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Is Charity the Answer to Poverty?

As the national debate on how to address the budget deficit continues, a recent report from the Salvation Army looked at the perceptions that Americans have about poverty in the United States.  One of the more hopeful findings of the report is that a significant number of Americans, 88 percent, believe that people in poverty “deserve a helping hand”.

What the report doesn’t address, and what is more difficult to answer, is the question of how we help people living in poverty.   This is a question that government and society have struggled with for decades.

Charities and churches have long played a role in helping the poor and it’s not uncommon to hear people point to charities and churches as the proper place for this help to be provided.  But with about 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty, is this a problem that churches and charities can solve alone?

In a recent blog post about cuts to the food stamp program, the Reverend David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, argues that it’s unrealistic to place the sole responsibility on churches.

The churches state that they simply can’t do more than they are already doing, and I would argue that there are other compelling reasons why churches and charities are never going to be able to address poverty on their own.

What most churches and charities provide is temporary relief from the consequences of poverty — food for the hungry or shelter for the homeless.  What people in poverty really need is a way out of the circumstances that they’re in.

If we truly believe that the poor deserve a helping hand, government is the only mechanism for helping in a way that is universal and sustainable and can create lasting change.

This is why it it is so important that we preserve — and improve — the role of government in helping the poor.  Our country undoubtedly has financial problems to solve, but it’s disingenuous to blame all of our financial problems on the assistance we provide to the poor.  Cutting programs for people in poverty alone is not going to solve our financial problems, nor will it create a brighter collective future for our nation.

We need to find a way to balance the budget, but we also need to find a way to addressing the troubling trend of more and more families living in poverty.  Our future depends on our ability to do both.






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