Reimagining Welfare (Part 2 of 2)

by Paul Mero

In Part I, I explained, “Caring for our neighbors in need is the only way we’ll achieve a higher sense of self, community, and democracy – a transcendent political culture.”

Let me try to explain how to accomplish this great vision.

Sixty years of a failed War on Poverty suggests we tie the welfare of one another to community, not government. Tying the welfare of one another to government has failed. Yes, wealth per se – some $22 trillion over the past 50 years – has been redistributed. Many people have benefitted from this redistribution. But tying the welfare of one another to government has created several kinds of social conflicts and dependencies, from personal to cultural, while situational poverty has remained unchanged over five decades and intergenerational poverty continues to get worse.

By tying the welfare of one another to community would change the welfare dynamic, especially culturally. By shifting dependencies from government to community (Part I explains how everyone is dependent on one another), we shift the burden for welfare from recipient to provider – from entitlement to obligation. This shift is crucial in creating new welfare delivery systems to serve all Utahns. Shifting the burden from recipient to provider does not mean government will not remain a big part of the welfare equation. It simply would mean that government becomes a true servant of the people within a broad culture of community.

Community-centered, government-supported.

For at least 50 years now, our entire welfare apparatus – from lobbyists to social welfare groups to community organizers – has worked to defend entitlements. Again, most recently in Utah, Medicaid expansion and Proposition 3 were sought in the name and spirit of entitlements. But entitlement culture is a zero sum game – it perpetuates a culture of haves and have nots. “They have it. We don’t. And we want it too.” There is no way on God’s green earth (or in hell) that such thinking would lead to a culture of political transcendence – on the contrary.

Shifting the burden of welfare from recipient to provider – from entitlement to obligation – is the better way. Instead of forcing “rights” down Utah’s throat, a better way is to remind Utahns of their values and moral obligation to care for our neighbors in need. The opportunity for exponential progress toward political transcendence becomes immediately clear.

We would no longer be incentivized to petition government. The new incentive would be to petition hearts and minds. Instead of a culture of political contention, every effort would be turned to simply serving the actual and individual needs of every Utahn. No more haves and have nots because our values tell us to see others as we see ourselves. We would become of one mind and one heart – politically transcendent.

So, how do we make this important shift from recipient to provider, from entitlement to obligation? The good news is that once we break free from our restrictive ideologies, everything is possible. Our societal objective would become the welfare and wellbeing of everyone, not simply gaining a new benefit for a select few. Every commensurate, decent and humane personal and societal value would be in play, not just the values we pit against each other. Our goal becomes the dignity, happiness and prosperity of all Utahns. We are free to reimagine welfare.

I am not speaking of utopias. I am specifically addressing Utah’s public safety net – a safety net designed to, first and foremost, prevent catastrophic failure for individuals and families. Yes, obvious difficult community decisions, such as with health care, would still be there. But our ability to address these tough issues would be better informed.

We can do so much better.

As an example, instead of hundreds of government and charitable programs, each operating independently in their own silo, we can create a “marketplace of care” in which every Utahn belongs and is accountable – no haves and have nots, no segregation of services between public and private sectors – just one community.

This marketplace of care would move Utah’s public safety net under one roof reaching every corner of the state. Any existing government welfare service, along with any registered private sector effort, goes under one roof. In this way, Utah’s welfare safety net would unite all welfare services in one efficient delivery system.

Access to this marketplace of care would be digital, easy to navigate and to understand, multi-lingual and statewide. It would model the intimacy of our strongest social institutions, not run from them. Any Utahn in need of any services could be assigned, not a “case manager,” but a dedicated and trained advocate-mentor to personalize relief and help those in need to plan for prosperity. Nobody would be left to struggle alone.

Which do you think will cost more? Our current open-ended welfare approach or a new approach wherein coordination, collaboration and connectedness between public and private sectors meets the real needs of real neighbors struggling to keep their heads above water?

Such a shift also allows policy makers to address the breadth of the government-side of Utah’s safety net. Facing real lives in all their complexities and pushed to address the real needs of every individual would better equip policy makers to determine the size and scope of the safety net at any given time. It also would create better analytics for policy makers to determine areas of emphases. The benefits to this shifting of approaches are endless even if the grand idea might be difficult for some policy makers to get their head around.

Do you desire a transcendent political culture? If so, focusing every effort on poverty relief is the only way to achieve transcendence. That focus needs to shift from government to community, away from entitlements and toward moral obligations. It’s the obligation, not entitlement, that will unite people – and our welfare delivery system would need to reflect this new unity. That’s how we reimagine welfare.

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