If a friend down on his luck came to you pleading that he simply didn’t make enough money to feed his family and pay his rent, and could you spare a thousand or so a month just temporarily until he figured out a more lucrative arrangement, how would you react — assuming you could afford the money?
If he was a good and faithful enough friend, you might make the commitment, knowing he was desperate and would use the money strictly for necessities.
But what if, after a few months, you learned he was using some of the money you’d provided to buy cigarettes and booze, to buy lottery tickets and gamble and to bedeck his body with tattoos?
Very likely, you’d instruct him to find his windfall elsewhere.
That’s exactly the position in which governments are finding themselves these days as it comes to light that welfare payments are being used — by some recipients — for these kinds of frivolities.
And governments want to do something about it. We believe they should.
Welfare payments are made via electronic transfers — similar to debit cards. Many states are now considering, or have already enacted, restrictions on where these transactions can take place and for what.
Not everybody agrees with the policy, remarkably. The Associated Press the other day quoted Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington nonprofit, as arguing that such measures reflect “people’s preconceived notions and stereotypes of low-income people.”
It does no such thing. If welfare recipients aren’t misusing their payments, they have nothing to worry about. It’s only the abusers who are affected by the laws.
In fact, those measures would go a long way toward removing the stigma from honest and dutiful welfare recipients. If the paying public were assured the money was being used for life’s necessities, a lot of the resentment of the program would evaporate. The great majority of people receiving the benefits are legitimately needy.
The AP quoted recipient Ann Valdez of Brooklyn balking at the restrictions, saying the government should instead be trying to create jobs. She insisted she struggles desperately every month to feed, clothe and house her son and her.
First, job creation and welfare monitoring are not mutually exclusive endeavors. The government by all means should do both. And, if she is not using her money for unacceptable purposes, she need not fret over the restrictions.
Welfare is a necessary element in a compassionate society. Sometimes, our neighbors are unable to care for themselves.
But the provider is quite right to be sure the people paying the bills are paying the right ones.