10/03/11 — Up for grabs: You don't always know if you are helping the truly poor

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Up for grabs: You don't always know if you are helping the truly poor

If you saw the photo, you saw the line that wound around the parking lot of the former Sportsman's World building as residents gathered to apply for extra food stamps in light of the hardships created by Hurricane Irene in Wayne County.

And there were some in that line who were in need of assistance, whose budgets simply were stretched too thin, and who could not overcome the loss of a refrigerator full of food.

But there were some who were in that parking lot that day who were driving new cars and not truly in distress and others who might or might not have been there simply to take advantage of some free money.

That's the problem with mass calls for assistance like this -- you really do not know if you are really helping the poor or rewarding those who know how to work the system. There are checks and balances in place, but do they really make sure money goes to those who truly need it?

What concerns most people about the direction we are heading as a nation is not that there are poor people who need help -- or even people who up until now have been able to take care of themselves, but who have landed in tough times and need a temporary helping hand.

What bothers caring people who give to charities and their churches and who are always ready to help someone in need is that there are too many people who are taking advantage of the system.

Taking help when you need it is fine. It is why

so many of us participate in charities like the Community Soup Kitchen and the Salvation

Army. We want to be there for those who have real emergencies.

But when you are behind someone in a line at a local discount store and you see people negotiating to trade EBT card credits for cash or you see items on a checkout conveyor belt that you cannot afford and are, quite frankly, too expensive, and someone paying for the food with food stamps, you begin to wonder how much dishonesty there is in the world of public assistance.

There are thousands of examples of why this system has disintegrated -- and enablers on both sides of the aisle, government workers who want the system to continue as is because it is less work and business owners who take the money from the cheats to turn a profit or who fudge their own records to cheat.

And it also why we are raising generations of young men and women who think that their life's work will be a disability or government check.

We can sit around and hope that values change and that more and more people teach their children that there is honor in a good day's work and that assistance should be for people who have nowhere else to turn, not a way of life.

Or we can start looking into where our money is going, push for stricter rules, and make sure that those who are bringing home EBT cards and free health care are those who truly have nowhere else to turn.

We should reward those who turn their lives around, who pursue an education and a job. We should honor those who use their assistance checks to build a better life for their children. We should reward responsibility, industriousness and honesty and punish those who seek to cheat, waste money and milk a system that was only designed to be a hand up, not a crutch.

Perhaps we should elect those who are willing to make the hard decisions necessary to have a public assistance program that really serves the people.

Published in Editorials on October 3, 2011 11:36 AM