Using Smartphones to Access Public Welfare Benefits


Yes, it’s arguably unfair to react to the phrase I’ve italicized in the following quotation from a recent article by Christine Dunn in the Providence Journal without the context of a longer, more subtle conversation, but it did jump out at me:

More than 13,000 people applied for housing vouchers in less than a week in November, when Rhode Island Housing and the Providence Housing Authority jointly opened their waiting lists, the Rhode Island Housing Board of Commissioners was told Thursday morning.

The online application process was a success, and most people were able to apply on their mobile telephones.

It’s a truism of the welfare state that, no matter what the government is technically subsidizing, taxpayers are actually subsidizing the least-necessary goods and services the recipient purchases.

Of course, used properly, smartphones and the related data plans can be valuable tools helping people to advance in their lives.  Absent some structural incentive, though — or even just a little bit of stigma to being on the public dole — the public must wonder whether we’re subsidizing technology mainly for entertainment and so that beneficiaries can better access more public benefits.

Treating welfare recipients as consumers of packages of public products leads to the government plantation.