Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Our Fraying (Private) Social Safety Net
Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Bread for the City, a D.C. nonprofit that provides, among other thing, food, clothing, health care, and even legal services to struggling residents of D.C., is going to shut down for the next month or so.
The shutdown is not because it lacks funding, or because of problems with its physical infrastructure, or because it has achieved its goals. It's closing to give its workers a break, time to breathe and recover after three years of nonstop work helping people get through a pandemic and all that came with it.
The Post points out that, for front-line workers at social safety net nonprofits, burnout is very real and very present. They have more people to help with fewer resources that, thanks to inflation, won't buy as much.
Which underscores a significant problem with our social safety net: the degree to which it relies on the goodwill and labor of an unconnected network of private organizations. And these private organizations have been stepping up. But they don't have the resources they need, and lack the ability of the state to raise those resources. And yet they have been an excuse for government underinvestment in social safety net programs.
That's not to say that private charitable organizations should stop. There are, I would argue, benefits to asking people to directly help their community. But there are huge costs in relying on private community organizations to provide benefits that the government can, and should, provide. And those costs are borne both by the people who cannot, for whatever reason, access government programs and by the people we've tasked with delivering the private aid.
Samuel D. Brunson
Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash