Poverty Solutions Should Minimize Government’s Role

By Geoff Duncan

For generations, government has tried to solve the issues surrounding poverty by adding new programs or growing existing ones.  Much to the surprise of bureaucrats, the outcomes from this approach are uninspiring.

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute found the federal government spent $1 trillion on 126 different anti-poverty programs in 2013 without making a dent in any of the key metrics around poverty. Government has led us to believe if we simply pay our taxes on time each year it will take care of the needy and we can move on with our busy lives. Remind me again: What is the definition of insanity?

This past legislative session, Georgia launched an innovative approach to tackle issues surrounding poverty. With the help of my colleagues, I was able to get passed into law a measure that allows individuals and corporations to laser-focus their state income tax dollars directly on Georgia’s struggling rural hospitals. Contributions will flow directly to the rural hospital of their choice, skipping the bureaucratic red tape, as a means to maximize the reach of every dollar contributed. They will receive a 70 percent tax credit in return for contributions.

This program is expected to generate over $250 million over the next three years, allowing these rural hospitals to use the funds to stabilize and grow their health care services and minimize government strings. Early feedback from the rural hospitals indicates they plan to pay off debt and add equipment, services and health care professionals. This does more than stabilize the local health care system. It exponentially strengthens the local economy.

In other words, “We the People” of Georgia are actively working on effectively solving the issues surrounding poverty without significantly growing the size of government.

I’m encouraged by this approach and how it can enhance the lives of tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – in rural Georgia almost immediately. I’m also encouraged that this strategy can help Georgia solve other problems. To that end, I’ve challenged my colleagues at the Georgia Capitol to think of additional ways we can leverage the resources of what I call the 4 Cs: churches, charities, corporations and citizens.

These all have the talents and resources to bring a scalpel to work with them every day instead of the chainsaw often found inside government programs and agencies. Government allocates funds because that’s its job and reason for existing – or expanding. The 4 Cs allocate funds because they choose to do so, because it’s their passion, and because they truly believe it is beneficial. They are frequently willing to offer up more than their checkbook when they get involved. They offer up awareness, innovation, efficiency, volunteerism and, most importantly, an exit strategy for those trapped in the cycle of poverty.

The main barrier to implementing this strategy broadly is a growing, arrogant notion inside beltways and under gold domes across this country that government is somehow better than taxpayers at helping those in need. Generations of data prove a bigger government program does not work.

Imagine the solutions that might be right around the corner here in Georgia if we embrace churches, charities, corporations and citizens as the solution instead of depending on bigger government. Adoption, foster care, mental health, health care for low-income individuals, homelessness, hunger, autism, child abuse services are just a few green light ideas that are all just one piece of legislation away from being positively affected by the 4 Cs.

There will always be a role for government, but it doesn’t have to be the leading role. Sometimes, it is necessary to relegate government to oversight and facilitation…and for Georgia’s elected officials to acknowledge the potential when “We the People” are in charge.

This commentary was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation by Geoff Duncan, a Georgia State Representative and resident of Forsyth County, Ga. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (May 20, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.