriminated against in the rhetoric surronding Welfare.

            Moving further, Roberts and Martin indirectly reference another large problem with the current system: the reentry into poverty. Spearheading this issue is Evelyn Z. Brodkin and Gregory Marston, two scholars who have produced several programs that examine an increase in economic job development and have experimented with different Welfare solutions. They coined the term “Workfare,” which embodies the ideal of putting those on Welfare to work. Both Brodkin and Marston have discovered that those who do find a way to leave poverty using resources from the current programs often return to poverty, or have a crisis they are not prepared to handle that forces them to return. Brodkin and Marston’s philosophy is to use Welfare allocated dollars to start work programs that help those in the programs gain skills they can use to adapt to different life obstacles. Brodkin and Marston believe this philosophy produces the best results when applied to street-level organizations. Street-level organizations work on a local, individual level directly with people in their area and develop strategies to help citizens by using resources in their immediate area. This allows the organizations to focus on a small subsection of a larger issue which results in a faster progression of their work and fosters sustainability in those they help. However, these programs can be costly.

            Another impeding problem is sustainability of Welfare programs. At the present, both public and private organization rely heavily on donors, grants, and tax dollars to fund and grow their programs. Due to the high costs and increasing presence in state and national budgets, Welfare programs have become engrossed in both political and media rhetoric saying they are unnecessary, a burden, and only in place to be manipulated by nonfunctioning members of American society. Ellen Reese and Martin Gilens have decided to evaluate this rhetoric in both of their personal works. Reese focuses more directly on mothers in Welfare programs. After WWII, the negative rhetoric in Welfare about costs and who the programs helped began to grab hold of the public and programs began to be eliminated as funding streams started to dry up. Reese believes that instead of eliminating programs they should be added and refined. A policy for more effective and sustainable programs is needed. Gilens discusses the correlation between how the media portrays those who are in poverty and its connection to race. In his work, Gilens provides evidence that the media shows black Americans as a majority of those in poverty and speculates that the media entices discrimination against these groups. Evidence from Gilens includes media reports showing only the violence from poverty groups and stories of citizens taking advantage of programs that include minority groups particularly black Americans and excludes other groups.

            To add support to Welfare, I propose that a private, capitalism-focused program should be put into place. For the purpose of this policy proposal, the program will be part of an organization called Foundation America.

            As a brief overview, Foundation America will be based upon a five pillar system designed to offer services, opportunity, and support to those on Welfare or in poverty situations. As an organization, Foundation America will be separate from public, government programs, but instead will work alongside them and complement the benefits already provided. The organization will have a main goal of generating revenue to establish long lasting sustainability without the need for continued outside financing, grants, or tax payer dollars after the intimal financing needed to establish it.

            The five pillar system is similar to the policy pressed by Bernard Coughlin. Coughlin believes that in order for poverty and Welfare programs to work they need to be focused around three principals: “Autonomy, co-operation, financial services” (Coughlin 189). In Coughlin’s review, he discloses a concept of private organizations that work by govern themselves without the bureaucracy and red tape a public organization is typically restrained by. Furthermore, Coughlin strongly believes in co-operation between private and public entities through combining resources and access to help foster more effective programs. Lastly, in regards to financial services, Coughlin suggests offering knowledge to help individuals in the programs learn how to manage finances and function within a capitalized economy.

            Foundation America’s five pillars will include similar concepts to Coughlin’s, with some additional services added. The pillars are as follows: Financial Services, Family Management, Drug and Mental Health Rehabilitation, Legal Services, and Workforce Education and Placement. Each pillar focuses on a specific issue that needs to be addressed within the current system. As a whole, the pillar system is designed to supplement existing benefits such as food stamps and cell phone programs which the government already has in place. Foundation America’s purpose is not to replace the existing system, but rather to make it stronger.

            To start, the financial services pillar will offer a suite of programs which are designed to increase knowledge, skills, and understanding of the economic system and ultimately how to get ahead. These services won’t be used by everyone in Foundation America, but they are a great resource for those who are not already financially versed. The first service gives access to a paid certified public accountant. This accountant works to set up new checking and savings accounts for each person in the program as well as evaluates any existing accounts the person many have. Next the accountant and assistants, will look up any credit history the person might have and consolidate any outstanding debts that are owed. Accompanying these services, will be basic classes that teach how to save money and not over spend what you earn. Finally, for those who already have a solid understanding of finance, but ended up in poverty or on Welfare because of unforeseen challenges in their lives, Foundation America offers microfinance loans to start new businesses. Building off of success in third world counties, James H. Carr and Zhong Yi. Tong believe the establishment of microfinance loans in America can greatly improve the process of community development. A microfinance loan is one in low denomination usually $500 or less that is used to help an entrepreneur typically in a third world country establish or build a business. Businesses developed in third world countries for $500 often include resale of merchandise such as shoes and textiles. When applied to America, the loans will need to be larger in amount and designed to foster community development by helping start businesses in low income areas of the United States. Ultimately, the combination of financial knowledge, skills, and capital infusion into areas of poverty will stimulate economic growth and opportunity to those in Foundation America’s programs.

              Moving forward, the family management pillar will focus on establishing housing for both individuals and families, setting up education for children, assisting single mothers in raising their children, and helping couples navigate future family planning in addition to getting married.

            A core element of Foundation America is to make sure opportunity exists for children born into poverty situations to improve their standing. By working in cohesion with social workers, Foundation America can help place homeless children in well structured families and also adjoin them with mentors who can foster positive values. Working with local schools, programs can be set in place to make sure children stay on pace with their studies and tutors can be made available to those who are struggling. Planned Parenthood and Foundation America can collaborate on setting up the proper education for families and/or couples on Welfare who are looking to add new young members to their family. By working with other organizations, both private and public, Foundation America will fall inline with Coughlin’s previous ideal of co-operation by using joint efforts and existing programs to improve the overall impact on each person in the program.

            Next is the pillar of drug and mental health rehabilitation. This is a critical resource needed for many homeless citizens on welfare who struggle with addiction and illnesses such as PTSD. “Veterans have long accounted for a high share of the nation’s homeless. Although they make up 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless on any given day”, the National Alliance report calculated (Eckholm 2). Of those soldiers, a majority of them suffer from post war trauma and mental health related conditions. Beyond only veterans, alcoholism is widely diagnosed among homeless citizens on Welfare. A huge need for highly paid professional psychiatrists, physiologists, and pharmacists is apparent. The necessity for proper prescription and balance of medication is imperative to battling mental health and curbing addiction. Offering the opportunity to help regain mental stability, not only allows those on Welfare to rejoin society as functioning member but it frees them from the traditional dogma associated with those on Welfare. Overall, access to professionals can greatly improve the standard of living and opportunities of those in the Foundation America program.

            Next is the pillar of legal services. Often overlooked are the obstacles presented when navigating the legal system. By providing paid professional legal services, Foundation America presents the opportunity to lift burdens which may be preventing individuals from leaving poverty. From personal experience working with homeless individuals in Waco, Texas, I have seen firsthand the struggles legal complications can have on citizens. I met a man who went by the name Chubby and while homeless he was robbed which resulted in him losing both his driver license and social security card. He had just been offered a job working at the local VA hospital, but without identification his employment had to be postponed until he finished reacquiring identification. After looking into the issue further, I learned that he began a process with the DMV and they found record of his identity but because he didn’t have a lawyer, and couldn’t afford one, he would have to wait several months to receive a new ID card. This is just one example of a legal issue that comes up on a daily basis when working with homeless citizens and Welfare recipients, but new situations occur everyday. Simply opening up the opportunity to meet with professional legal advisors can greatly increasing the possibly of leaving Welfare and potentially speed up the process as well.

            Lastly is the pillar of workforce education. This pillar is the most important of any previously mentioned pillars, because it is where those in Foundation America’s programs learn irreplaceable workforce skills to acquire, maintain, and grow careers. The only way to truly leave poverty and Welfare is to acquire a career to earn money to support your living. This ideal is held closely by Brodkin and Marston who, mentioned earlier, believe in a “Workfare” program of getting people to work. In order to provide training and pay for resources, a group of buildings will be built and owned by Foundation America. These buildings hold low-incoming living apartments, facilities for the different pillar programs, and outlets malls filled with franchises. Here is where the idea of vertical integration applies. In business, vertical integration is when every core part of a business is owned by the business. In the case of Foundation America, it owns the building its programs are in, the land they are on, and the franchises in their outlet malls. Those in the Workforce programs will be given jobs and gain firsthand experience working in the variety of franchises owned by Foundation America. These franchises will provide profit for Foundation America to pay for the expensive services they provide such as paying for the many professionals who work for the organization. After the initial funding for Foundation America is obtained, it will begin to create sustainability and no longer rely on grants, tax dollars, or any government resources besides joint effort programs Foundation America collaborates on. The franchises owned by Foundation America will include businesses from fast food restaurants to professional services to hotel chain management in order to generate a plethora of opportunities and experiences for those in the Workforce program.

            By integrating the concept of enterprise, that encourages entrepreneurship, into the Workforce program to stimulate economy in low income areas, Foundation America will build off of policies from Sanford Jacoby and will need to take into account statistical evaluations from Julia Sass Rubin. Jacoby is an economist who has done research into a philosophy called “welfare capitalism” where capitalistic approaches of generating profits are applied to Welfare programs as seen in the Foundation America platform (Jacoby 38). Beginning with the Roosevelt’s New Deal policies to the present, Jacoby has learned a substantial amount of information from data he has collected. In his book, Modern Manors: Welfare Capitalism since the New Deal, he teaches his audience about the practices of welfare capitalism. He touches on the correlation between unions and the Great Depression and how they caused a stagnation and decline in the effectiveness of welfare capitalism. With a combination of private organizations alongside government policies such as the Wagner Act and Social Security Act, Jacoby believes, as do I, that welfare capitalism can greatly reduce poverty and increase the standard of living in America.

            When evaluating programs, such as Foundation America, that work on a microenterprise model, Rubin believes it is important to closely watch the data. Dr. Rubin is a Harvard graduate who works as part of the faculty at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and does research to examine the policies and organizations that impact low-income communities. In Rubin’s book, Financing Low-income Communities: Models, Obstacles, and Future Directions, she lays out the internal and external problems surrounding U.S. Microenterprise programs. Rubin recognizes that problems include: fragmentation, insufficient data, lack of accreditation and regulation, narrow product lines, and inconsistent funding streams (Rubin 98). All of these issues need to be kept in mind when developing businesses within Foundation America’s model. More data produced from trying new things in programs within Foundation America, can help decide what is the most impactful way to help those in poverty and on Welfare. In addition to Rubin’s work, Price V. Fishback and Melissa A. Thomasson have compiled historical statistics involved with Welfare spending that has been shared through the Cambridge University Press. Fishback and Thomasson are economic historians who use data to gauge the performance of programs and the spending related to them. Some data has been promising so far showing that commercial development in low income areas has, in certain cases, raised the standard of living (Fishback, Thomasson). Information that capitalistic focused programs are working is exciting, because it means that Foundation America could be a viable solution and helps deter objections of the program.

            Looking to the future, I could see many objections to the high costs of developing a program such as Foundation America; however, to create a revenue generating program that is self sustaining could be huge for the Welfare world. A common objection to Welfare programs as a whole has to do with the financial aspects involved with them. Most American’s do not want to pay for programs with tax dollars especially highly paid professionals. Additionally, Somini Sengupta, a writer from the Metropolitan Desk at the New York Times, wrote an article about the large amount of Welfare allocated dollars that haven’t been spent since a policy change in 1999 that set aside lump sums for each State to spend on programs at their discretion. With billions of unspent tax payer dollars sitting in State bank accounts, I believe a risk on a policy like Foundation America is one that is worth taking because the potential success of the program could bring dramatic results. Using existing, unused tax dollars already set aside for Welfare won’t add any extra cost to the current federal and state budgets, so objections to the high cost programs won’t be an issue.

            Bringing everything together, there exists a clear problem in the current Welfare situation in America. With the combination of public and private aid, I believe a solution for more effective and timely support is possible. Foundation American, as described above, is a possible solution to the current problem; however, it is presented as a starting point, a foundation, for discussion around the issue of poverty and Welfare along with the effectiveness of the current programs. To live in America, is to be free to the possibility of opportunity to follow a dream, own a home, and achieve success in whatever someone ventures to do. As fellow Americans we are bestowed with the obligation to improve the lives of everyone around us.

Sources:

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