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A Squeegee Solution

Opinion Section: Readers Speak!

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It is a crazy idea. So crazy, it just may work. Give them the money. No strings attached.

How much money has been spent on programs to solve the squeegee boy problem in Baltimore City? The Baltimore Sun reports that the city has been grappling with (expending money through programs) the issue since the mid 1980’s. The mayor recently proposed a new program with a $1 million dollar price tag. One million dollars for a program to help 100 kids.

Where does that money go? In all likelihood, a good portion goes to cover overhead and expenses associated with program administration, that is all of the hoops set up for program participants to jump through in order to receive any assistance.

I get it. Handing out “free money” just doesn’t feel right. It is unAmerican, unseemly. But the government gives away “free money” all of the time in the form of tax breaks and incentives, subsidies, and the like. Last year, Baltimore County approved $43 million in tax cuts to the developers of Towson Row and $78 million for Trade Point Atlantic, while schools crumble around students.

These are sold under the illusion of trickle-down economics. But trickle-down has been debunked time and time again. And, unlike other government welfare programs, the government doesn’t tell companies what they can and can’t do with that money. That’s a government program with a small “g”. For example, with the last tax cut, Congress didn’t mandate companies translate their windfall into raises for employees, and they didn’t. They enriched themselves with stock buybacks.

What about going the other direction, trickle-up, or for the more scientifically inclined, capillary flow, a process so powerful it can move water against gravity to upwards of 300 feet. Give a middle or lower incomed person $500 and watch it flow through the local economy in shops, services, entertainment, education, enriching the masses not the few.

As reported in The Atlantic, “In India, a pilot program between 2011 and 2012 transferred cash—roughly $4 to $6 for adults, and half that amount per child—once a month to every household in select villages in the state of Madhya Pradesh. According to evaluations in 2014 by India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, households in recipient villages proved more likely than those in non-recipient villages to have modern toilets and to use public taps or hand pumps for water rather than wells. They also used cooking fuels that produced less indoor air pollution, which is linked with poor respiratory health. Along with money spent on food, all this helps explain why children in transfer villages were healthier. Program villages saw twice the rate of progress in reducing the number of underweight girls as control villages. The proportion of 14- to 18-year-old girls in school was 65 percent in villages that received transfers, compared to 36 percent in villages not benefiting from the program.”

But that is India, a far cry from the U.S. Or is it? The article also states that, “The United States, for its part, tried an unconditional cash-transfer program 40 years ago and found it worked, too. The “negative income tax” provided cash to low-income recipients across five states in four different experiments between 1968 and 1980. As in the developing world, the payments were associated with reduced child malnutrition, improved school attendance, and growth in household assets. The transfers also had significant effects on children’s test scores. “

While successful, these experiments came up against welfare reform of the 1980’s. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has begun to revisit the notion and open a dialog about universal basic income on the national stage and is gaining traction, along with a healthy dose of skepticism and derision. Putting money in the hands of people gives them a bit of breathing room while at the same time stimulating local economies.

Tisha Edwards, head of Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, is quoted in a recent Baltimore Sun article as saying that the kids would need between $75-$100 per week to deter them from the lure of squeegee. Giving each of the 100 identified squeegees $75 per week for 1 year would cost $390,000 – well below the estimated cost for Mayor Young’s program.

What would you do with an extra $200-400 per month?  What would the squeegee boys do? Many admit that they would rather be doing something else other than standing on a corner with a squeegee.

Let’s be courageous enough to employ capillary flow to find out what happens when we treat people like corporations and give them the money no strings attached.

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