Friday, February 18, 2005

This Reminded Me Of Freeloader Luke

I work for an organization that places volunteers around the United States in nonprofits that help alleviate poverty. This organization provides us volunteers with a biweekly subsistence allowance at the poverty level of the communities we serve and encourages us to apply for food stamps. I am a college graduate who could earn a decent living, but I choose to do this work. I could perhaps live on my allowance with strict budgeting. Is it ethical to apply for food stamps? S.B., Chicago

It is indeed ethical to apply for food stamps. And when you do, fill out those forms honestly and comply with all eligibility requirements, which refer not to some hypothetical earning power but to your actual income. Those who designed the program could have required you to seek more profitable employment (recipients of unemployment benefits must demonstrate that they are able and available to work, for example), but they chose not to. No nurse's aide or poet (or poetical nurse's aide) is compelled to return to school for an M.B.A. And you have no obligation to set more rigorous food-stamp eligibility standards for yourself than your state has.

And beyond legalisms, there's no ethical reason that your efforts to do a bit of good for others should require you to shun a federal program to which you are entitled. Ideally, of course, those who work so altruistically would make a decent living -- or at least a living -- and not have to struggle at the subsistence level. It is sad when soldiers or anti-poverty workers are so poorly paid that they need food stamps to feed their families.

As far as I know, not a single wealthy person declined his tax cut and sent the I.R.S. extra money; similarly, you need feel no reluctance to participate lawfully in a government program meant to benefit those without wealth.


Blogger Vergasy said...

I recently talked to an attorney who used to work for legal aid who said she used to be able to qualify for her own services.

9:34 PM  

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