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Charity Chief Tired of ‘Blame the Poor’ Mentality

Growing mean spiritedness is used to justify abandoning those laid low by the economy.

There’s a concept in social psychology that goes something like this: When other people err, we attribute it to flaws in their character; when we screw up, we blame it on circumstances – the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

So when someone else runs up credit card debt, we think “spendthrift.” When we do it, it’s because of a medical emergency and necessary student loans.

Alan Jennings, executive director of the , says he has seen this type of thinking amplified since the economy tanked. Instead of sympathizing with those who lost their jobs or homes, some blame the poor for their plight – which makes it so much easier to justify not helping them.

These critics have found a home on the Internet. I’m always struck by the vitriol – often from anonymous cowards – that shows up in comment sections after online stories about someone who is struggling financially.

“The people whose mean spirit and ideology lead them to oppose any expression of sympathy for people who are on the margins are getting more and more effective at convincing [others] that those people are not victims, but perpetrators,” Jennings said.

It’s been a tough year for Community Action. President Obama proposed cutting in half Community Services Block Grants and House GOP leadership sought to eliminate them entirely. Jennings credits Lehigh Valley Republican with helping to save most of the grant money, which is vital to the group’s anti-poverty programs. 

The federal stimulus funds that pay for CACLV’s weatherization program to make homes of low-income people more energy efficient will dry up in March and CACLV is expecting to lay off about 20 workers.

After initially fearing it would have to close , a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Easton, CACLV is transferring the operation to an advisory board as of Oct. 1, with some seed money for the first couple of years.  Last year, Safe Harbor sheltered more than 300 men and women and provided 17,000 meals for those in need.

Some people hesitate to give to charities out of fear much of their gift will be eaten up in fundraising and administrative costs – a valid concern. But CACLV spent just 7.6 percent of its budget on those expenses last year, Jennings said. That’s low even compared to other reputable charities, like the American Red Cross, which spends about 10 percent on fundraising and administration.

Those who clamor for government to cut spending often argue that helping the misfortunate should be left to private charities and churches. But such groups will tell you that they don’t have the capacity to help everyone in need without some government funding, particularly in this economy.

This is no time for Americans to forget how to walk a mile in another man’s shoes.

Chris Miller August 26, 2011 at 02:02 PM
There is no doubt about it, we are in an economic crisis and the future does not look good. Yet an honest effort must be made by us to aid those who are sincerely in need of our assistance. Places like Safe Haven and the Alletown Rescue Mission desperately need our help. Keep in mind that if all of us sent something, a dollar or a million dollars, it will be appreciated by those who run said organizations. Where we as a people get irritated is when we see the picture or read the story about some criminal loaded with bling and getting government money while stealing from those who work. Unfortunately that is all to common. Those who need assistance do not get it because of the abuse of the system and we all know that happens. If you want to help those in need let me suggest that you pick one or two organiztions and make a nominal donation to them. Lots of folks do that.
Rosemary B August 27, 2011 at 06:32 PM
The fact of the matter is that we all must be compassionate to our neighbors who are having trouble and to our families who are having trouble by offering them food and shelter. Or by dropping off a bag or groceries or money anonymously if they might be too embarrassed to accept it.The truth is that the Government has mismanaged the money we have entrusted to it and it no longer can be trusted to manage it properly. And the government is out of money itself!

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