beg for help

April 21, 2009

Today I was listening to the Brian Lehrer show, and heard a brief, throwaway comment that seemed to me to be terribly revealing.

Food stamps were the topic. For his last question, Lehrer asked Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, “Is one of the biggest hurdles… this stigma that won’t allow somebody to even allow themself to get on food stamps?”

Berg said, “Absolutely. New Yorkers are more willing to beg for help from their neighbors than to get help from their rich Uncle Sam, and that is absolutely the reverse of how it should be.”

I’m not trying to bust on Berg, who was told. “You’ve only got 20 seconds!” – it would be shocking if I could come up with anything intelligent to say about anything in 20 seconds – but it’s precisely the offhandedness of the comment that makes me marvel. How can it be that clear to him that a government safety net is not merely necessary (something I would not dispute) but preferable? I would just like to ask him: is it really better to rely on the government rather than your neighbors?


One Response to “beg for help”

  1. My answer: No, it’s not. However, we are in a situation where we pay taxes and expect the government to take care of these things. There does seem to be a bit of waste if we don’t use the government programs.

    Here’s a crazy idea. Give the food stamps to the neighbors.

    It’s not that simple. However, the government has a huge opportunity they are missing. Those neighbors actually want to help and those in need would rather go to them. Government funds would be better spent organizing, training and deploying this vast untapped resource than trying to implement it themselves or even than privatizing it (inserted for the benefit of the Republicans out there).

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