It’s All About Getting ‘Stuff’

What do thousands receiving Hurricane Katrina payouts from FEMA thousands more receiving child care benefits in California and outgoing Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill have in common?

They all are getting stuff they don’t deserve.

When most of us were in school we were required to take a civics class. We learned about the structure of government how laws are passed and the role of political parties in the process.

However there is evidence that some students attended a different class on government. Here they were taught that government is all about stuff and how much stuff you can get.

How else do we explain these recent news stories?

The Government Accountability Office reports that FEMA has paid out nearly $1.4 billion to those who fraudulently claimed they were victims of Katrina. Money was sent to post office boxes vacant lots and cemeteries. In some case Social Security numbers of deceased persons were used to obtain assistance checks.

Among those goods and services purchased with the ill-gotten gains were Pro football tickets "Girls Gone Wild" videos fees for a divorce lawyer a diamond ring and a sex-change operation.

Estimates are that 16% of FEMA relief payments was lost to fraud. Obviously these recipients were "A" students in the alternative government-is-about -getting-stuff civics class.

Also over-achievers at getting stuff are the thousands of Californians who are cheating the system by collecting undeserved child care subsidies intended for families where the mother is going from welfare to work. Estimates are that as much as half of the claims are bogus but until recently there was no provision in this nearly $3 billion program to investigate fraud at the state or county level.

Among recent findings are a parent who fabricated a job and a child care provider and successfully induced Los Angeles County to pay out $345719. In the Antelope Valley 16 cheaters defrauded the state of nearly $1.2 million by setting up a phony child-care facility.

In Los Angeles County alone the district attorney is prosecuting more than 800 cases of child-care fraud but it is a statewide problem.

Another honors graduate of the "getting stuff" class appears to be outgoing Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill. As reported by she has been awarded by the City Council 600 hours of sick leave — based on 50 hours per year of her incumbency. It amounts to a roughly $31000 non-cash benefit that can be used by the Mayor to pay for health insurance after she retires. This is in addition to a sizable pension for her Council service and previous tenure in Long Beach City College management.

Among Long Beach residents who have learned of this "gift of public funds" the anger is palpable. Sadly the only official outrage has come from members of the City Council who are now asking why they have not been included in this benefits scheme.

Currently city management is mulling over putting a parcel tax on the November 2006 city ballot to pay for libraries police and fire services. It would be interesting to see the results if Long Beach voters were also allowed to decide the issue of more stuff for retiring city officials.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.