Cards not perfect, but serve purpose

This letter reflects my reactions and thoughts regarding the “Worst” appearing on the editorial page (April 26). I wholeheartedly agree with the action of our state lawmakers in halting public assistance recipients from making Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT) cash withdrawals at liquor stores, beer wholesalers, casinos, racetracks and strip clubs. Personally, I also wouldn’t object to removal of EBT machines at all those locations due to their association with a variety of family-destructive addictive behaviors.

However, I disagree with the editor’s recommendations to eliminate cash withdrawals by Public Assistance recipients at all other locations and to require expenditure receipts from them.

Years ago, EBT cards were introduced to address a number of problems. In the past, public assistance recipients were mailed checks monthly or semimonthly. Some experienced problems with their mail due to failure to report recent address changes, mail tampering by landlords and so on, and theft. A wait period was imposed in the hope that the check could be found. If not, a police report was required and the recipient had to wait many days until the bureaucracy issued a replacement check.

Often banks refused to cash checks for individuals lacking an account and didn’t appreciate those recipients lining up to cash welfare checks and thus impeding other bank business. Finally, recipients faced the risk of loss of cash and unauthorized borrowings by their children, other household members and visitors. The introduction of EBT cards addressed most of those problems and permitted smaller, more frequent withdrawals against the balance.

The editor suggests requiring receipts for where the money is spent. Where could that lead? Would the offensive locations reliably issue receipts? The strip houses? The vast majority of recipients are women and their children. Does the editor believe “they” frequent strip clubs? Lacking receipts, how would anyone know which recipients were spending money at the offensive locations? Would someone review all receipts to make sure all benefit payments were accounted for? If a family couldn’t provide receipts to fully account for issued benefits, would it be assumed that expenditures had been made at offensive locations? Would we expect each of our hardworking welfare workers to tally up and reconcile receipts of several hundred recipients every month? Wouldn’t that take time away from constructive “welfare to work” activities?

Is the editor aware of George Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984” describing a “Big Brother” government that spies on everyday activities of everyone? Certainly that approach would seem contradictory to the libertarian views the paper has often espoused.

Many and perhaps most public assistance recipients have other sources of income including wages, unemployment insurance, Social Security for their children, disability, and child support. The latter is assigned to the state as compensation for Assistance Checks. Does it matter to the editor from which source the recipient is spending money at the offensive locations? As an incentive toward working, a significant share of earned income is disregarded in computing benefit payments. Should the recipient account for spending of the “disregard?” If we were to impose spending accountability on public assistance recipients, but not on non-recipients receiving income from identical non-welfare sources, could this be considered as a discriminatory Civil Rights issue?

Years ago the term “income maintenance” rather than “welfare” was implemented by the State to reduce disparagement and discrimination toward public-assistance recipients. Programs developed and used by the county Department of Social Services and various community agencies have been educating and assisting recipients with money management. This is a preferable approach. We will never be able to completely prevent money mismanagement. There will always be recipients who misuse welfare benefits, but it would be callous to impose an onerous stigma on the many because of a few abusers.

We must remain mindful that “the poor” are not the only “evil-doers.” Many people who have never received public assistance spend enormous sums at the offensive locations, thus depriving their children of support. Our state lawmakers need to also attend to the many others “wasting” government money, including medical providers submitting fraudulent Medicaid claims, unscrupulous business men who receive tax credits for moving jobs rather than creating jobs, and businesses that file fraudulent tax returns. As for the recipients, perhaps state lawmakers could require wearing of wrist bands or badges identifying them as recipients. However, keep in mind that as an act of civil disobedience, some might risk jail time rather than wear them.

Martin Sanden is a Dunkirk resident.