Op-eds and Articles

Berg for Washington Monthly: U.S. Poverty Policy Is Outdated and Inefficient. Here’s a Better Approach.

By / 1.10.2017

All low-income Americans should be equipped with an Online HOPE (Health, Opportunity, and Personal Empowerment) account.

.S. poverty policy is stuck in a rut. In 2015, 43 million people in America were living in poverty – more than the combined populations of Texas, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska and 11 million more than in 2000.

Slow growth and inequality are the main culprits. But the outdated way we deliver social services – through ponderous, top-down bureaucracies and siloed programs – also hinders efforts by low-income Americans to rise out of poverty.

Economists often apply the term “opportunity costs” to high and middle-income people, meaning that the time they spend on one task is time not available to perform other, potentially more valuable tasks. But society rarely applies the concept to low-income people, acting as if their time is essentially worthless.

While government safety net programs help tens of million Americans avoid starvation, homelessness, and other outcomes even more dreadful than everyday poverty, government anti-poverty aid is generally a major hassle to obtain and keep, supposedly to ensure that only “deserving” people get them. Congress, which creates the laws governing the programs, and most states and localities, which implement those laws, purposely make it extremely difficult to advertise these programs and enable families to access them. That’s why many low-income people are actually unaware of all the government benefits for which they are eligible, thereby reducing the amount of help going to Americans in need by tens of billions of dollars every year. For instance, 17 percent of all people – and 28 percent of working people – eligible for SNAP benefits (formerly called food stamps) fail to receive them.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly.