Friday, September 28, 2007

Damned If You Don't

Again an NPR article has got me riled up.

Similar to my indecision regarding "what do you do when people are assholes", what do you do when laws and policies can be abused? I have a hard time deciding whether a program or policy should exist when you know it will help some, but also is sure to be abused by others.

There was apparently a hostage situation recently that ended in deaths because authorities couldn't get paperwork through the propper channels in time. The elongated process took nine hours, and in that time things went bad. The reaction from our rational and forward thinking government is that searches and arrests that affect our "national security" should not be hindered by court approval. Now the problem with this, I think most agree, is the potential to have a government or any powerful group posess dangerous power. We don't ever want our government to be unaccountable for violations of our rights.

At the child care subsidy agency where I work, we are fully aware that our services are being abused. People are on government cash aid who appear to have plenty of money. People claim to be caring for children who we actually see working at Vons while they're supposed to be watching kids. People claim to be watching children who can't possibly be watching them according to the parents' accounts of when they bring the children there. Most of the time it's hard to prove. When it's staring us in the face and we report it, it takes months to process, dozens of our own hours to prepare, and may or may not be provable as far as courts are concerned. It's frustrating because its all of our money that is being used to pay dishonest people. At the same time, there are UCLA students who call just to let us know that they couldn't go to school if it weren't for the service. There are familes of five children who's single mother parent reports 10 hour shifts at Target. There are families that we meet who are so screwed up that I'm just glad that their getting some money so that their kids don't starve.

So I'm torn. Should we be concerned with the individual, the few who would benefit from special care and more flexible laws, or do we make sure that nobody can abuse the system? Is our financial and civil freedom as a whole more important than the lives of the few who may suffer? I'm inclined to sympathize with society in the case of the PATRIOT (it's an acronym I just found out) Act. I'm inclined to side with the children when it comes to my job.

Maybe it's a matter of frequency. Maybe for every five who need government aid, one abuses it. Maybe an unchecked government would make it harder for ten citizens to live for each one life it saved. Cost/benefit analysis. It just seems wrong for us to allow any abuse of noble ambitions, or to allow suffering to persist.

1 comment:

Fred said...

I think those two very different examples, the Patriot Act and Child Care Aid, each require a different response which takes into account factors beyond merely questioning whether we should enforce abusable laws/systems.

I believe the Patriot Act does more harm than good, removing checks and balances against the abuses of power in the name of fighting terrorism. I would much rather see laws restricting the sale and transfer of goods used to commit terrorist acts than laws regulating ideas which could comprise a "terrorist" mindset. I would rather the Patriot Act be abolished than kept in place with the possibility of abuse.

I believe that while people can and do abuse services such as Child Care Aid, the people who do need the aid and are getting it because of this service outweigh the damage done by people abusing the system for free money. It is taxpayer money which is being abused, so I believe that taxpayers should ask for more oversight of how their tax money is being spent in general, rather than shut down the entire Child Care Aid system because of these abuses.

I don't think there can be one firm decision on all laws and systems that are potentially abusable, and it needs to be decided on a case by case basis.