|IS WORKFARE MORAL?|
Join the debate over whether workfare is modern slavery....
August 6, 1997
in this forum:
What should religious organizations do to ease the plight of the poor? Is workfare new or simply WPA and CCC projects repackaged? Weren't slaves treated better than welfare recipients are today? How can the religious community help change the public discourse on what is moral in this unfair and unjust economy? Your additional questions and comments
July 1, 1997:
How states are complying with new federal guidelines.
June 11, 1997:
The transition made by of hundreds of people who've moved from welfare to work as part of corporate programs to hire people on assistance.
April 14, 1997:
New California laws link food stamps to work.
Browse the NewsHour's index of Welfare stories.
Rev. Sirico's New York Times editorial defending workfare.
Labor unions critique the effects of workfare on employment opportunities.
Tracy Love of Ventura, CA, asks:
Would it be moral if there were mandatory drug testing and subsequent denial of Welfare Benefits to drug users was the focus of Welfare cutbacks?
Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of the Stephen Wise Synagogue responds:
It is my belief that society at large has a responsibility for all individuals in that society. Each member of the society should contribute to the greater good of the community. However, even in biblical times there was notion that there would always be individuals that would need the protection of the community and would have to rely on the greater community for their support. Therefore, there were laws (specifically the laws concerning the corners of one's field, which had to be left for the poor, the widow and the orphan to gather their food) to insure that all who needed help would receive such help.
In every society, there have been and will always be individuals who are incapable of work. Society must try to help those individuals. Now, we must add into the mix, those who do things that make them incapable of work -- i.e. drug use. I believe that society must endeavor to provide services and treatment that will get people off of drugs. After that, job training is necessary. Drug testing, if required across the board to all applicants for benefits, could help to identify those most in need of drug treatment. But to deny benefits to a drug abuser, would be as wrong as denying benefits to someone emotionally or physically disabled. These people are society's burden, and every just society must admit that it has a responsibility to these individuals.
Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute responds:
Some boundaries and restrictions ought to be established when people receive subsidies drawn from the earnings of other citizens, but this is not because paternalism is by itself good public policy. It is because we are concerned with the total well-being of the recipient, including his moral well-being. Instilling a sense of responsibility in those who receive assistance is a sign of respect for their moral capacity, and is a reasonable for these and other practical reasons.
I fear that the already excessive bureaucratic invasions into people's lives would be unnecessarily expanded were we to adopt the policy this questrion implies. Rather, requiring authentic responsibility on the part of welfare recipients would, I think, solve the underlying concern.