Stu Bykofsky: Means-testing won't stamp out fraud

Posted: April 20, 2012

AFTER LAST Friday's column on Gov. Corbett's plan to start means-testing food-stamp recipients on May 1, I conclude there is class warfare in America.

Not poor against rich, as some Republicans complain, but by some in the middle class against the poor.

The column concerned John Manton, 64, a Roxborough widower with a master's degree in library science.

Unemployed for a year, he's jobless because computers have rendered his skills obsolete, and gets $37.25 in food stamps weekly. He's desperately applied for many jobs below his skill set, but can't land one, perhaps because employers think he is overqualified or over-age.

Manton has a small nest egg he uses to pay bedrock bills - real-estate tax, utilities, insurance. He has no car, no TV, no dishwasher, no cellphone. If his assets exceed $9,000, he'll lose food stamps under Corbett's rule.

A predictable minority of readers with open mouths and closed minds thought Manton was a whiner or a conniver. Their toxic combination of heartlessness and brainlessness makes me sick.

One dipstick left on my voicemail a five-minute rant - that's longer than the Gettysburg Address - about welfare scammers.

This jackass (and others) was so quick to bray that he didn't comprehend that I wrote about food stamps, not welfare. When you have preconceived notions, facts are left outside the door.

Like you, I don't like fraud. Who does?

But food-stamp fraud in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Agriculture, is an amazingly low one-tenth of 1 percent.

Another blockhead rejected that data because 30 years ago, when he was a Drexel student, he saw someone buy ice with food stamps at a West Philly 7-Eleven. That three-decade-old observation convinces him that the food-stamp program is riddled with fraud. If this is what passes for informed opinion among some college graduates, it makes my head explode.

Food-stamp money comes from the feds, which allows each state to hand out the stamps and to verify eligibility. Pennsylvania seems to have done a great job in thwarting scammers. If someone cheats, he should be kicked off, but no one should be kicked off because the state changed the rules. Corbett's scheme could deny food stamps to thousands of our needy neighbors while not saving the Keystone State one copper penny.

But if it reduces any fraud anywhere, I can hear Charlie Conservative say, it's still good - right?

Right! But means-testing won't reduce "fraud." Pennsylvania will join just 14 other states that drop currently qualified people who did not cheat but who were responsible and created a nest egg. Aren't Republicans supposed to applaud personal responsibility?

Under Corbett's directive, food stamps will be denied to families with more than $5,500 in assets and also to seniors and people with disabilities who have more than $9,000. He originally set caps of $2,000 for families and $3,250 for seniors and disabled, but backed down after a public outcry. More outcry is needed.

Corbett's plan seems to say, "We will help you with food - after we destroy you financially."

Since there's almost no fraud, and the policy punishes those who saved, it is revolting. If you agree, ask the governor to reverse his pointless policy.

So as to not leave you with a bad taste about class warfare in Philadelphia, the loudmouths with walnut-sized hearts were outweighed by almost a dozen readers who offered to make a donation to Manton, to take him grocery-shopping, to give him a TV or perhaps a job.

No class warfare for them. Classy compassion, maybe.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: philly.com/Byko.

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