Fraud And The Honor System!
Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code provides that it's a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to make a materially false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the United States government. I couldn't help but think of this statute as I saw all the people lined up yesterday hoping to claim hundreds of dollars in taxpayer-paid for food vouchers. These vouchers are available exclusively to flood victims who meet certain income limits.
My guess is that as many as 80% of the people who lined up for the vouchers were not flood victims. Of the remaining 20% who were actual flood victims, I suspect that many people didn't meet the relatively restrictive income requirements.
Nevertheless, I don't think that the overwhelming majority of the people who showed up yesterday intended to defraud the government. More likely, word got out that the government was giving away free food vouchers - and people turned out in droves.
I honestly don't know that the turnout reflects "a food crisis" as claimed by Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines. More likely, I think people were just hoping to score free stuff. Remember, this is Wisconsin where people will bum rush a Minoqua gas station in the middle of the night after an employee posts an incorrect price.
I've always thought our State motto should be: "If it's free, it's for me".
Actually, the most troubling aspect of the entire story is buried in today's newspaper account of the incident. Specifically, while these food vouchers are only available to a certain limited number of individuals (flood victims who meet certain income requirements), Federal rules do not require applicants to provide proof of either flood damage or income!
No verificationat all? Talk about giving people a license to rip off the taxpayers.
I understand that the idea behind emergency assistance is to get items into the hands of the needy as soon as possible. At the same time, is it really unreasonable to expect that claimants provide at least some minimal evidence that they qualify for the program? If nothing else, requiring some proof might discourage the most brazen of the scammers.
As a taxpayer, I hope that the forms that people are filling out clearly specify the requirements for relief AND the penalties for submitting a false statement. This will make it more likely that the people who legitimately qualify for relief will receive it - and that those making false claims will be prosecuted.
At the same time, I still think it's crazy for the government to potentially throw around hundreds of thousands of dollars on nothing but the honor system. It's true that it's a crime to make a false claim for assistance. At the same time, it's a crime to burglarize a house - yet we still lock our doors at night.