How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

The Murphy Administration Should Embrace Across-the-Board Mean-Testing

It is widely recognized that Denmark has a very generous welfare system. In spite of the fact that they are among the most heavily taxed folks on earth - a 56.5 percent marginal-tax rate that triggers at the $80,000 income level - their citizens consistently indicate they are extremely happy with their ample welfare system.

In exchange for high taxes, the Danes get a cradle-to-the grave safety net that includes free health care, university education, child-care costs and maid service for the elderly, if needed.

While some Danes feel that their too generous welfare system is undermining the country's work ethic, according to The New York Times, "even the country's conservative politicians are not suggesting get rid of it." Instead they are suggesting trimming the welfare rolls by implementing stricter reviews to make sure recipients are steered into jobs or education before they get comfortable on government benefits.

The linchpin of Denmark's welfare system is universalism, which is administratively simple and incredibly efficient - everyone contributes to the welfare state according to their ability to pay and then everyone has access to the support. Robert Errickson in The Scandinavian Model: Welfare States and Welfare Research writes, "global programs are preferred to selective ones; free or cheap education for all in publicly owned educational institutions with a standard sufficiently high to discourage the demand for private schooling; free or cheap health care on the same basis; child allowances for all families with children rather than income-tested aid for poor mothers; universal old-age pensions ...general housing policies rather than public housing."

Danes are concerned that moving from universalism to selectivity will increase inequality and further separate benefit recipients from the rest of Danish society, increasing stigmatization. For whatever reason, the Danes do not get overly hung-up as we do about the moral failures of the poor. They are more concerned with universal access than individual contributions (they realize that there are always going be a few folks who game the systems).

In the United States, many conservatives Republicans believe that "bad choices" are the universal explanation of poverty and there are too many "takers" who are not willing to work. While liberals may acknowledge that some folks "make bad choices," they see institutions as thwarting the realization of the American Dream for many regardless of how hard they are willing to work and how hard they try to extricate themselves from depths of poverty. Further they recognize that vast majority of those who don't work are not able to work.

Paul Krugman has written that in some Republican-controlled states, "punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps the state budget." The latest Republican strategy for cutting the benefits to the poor is the imposition of work requirements for Medicaid, food stamps and other programs. This action will result in low-income individuals and families being further squeezed. Those affected by the new work requirements will include those with poor health and many who are unable due to deficiencies to handle the daunting paper work required to be granted a federal work requirement waiver.

Historically New Jersey has not been one those states that has imposed harsh work requirements on Medicaid. We have always been a State that cares about the health of those who are hurting. I'm concerned that the Trump administration's capping of SALT, also known as State and Local Taxes, as an itemized deduction for federal income taxes, could alter our state's generosity.

Each and every day we are reminded about the crumbling state of our mass transit system, the lack of affordable housing, the rising cost of pre-school and higher education, the poor performance of many urban school districts, the growing opioid epidemic and the enormous pension deficit that we face. We can't provide for all of these needs by further increasing taxes nor should we not do it by implementing across-the-board "mean-spirited" spending cuts. What is the alternative? It's "mean-testing."

The governor needs to stop talking about providing free services across-the-board - we don't have the resources to do that. If you have the ability to pay something for a service then we should require you to do so. The Murphy administration needs to fully embrace "means-testing" to allocate both essential services and public employee benefits. If you earn above a certain amount annually you should pay a sliding fee for child care and community college tuition.

Likewise, public employees who earn more than a designated annual salary and want platinum health care would be required to pay more for than those with a gold plan (where the patient would pay 10% vs. 20% in a gold plan). Similarly, public employee who retire before the age of fifty and continue to work in the public sector would not be allowed to accumulate unlimited unused sick pay. Given the fiscal realities that New Jersey is facing a fairer approach is not to provide free services to all but rather to equitably balance the burden based on one's ability to pay.