A hand-up is better than a handout

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  • Major expense: the Bermuda Government spends more than $50 million a year on Financial Assistance

    Major expense: the Bermuda Government spends more than $50 million a year on Financial Assistance


Everyone needs a job, from the time that a child is relatively small through to virtually the end of adult life.

Work provides purpose and motivation: mentally, physically, financially, and sometimes, spiritually fulfilling. Work is not as we like to think — especially when it is a job we dislike — something to pass the time to take home a pay cheque.

Our working role and the accompanying reward, for almost all individuals even if we are loath to admit it is what defines us, what provides the so-important self-worth and value: to ourselves, to our family, to our community and country.

That is why when an individual loses a job, and a replacement position cannot be obtained in a recessionary environment, the loss is devastatingly compounded to both the individual and the connected family.

Alternative income remedies have to be found and quickly, even as the individuals struggle with basic survival — choosing between food and rent. Medical, dental, learning disabilities, psychological and depression issues will go untreated, adding to further stress on personal immune systems as well as identity devaluation.

Globally, civilised governments have had social structures in place to alleviate these family financial crises in the short term, including cash assistance, counselling, retraining and other supportive programmes. Officials and politicians recognise these safety nets of social services as a humanitarian function of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Truth be told; no one, but no one wants to be on financial assistance (FA), welfare, on the dole, in financial stress, call it by any name, the result is the same. You’ve got to get a handout and to do this even, you have to provide significant personal information about yourself and your family.

And, no matter how professional, nice, or empathetic the FA personnel are, the whole experience is a personal blow to one’s dignity. It weakens your self-confidence and pride because you are no longer in control of your financial position, you are dependent upon government. You have become poor, in spirit and in life.

The entire idea of financial assistance is so abhorrent to some, that there are families who will go without rather than ever admitting they are need help.

Such support can only be temporary, particularly when government financial resources are so severely strained as to be deemed to be unsustainable, as Zane DeSilva, Minister of Social Development, stated on September 26, 2017. FA is designed only to bridge the gaps to return individuals to self-sufficiency, or in elderly households to supplement inadequate pensions.

Ideas and innovations are introduced, as they should be. A living wage has been proposed. Continuing education for achievement of a GED is important. Learning and development skills, re-training are some of the proposals or programmes in place that are very important to individual success.

For decades, in ours and neighbouring societies, government and non-profit agencies such as Bermuda Child and Family Services, the Family Centre, Age Concern, the Salvation Army and others have also performed vital roles in helping people to obtain assistance and advice to remain independent. They have been the wonderful caring groups to rely upon.

But, what if individuals and families are challenged with self-actualisation incentives, bringing the pride of accountability to themselves, and where they develop a small group of same community individuals to help each other build a long-term successful life.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where self-determination and control of individual destiny is absolutely the key to success.

Read about a fascinating programme implemented in the US, the Family Independence Initiative — FII — in an illuminating article in the New York Times, headlined “When families lead themselves out of poverty”, by David Bornstein, published on August 15 2017. This article has been republished today by The Royal Gazette, on the website and in print.

The Family Independence Initiative is a non-profit organisation in existence now almost two decades. It was developed by Mauricio Lim Miller, a leader in the field of social services who was honoured by former US President Bill Clinton.

Years ago, he was contacted by the then Mayor Jerry Brown in California to take up a challenge to change the way that helping individuals out of poverty and into economic mobility currently was provided. Having been a social worker for decades, Mr Lim Miller questioned whether the long-tried methods of assistance, along with advice was effective, and as Mayor Brown stated “whether they had (in social assistance) fundamentally changed anything”.

What evolved from that phone call was Mr Lim Miller asking: why can’t communities help each other? Would it be better for small family groups working together to develop their own solutions, promoting confidence, serious new self-respect in managing their financial and working lives?

Mr Bornstein wrote that the FII initiative was “grounded in the premise that a paternalistic conceit has hindered the development of poor families, perpetuated negative beliefs about them across society and led to systems of service that wealthier people would never choose for themselves”.

By contrast, Mr Lim Miller’s organisation provides no services or advice directly.

“What it offers are a structure and a platform within which families can strengthen their social networks, along with small payments for tracking their own behaviours and reporting them on a monthly basis,” Mr Bornstein writes.

“With these assets, they can discover what works for themselves and their peers, share or emulate their successes and assist one another.”

To date, the initiative has worked with more than 2,000 families in ten cities across the US — from the Bay Area to Boston, from Detroit to New Orleans. The families report surprising gains in income, educational attainment and mutual assistance. Their local lending circles have circulated nearly $2 million.

Bermuda is spending more than $50 million a year to simply keep our families needing financial help above board. This is far, far more than the FII programme has spent overall for the 2,000 families in the programme.

If the Budget for financial assistance cannot be utilised to fund a programme such as this, let’s think about floating a modest Bermuda dollar bond offering paying a decent rate of interest to help implement this idea.

It would again be Bermudians helping Bermudians become successful community contributors to our economy.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Read Mr Bornstein’s article. Think about it. Let me know your thoughts!

Sources: Mr Bornstein has provided me gracious approval to quote from his article.

Martha Harris Myron CPA JSM : Masters of Law - International Tax and Financial Services, Pondstraddler, life financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond.

Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

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Published Sep 30, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 29, 2017 at 11:20 pm)

A hand-up is better than a handout

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