Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welfare, Socialism, Buying Votes, Reparations, Or Merely Good Intentions?

Billionaire George Soros has long been criticized as the moneyed kingmaker who essentially purchases the Democratic candidates of his choice. I don't necessarily buy into all that hype, but I suppose I could understand where his Conservative critics are coming from. On that same note, it's hard for me to not look at this latest story from the Empire State without my 3rd eye itching.
New York families on public assistance or food stamps are set to receive an additional $200 per child as part of a public-private partnership between the charitable foundations of George Soros, the state of New York, and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The one-time payments of $200 will benefit families of more than 850,000 children. The total programme will cost $175m, a combination of federal stimulus money and a $35m donation by Mr Soros to the the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The funds come with no strings attached, and outlays are not monitored, but they are meant to pay for back-to-school supplies for students.

“The kids will get a direct benefit: clothing and school equipment. It’s a very efficient way to help a very large number of needy people,” Mr Soros told the Financial Times.

“This programme puts recipients on a level playing field with families that can afford to buy those things for the kids.”

The programme has partnered with retailers including Wal-Mart, Princeton Review, Target and Staples, to encourage parents to spend the funds on their children. The stores will display in-store advertisements that give tips on “shopping wisely” and hotlines to put families in touch with other state services.

Recipients will also receive a letter from New York state, and advocacy groups will be involved in the effort. No application is necessary. Families who qualify will automatically receive payments on the electronics benefit transfer card where they receive other public assistance payments on August 11.

Mr Soros, who himself received a no-strings-attached donation of £40 from the Quakers when he was a struggling student at London School of Economics, said the match federal funds and additional discounts negotiated with partnering retailers, made it particularly appealing. “It gets additional leverage – leverage these days is a bad word, but I like it in this case.”

The $35m donation comes three months after Mr Soros pledged an additional $50m to New York City residents living in poverty. His charitable foundations have donated almost $7bn world wide to social causes over the past quarter century.
On one hand, this is a laudable effort. A billionaire sees poor families of all ethnic backgrounds (there's more to NY than just NYC after all) struggling in this recession, and simply writes a check to help. $200 sounds like nothing to the average working stiff, but if you're barely making ends meet, this could be a windfall that allows you to send your kid back to school with a decent pair of shoes and a fresh haircut. No harm there.

On the flipside, this is a public/private partnership, which is essentially giving away federal funds with no strings attached, and no guidelines for how the money should be spent. As you might imagine, the possibility of rampant Negro Nonsense, Latino Looniness, and Caucasian Craziness ensuing is pretty high. I can already see the long lines at KFC, A&B Liquors, Best Buy, Bass Pro Shops, El Pollo Loco, and GI Joe's Army Supply Store, as wayward parents spend the money on themselves. And I can already hear Sean Hannity saying "I told you so", although he prolly lives in Connecticut. Do we really need a repeat of this incident?

Seriously, why not just provide vouchers for specific items (pens, paper, bookbags) at specific retailers rather than this method, which is just begging to be abused? As a concerned taxpayer, I'd much rather ensure that some kid in Rochester gets a Jansport, and not another Nintendo DS game. You should be too.

There's also the tiny issue that perhaps doing it this way sorta seems like you're buying off voters. Soros was joined for the announcement of this program by NY Governor David Paterson, a guy whose re-election chances are about as good as my shot of earning that 15th roster spot for The Wizards this Fall. That is to say, his chances ain't that great. This could be seen by some as using public money to curry favor.

Again, I applaud Soros for trying to help, but this just seems like he's going about it the wrong way, and the program's more likely to hurt more than it ultimately helps.

Question: What do you think of Soros' plan to help NY kids? Is this good intentions but bad execution, or does it not matter as long as some kids are helped in the end?

Soros donates $35m to ‘back to school’ fund [Financial Times]

Soros Uses Leverage To Aid New York Children [NPR]

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