A United Nations “special rapporteur” recently toured the United States to evaluate poverty — and his observations amount to a hard-left, anti-American rant that makes outrageous and false claims, includes his own political views, and goes off on a number of tangents.
Special rapporteur and NYU professor Philip Alston is so wedded to liberal orthodoxy that he ignores President Donald Trump’s initial steps to reform welfare and create work opportunities leveraging the unique American enterprise system. His report, issued in December, escaped scrutiny from a surprising number of international and domestic media outlets.
Among Alston’s assertions: The U.S. has low rates of access to water and sanitation, the U.S. has a “health gap,” and Americans should expect to live shorter and sicker lives. What’s unknown is the sourcing for these depressing claims.
Alston calls into question American exceptionalism and recently enacted tax legislation, and he suggests the U.S. is in violation of international law because it does not provide what he deems adequate social protection for those in need.
He questions the repeal of the individual mandate under Obamacare, demands more IRS audits of wealthy taxpayers, and blames the governor of West Virginia for not providing high-speed internet. Income inequality and racism are portrayed as root causes of poverty.
The lecture, however, is just getting started. Alston questions voter ID laws, says the U.S. is not doing enough to fight the Zika virus, suggests Puerto Rico should be a state — and says we spend too much on defense.
Without any evidence, he attributes broken septic systems and sewage overflows in an Alabama town to racism. Alston believes the bail bond system needs to be scrapped and that convicted felons should be allowed to vote.
He even introduces a baseless conspiracy theory: Police fine and incarcerate homeless people in order to generate revenue for municipal government. In this case, he cites a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the Ferguson police department, released after widely publicized street protests a few years ago. But the DOJ focuses on traffic tickets and housing code violations as revenue generators, not the targeting of homeless individuals.
Alston’s work product, if it can be called that, does not come as a surprise to longtime U.N. observers, who see bureaucratic bloat, mission creep, and dysfunction embedded in the culture of the international organization.
Conditions of poverty are unique to each nation, and Alston only perpetuates liberal ideals that argues for more spending on public sector programs. Moreover, if the elitist assertion that employment becomes an “illusory” solution due to advancing technology is to be believed, then we should all declare defeat in fighting poverty.
The Trump administration is taking initial steps toward welfare reform, and the president frames the issue succinctly as an American problem with an American solution. Trump reminded everyone in the State of the Union address why anti-poverty measures exist in the first place: to provide a means to move to independence and prosperity. And he tied welfare to workforce development, job training, and vocational schools.
Much can be done in federal departments and agencies. For example, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson wants to coordinate employment, education and other services with public housing tenants, an initiative that will begin to simplify a confusing system of 80 means-tested federal welfare programs administered among thousands of government agencies across the country.
Nobody should be fooled by U.N. poverty observers whose real agenda is trashing America.
This means upending traditional bureaucratic practices in which those seeking assistance are usually told to fill out an eligibility form in a local social services office, hardly a compassionate or effective means of addressing individual causes of poverty.
Several states are applying for federal waivers to add work requirements to Medicaid in an effort to target benefits more to the vulnerable and less to able-bodied adults. Others are considering drug-testing for certain programs. These reforms restore some much-needed balance between discipline and compassion in the nation’s social safety net.
The last significant effort at welfare reform was over 20 years ago, a bipartisan legislative achievement that let states administer a key program, set time limits on benefits, and introduce a work requirement.
This cooperation might prove elusive today, but Trump is taking action and laying the groundwork for real reforms. Regardless of one’s political views, nobody should be fooled by U.N. poverty observers whose real agenda is trashing America.
Ellen Sauerbrey is a former ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and assistant secretary of state. Jim Pettit is a public policy consultant.
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