By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – While Congress debates on whether to raise taxes or cut entitlement programs, a local woman traveled across the globe to India and New Zealand to look at how those countries deal with poverty and entitlements.
The lessons learned could shed light on the dilemma right here at home.
“I feel good about living in a country that says, even though some people take advantage of this, we’re not going to let our people starve,” says Nikki Johnson-Huston. “We’re going to give you a hand up, but you also need to help yourself. I think that’s the right balance.”
Once homeless and living on the streets, Nikki Johnson-Huston is now an attorney and one of only eight Americans to be awarded the prestigious 2012 Eisenhower Fellowship, an honor bestowed to up and coming world leaders.
As part of her fellowship, Huston spent three weeks in India, a country of 1.3 billion that provides no government support to those in need.
“I met children who were living in the worst slums in the world,” says Huston. “Thousands of people would share one outside bathroom, trash everywhere, human waste in the streets. Those are the circumstances that they are living under. But if you talk to those children nine times out of ten, they speak English- very well. They talk about being an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer and they really understand that education is the way out for them.”
Compare that to New Zealand, a socialist country providing extensive benefits. Huston spent two weeks there where she says she met a woman who lives in government housing and gets $1500 a week to support 12 children, eight of whom no longer live with her.
“They’re not really getting better results than we are in the United States and they can’t afford it,” says Huston.
Huston says her own experience and what she learned overseas demonstrates that too many entitlements are almost as bad as none.
Listen to extended interview: