GoFundMes proliferation reveals a dirty little open secret

At this time of year, we are touched by the generosity, grace, and kindness of people who help people.

Reaching out to others reveals the best of who we are as humans, and that comes out clearly during the holiday season.

However, as often as I am touched by the way people present themselves to each other, there is always a nagging feeling that in many cases we are doing it the wrong way.

Sure, there will always be a need for people to support each other. Keeping an eye on an elderly neighbor, supporting a new parent, bringing food for friends recovering from surgery. It’s those personal connections more than anything that unite us as a community and a human family, it’s beautiful.

But more and more it seems that we trust each other for much more than that.

Even before COVID-19 made the fragility of our social safety net even clearer, Americans have relied on each other for things that other high-income countries like ours count on the government to provide. In the absence of poverty prevention measures, such as universal health care or universal basic income, people, especially those on low incomes, have become more vulnerable to the vagaries of the economy or a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Consequently, in the US, people are asked to fill in the gaps with each other.

The use of individual fundraising to support basic needs has skyrocketed in recent years, as online platforms like GoFundMe have made it easy to reach potential donors from anywhere and the pandemic has led to loss of jobs, health and lives. In addition to tools like GoFundMe, people can now share their Venmo links and have people donate directly to them for mutual aid.

In the first half of 2020 alone, the researchers found 175,000 GoFundMe campaigns launched. Unsurprisingly, they found that the success or failure of the campaigns reflected greater social and economic inequalities. More than 40% of the fundraising campaigns they analyzed did not receive any support. The most successful campaigns were among people with the highest income and education levels, not among those with the greatest needs.

Since these campaigns are by nature social media driven, often people with fewer resources are also raising funds from other people with fewer resources. Those with more resources do not know or see the pressing needs of people they do not know and who are not in their social circle.

A look at some of the active Seattle-area GoFundMes reveals our country’s dirty little open secret: a large portion of fundraisers are for medical expenses or related medical needs. And the word you see over and over again? Cancer.

One study found that 42% of people with cancer it depleted its assets in two years.

In 2019, GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan said that a third of the fundraising campaigns on his site were to pay medical costs. The following year, the platform created a category covering rent, food and bills.

In 2021, advocating for federal pandemic relief, Cardogan said GoFundMe shouldn’t do this. “…Our platform was never intended to be a source of support for basic needs, and can never be a replacement for robust federal COVID-19 relief that is generous and aimed at helping the millions of Americans who are struggling. “, she said. wrote.

Additionally, the dynamics of this type of fundraising reward certain types of needs over others. While physical health issues are seen as charitable causes, you don’t see many fundraisers for substance use disorders or mental illness.

Individual acts of charity will not result in a society that meets the needs of all. The unwillingness to accept this reminds me of the famous saying of the Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor don’t have food, they call me a communist.”

Disconnection also appears in our state. Washington state is so often described as a deep blue state with socially progressive values, but paradoxically, we are the state with the most regressive tax code in the country, according to the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy.

Our lack of a progressive income tax and reliance on sales tax for income means that the poorest residents pay six times the tax rate as part of their income compared to the wealthiest, my colleague Jim Brunner reports.

Some help is on the way in the form of low-income state “working families.” taxes devolution it will go into effect in 2023. The rebate will potentially help more than 400,000 people, but it will only work if people know it’s there and know how to use it.

With the next legislative session in about a week, we have another opportunity to explore ways to make our tax system, and therefore our safety net, more humane and fair. While conversations about progressive income have been hotly debated for as long as I can remember, perhaps now that the pandemic has shown us just how vulnerable we are, we can finally see some traction.

I know I will hear from readers that people should just take “personal responsibility” and stand up for themselves instead of changing the system to protect more people from falling through the cracks. But all it takes is a diagnosis of cancerfor example, for any of us to fall.

My hope is that next year, instead of just celebrating a season of giving, we create a culture of caring, where we can spend more time trusting each other to build community rather than providing for each other’s basic needs.

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