Why We Don't Means-test Our Clients
One of our guiding principles at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts is that we do not means-test our clients. We never have, and we never will. This has always been important to us, right from the start. People who need food support do not need the added scrutiny of being asked to prove their economic status. This is a frightening requirement for many, and one that is often impossible to fulfill. During the COVID era countless people have been plunged into economic insecurity. Many had not experienced poverty previously. This made it very difficult to document or substantiate their need. Means testing imposes a documentary requirement on people who need support. However, there is no standard for poverty. Any benchmark is chosen by individual organizations, and necessarily excludes certain people who cannot meet the required standard. An example would be the common requirement of savings. If a person has some savings, even a small amount, they are disqualified from multiple support services. Thus they are required to burn through their savings until they are sufficiently poor to qualify for support. Another example would be the accepted standard of the referral. Many food provision establishments require that clients are referred before they can receive help. This often involves bureaucratic processing which can take many weeks. During these weeks, the applicants do not qualify for support and cannot get help, but the poverty that caused them to apply for support does not go away. There is no way to accurately judge the circumstances in someone's life. Means-testing puts obstacles in the way of vulnerable people getting help. It is humiliating, and forces them to declare themselves in poverty and to record and share their income in painful detail. Poverty is not static; it is not forever. People experience poverty for different lengths of time: some for a few weeks, some for months. Many of our clients have used our services for several months and then stopped because they no longer need assistance. The process of means testing may provide targeted benefits to those that need them most, but it also adversely affects anyone who falls within the borders of the defined means. For food service, this means that clients will not be able to eat right now. Hunger is not something that can be put on hold for weeks or months. So we don't means test. We know this means that a few people may perhaps misuse our generosity and get more food, but it will also mean that many more people get the help they need exactly when they need it.