The goal of this column is to put a name to the 800-pound gorilla sitting on Capitol Hill: systemic enabling.
Enabling is a term typically used to describe a relationship where one person attempts to help another, but, in actuality, that very help contributes to the problem. The help becomes enabling when the person is shielded from consequences that would otherwise serve to bring about responsible behavior. America has many elaborate systems which effectively serve and protect its citizens, but perhaps some of them do more harm than good in the long run.
Our nation provides generous cash benefits to our wounded and disabled citizens through such programs as Social Security Disability and Service Connection for Veterans. These payouts come consistently every month and, for many individuals, are quite substantial and appealing especially in this difficult economy. Consequently, they can act as an incentive for people to exacerbate their symptoms in order to qualify for the monthly compensation.
Furthermore, these federal funds can serve to not only encourage some people to withhold effort to get better but to actually get worse! This is enabling that America does through its benefits programs.
Should we stop these programs? Of course not. Many people do need to have these supports. However, the American public needs to understand that when there is a monetary incentive for the doctor to see you as unhealthy, then a person – consciously or unconsciously – will be affected by that.
If the benefits were in-kind, in the form of goods and services, rather than in-cash, there would be far less allure to seek government support. What sounds better: 1000 dollars tax free or "goods and services"? Along with medical services, people could receive monthly amounts earmarked for a mortgage payment, groceries, cell phone and the like. Currently, food stamps are on pre-paid credit cards that work only in supermarkets and this could be expanded to many other expenses. Our congressmen need to look into terminating in-cash benefits and utilizing in-kind goods and services.
I work for a government agency and see rampant misuse of in-cash benefits by recipients who are in and out of jails and/or substance abuse programs. This is also systemic enabling when monthly checks come without delay or regard for how they are used. The American tax payer can do something to prevent being taken advantage of and to minimize enabling drug abuse and crime.
For the seriously mentally ill population, a fiduciary/trustee is often appointed when a doctor determines that the individual is unable to manage his/her funds. If people commit felonies or abuse drugs, are they not also unable to manage their funds? I am not saying that we should infringe on people’s civil liberties, but clearly committing felonies and abusing drugs are indications that they are exploiting their civil rights.
Mandating a fiduciary/trustee is like mandating an accountant. The recipients still get their money and the fiduciary simply helps to prevent misusage. Additionally, fiduciaries are restricted to only oversee money received from the government and not from any other sources. Our congressmen could legislate for the appointment of a trustee to anyone who has a recent felony or CDS charge, at least for a probationary period of time such as 5 years.
If federal money is properly channeled back into the economy through the use of in-kind benefits and fiduciaries, then these measures would more than make up for any clerical expenses. Furthermore, and most importantly, they will serve to prevent enabling of people who get a monthly cash deposit that otherwise softens the consequences of their actions. Lastly, these measures would also reduce the staggering rates of homelessness and create more stability and resources for the recipients in need.
Alex Herzog has been working for the federal government since 2006. He received his BA from Emory University and Masters degree from Yeshiva University. Among many hobbies and interests, Alex has a children’s book pending publication.