I remember as a kid playing kick the can with my mother. Usually we played this game on our way back from a walk on a country road. At this point in the walk I was probably tired and complaining about having to walk, when my sister could either be carried or was already riding in a stroller. My mother would find an aluminum can (or bottle cap or some other kickable item) on the side of the road and encourage me to kick it, then run after it and kick it again. And before I knew it, we would be almost home. My version of kick the can down the road is a very literal one, as well as one that solves the problem at hand–pacifying a complaining child. There is, however, another meaning to kick the can down the road, namely to procrastinate, or in more political terms, to avoid solving a contentious problem with the hope that someone else will address it. Politicians often engage in the figurative sport of kicking the can down the road, unfortunately. This procrastination is not new. Think about how long in our history the problem of slavery was kicked down the road, and some would argue that remnants of the can are still being kicked today.
The danger with avoiding crafting a solution to a difficult problem is the creation of unintended symptomatic problems, which compound the original problem. Here is a case in point I remember from a Child Psychology course I took in college. In this class we were discussing the pros and cons of children attending daycare rather than staying home with a parent. As part of the discussion, the professor talked about the state of daycare in the United States at the time, particularly for low income working families and single parents. He said that children being left in the care of someone other than a parent or close family member isn’t harmful to the child per se. What makes daycare potentially detrimental to the child are the conditions and quality of daycare the child attends. He explained that quality day care facilities, which provide a good staff to child ratio and are clean and interactive, pose little harm to children who attend. Unfortunately, he said, this type of daycare facility is expensive and the United States lacks an adequate number of these quality, affordable daycare facilities, especially for low income working families. He conjectured that if politicians ensured funding for adequate, quality daycare for low income families, the cost of doing so would be cheaper than addressing the more costly unintended problems, like poor academic performance, which awaited these children who lacked quality daycare.
This professor also contended that this reluctance to provide funding to address a solvable problem in favor of waiting until that manageable problem mushroomed into numerous, more complex problems with costlier solutions, is quite commonplace in our country. I have to admit that I see truth in his argument with regard to poverty. Rather than address the primary problem of poverty by working to create more jobs, to ensure an adequately trained and educated workforce, and to guarantee a livable wage for instance, our legislators have sought to address the symptomatic problems of poverty like unaffordable housing and healthcare costs or food insecurity. I would say this approach is better than not addressing poverty at all, except now legislators have begun to chop away at the supports that have been put in place to address these symptomatic problems, which brings me back to kicking the can down the road.
Recent proposals from the current Administration and Congress, like the proposed Farm Bill and HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to impose work requirements for HUD programs, demonstrate the current Administration and Congressional leadership’s lack of desire to now address even the symptomatic problems of poverty. In other words they are opting to kick the can down the road, and in doing so are ensuring the original problem persists. Only this time, because they are also removing the supports for the programs which address the symptoms of the poverty, these legislators are guaranteeing that the primary problem, poverty, will not only persist, but will grown and worsen. At some point we must stop playing games with people’s lives.
Below I have included some links to sources which provide an overview to the proposed Farm Bill and how it will affect those who experience poverty.
- For a brief overview of the effects of the proposed Farm Bill on the SNAP click here.
- For an in depth overview of the effects of the proposed Farm Bill on the SNAP click here. It is a lengthy, but comprehensive assessment, which is updated as this bill progresses through the legislative process.
- For a good article on how the proposed reforms to SNAP will perpetuate the cycle of poverty click here.