The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 29, 2021 1:00 am

Public, private contributors strengthen our safety net

Steve Hoffman

Editor's note: This is one in a series of op-ed columns from members of the Alliance for Human Services, a group of 50 local nonprofits helping people thrive.


Most people know government relies heavily on the private sector to deliver products and services.

Corporations build our military equipment; private companies build our roads; government funds help colleges and universities operate. There are countless examples, and all of this is good because these things are for the public good. Government would not be the best option to do the work itself.

Many may be surprised to learn that this happens in the human services sector as well.

About 13% of the federal budget goes to social welfare programs. The majority is delivered directly to individuals, via health insurance, tax credits or direct payments (such as food stamps or Supplemental Security Income).

Of all that remains, the government relies on the human services sector to deliver the services. Without the human services sector, these services would not be available in our communities.

What is more important than this, however, is that government spending on social welfare in no way covers the need we have for human services.

Roughly a third of all individuals have incomes lower than what is sufficient to meet their basic needs. This stifles our economic growth and, more importantly, mires too many people in the conditions of poverty. Most of these people are our elderly, our children and those with disabilities.

Unlike some stereotypes, government assistance falls far short of what a family needs.

Food stamps provide on average $1.50 per meal. Most housing assistance programs require families pay at least 30% of their income on rent. What most think of as “welfare” (direct cash assistance to low-income families with children) provides on average only $447 a month for a family of three.

This is less than 10% of this family's basic needs budget.

What's more, millions of those in need do not have access to social welfare programs at all. More than 100 million people in this country live below the self-sufficiency standard, but only about half receive food stamps, and a tiny 2.5% receive direct “welfare” payments.

So how is this gap filled? Human service organizations.

They are dedicated to utilizing all resources and helping all families in need in their service territories. About 30% of human service organization revenue comes from government grants or contracts. They find many other sources of revenue to help fill the gaps and serve people who need the help but can't get it from governmental sources.

We can all help support the work of human service organizations. Providing financial support is essential. Advocating for good public policy, spreading the word about the work these organizations do and volunteering are just a few of many other examples.

The more support human service organizations receive, the stronger they become, and that translates into stronger communities, families and individuals.

Steve Hoffman is president/CEO of Brightpoint, a nonprofit providing anti-poverty programs in 15 northeast Indiana communities.

Share this article

Email story

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required