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There’s a gathering consensus in the charity world that cash transfers are the baseline standard. If you can’t do better than giving cash, you should just give cash. That makes perfect sense in theory – but in practice, what you need is an actual giving-away-cash option. And that’s what’s missing in Houston.
What we need, then, is the option to ensure that the money we’re donating for Houston’s neediest goes straight to those individuals, in cash.
If Give Directly doesn’t want to mission-creep, then someone else should do it: set up an organization which gives out cash (or, more realistically, reloadable prepaid debit cards) to the people who need it most. There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Houston, for instance, many of whom have lost their homes and their jobs, and who are in truly desperate straits. If there was a way to send cash directly to those families, I would do it in a heartbeat. But so far I haven’t been able to find one.
The next-best thing would be for someone to set up a charity which has the ability to give out large amounts of cash whenever and wherever (in the US) a future disaster hits. If we don’t have that ability now, in the wake of Harvey, that’s bad – but let’s build that ability, so that we’re prepared for the next earthquake or hurricane or wildfire. Such an organization would have non-zero overhead costs, of course. But its overhead costs would be much lower than the costs of something like the Red Cross. And once such a shop was set up, choosing between the two would be a no-brainer.