Out of the Desert

Nov 10, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Imagine if there were billions of dollars earmarked to help provide food, child care, medical access and other basic needs for millions of poor working families. Fantasy? Imagine that most of those billions go unclaimed every year, leaving those families in the same state of poverty. Ridiculous? Maybe so, but that is exactly what has happened across the United States for generations. At least $65 billion in government services and supports remain unclaimed by the working poor every single year and one in four working families receives no benefits at all despite being eligible.

Emily Henry's recent article, "Welfare Policy, Leg-Up Versus Hand-Out", provides a timely and accurate critique of the fragmentation of the welfare system in the United States. As Ms. Henry points out, it is often difficult to access available benefits and services or even to learn of their existence. We would add that when such critical resources are accessed and delivered comprehensively, work supports stabilize families, allowing them to achieve self-sufficiency and ultimately free them to be independent.

At Single Stop USA, our mission is to raise millions of people out of poverty by ending this disconnect through a revolutionary coordination of service delivery and distribution. Co-authored by Elisabeth Mason, CEO and Julie Kashen, VP of Policy, Knowledge Management, and Evaluation, "Out of the Desert: An integrated Approach to Ending Child Poverty" builds directly on Ms Henry's arguments and speaks to why these disconnects exist, the devastating implications they pose for families, and -- most importantly -- what is being done to address the crises. "Out of the Desert" was recently published by First Focus, a bipartisan organization that advocates on behalf of children and families as part of the compilation, Big Ideas for Children, a collection of large-scale policy proposals from prominent thought leaders which seeks to identify the next "big idea" that will improve the prospects of children in America. The book is available for free from First Focus at:

You're wandering barefoot in the desert. You desperately need at least three things: shade from the sun; a cool drink of water; and shoes to keep your feet from blistering. An off-road vehicle to get you to civilization wouldn't hurt either. As it happens, there are places in the desert where you can find all these things. Unfortunately, they are all in opposite directions from each other.

Ironic? Perhaps, but this is exactly the situation that exists for America's working poor and their children. Beset by a variety of obstacles, a vast array of work supports are theoretically at their disposal to help. The problem is they usually don't know that. And even if they do, it is damnably hard for them to get them all.