Tim Burke: examining other government entitlement programs

The word “entitlement” has developed a negative connotation with conservatives. As we discussed last week, two of the most well-known entitlement programs are Social Security and Medicare.

The state of Nevada administers many other entitlement programs to assist state residents.

The website, benefits.gov, lists twelve programs that are available in Nevada for low income and special needs residents. These entitlement programs are designed to provide temporary assistance and not be permanent entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. The more well-known programs are the supplemental nutrition programs WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medicaid, and the Nevada Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Nevada also offers programs for financial assistance with child care, unemployment, energy costs, the Career Enhancement Program (CEP), Client Assistance Program, Rapid Response Program, Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired, Veteran’s Employment Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and Youth Employment Services. In general, most entitlement programs are federally funded but state administered.

During the last eight years, the number of residents in these programs has dramatically escalated.

The primary reasons for the increase was the downturn in the economy and job losses, a loosening of restrictions on eligibility, and the rollout of Obamacare. During the last recession, construction in Nevada came to a screeching halt putting thousands of Nevadans out of work. Also during the recession many other types of companies closed or outsourced to foreign labor markets, displacing workers.

In addition to job losses, there are other valid reasons to seek help through entitlement programs. Medical and mental health issues can prevent someone from obtaining employment. Unforeseen circumstances like a family member dying, divorce, foreclosure, or a severe accident are also reasons that residents may need to reach out for assistance.

Our system of entitlements is based on being funded by our free market economy system of employment and taxes. Essentially entitlement programs are underwritten by the people that are working and paying taxes. As the number of persons using entitlement programs has increased, it has also increased the need for more funding. The Obama administration’s solution was to increase taxes, cut military spending and to increase the federal deficit.

A civilized society should provide basic services for those in need such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. But the increase in the use of entitlements has also had a detrimental effect on our society.

There has been a shift in how the benefits are perceived by many of those using the benefits. Some no longer think of the benefits as temporary, but instead, they view them as permanent. There has also been a shift in attitudes among those receiving benefits. In observing adult learners coming to school over the last eight years I have found that the students’ attitudes have changed from being appreciative of receiving a benefit to one of “It’s owed to me.”

This change, along with the financial stress that the entitlement programs are putting on taxpayers and the federal deficit, has conservative politicians trying to find a way to cut benefits. But our government has essentially created a “no-win” situation for many Nevada residents that are receiving benefits. That is because the benefits they receive are greater than what they would earn by being employed.

Our politicians need to come up with a different solution besides cutting those programs that allow us to help those that need it and to find a way to put people back to work.

Next week: some creative solutions to consider.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com