A Revival of Compassion, Part II

Earlier this week I wrote a post that was prompted by Rev. Mike Aiken's letter to the editor that calls into question our elected leaders' compassion for the poor. In that letter he wrote:

Congress continues to debate proposed massive cuts to the food stamp program. As a result of a computer glitch at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the demand for emergency food bags more than doubled overnight. With the decision not to extend unemployment benefits, 12,000 Triad families are facing homelessness. In July, Urban Ministry assisted many of these families with more than $52,000 in direct assistance. The decision of our legislature not to accept federal Medicaid funding that would cover an additional 500,000 North Carolina medically indigent residents was a major factor in the decision to close the HealthServe Medical Clinic at the end of August.

Rev. Aiken is the Executive Director of Greensboro Urban Ministry and thus has an up close and personal view of the effects these cuts in government programs are having. His organization is being stretched thin trying to keep up with the increased need, and his isn't the only one. From an opinion piece in yesterday's Winston-Salem Journal written by David Heinen, director of public policy and advocacy for the NC Center for Nonprofits, and Holly Welch Stubbing, senior vice president and in-house counsel for Foundation for the Carolinas:

Sequestration spending cuts may cause members of Congress to assume nonprofits in our communities will always be able to fill the gaps in providing basic safety net programs. The reality, however, is that the ongoing effects of the recession have placed such a strain on nonprofits that many lack the capacity to take on this added responsibility.

The workload of many nonprofits has increased as the number of North Carolinians living in poverty has jumped to nearly 18 percent. In 2011, 93 percent of North Carolina nonprofits experienced an increased need for services, and 58 percent were unable to meet these needs. Two out of every five nonprofits operated at a deficit last year, and one-third had to cut programs or services.

The main point of Heinen and Stubbing's piece was to stress the importance of state and federal governments fully preserving the deduction for charitable contributions as they work on tax reform. They pointed out the stress being felt by nonprofits is extreme due to the increased demand for their services prompted by a still rough employment situation and a reduction in government aid, and they argued that if states and the federal government were to eliminate or reduce deductions for charitable contributions it would truly put the nonprofits in an even more tenuous position. 

Quite frankly we as a society are currently in the position of having to choose between negative options when it comes to the poor and needy: do we help them via government programs, nonprofit programs or some combination of the two? These are negative options because they are reactionary in nature and do nothing to address the root causes of poverty and hunger. Until we address those root issues – jobs, education, out-of-control health care expenses, etc. – our government/non-profit programs will continue to be needed by too many people instead of serving their proper role as a safety net of last resort for the very unfortunate who have hit rough times due to unforeseen circumstances.  Here's the crucial part though: until we do address and resolve those root problems then we must find away to keep people off the streets and my fear is that the programs we have in place won't be able to do it.

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