Somehow the weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday seems an appropriate time to turn our attention to Jessica Botelho’s Turn to 10 report on arrests for food-stamp fraud:
Twenty-four people have been accused of fraudulently obtaining a combined total of nearly $50,000 in public assistance and food stamps, Rhode Island State Police announced Tuesday.
… anyone convicted of fraudulently obtaining public assistance may be sentenced to up to five years behind bars and/or fined $1,000 if the value of public assistance was more than $500.
Anyone convicted of fraudulent use of food stamps, will be ineligible to participate in the food stamp program for no less than six months and no more than 24 months.
In the scheme of things, this is pretty small-scale stuff, with an average theft of $2,040, and looking at the mug shots doesn’t give the impression of a well-off crime ring. Probably, these folks saw an opportunity for some extra money and acted on the not-uncommon principle that a little bit of “I got mine” wouldn’t actually harm anybody.
This holiday weekend, we express our gratitude for the good things in our lives and (some of us) take part in ritualistic exercises in excess, whether at the Thanksgiving Day table or in an effort to give our children (or ourselves) a materially exciting Christmas at a discounted price. These holidays are supposed to direct our attention to those whom we love and those whom we should help, but they often highlight our weaknesses and tendency to measure well-being by things.
These contrasting aspects of the holidays apply to those of us who need help, too. There is no shame in doing what one can to help one’s family, and food stamp fraud might be easily forgiven for that purpose, but is that really what’s going on? Stealing in order to fund some habit, like smoking, or to keep up on the season’s materialism carries a bit more culpability, and a drive toward taking control of one’s financial well-being should always be central.
We do our disadvantaged neighbors no favors by instilling an opportunity for fraud or temptation toward dependence, so our welfare programs should be modest and well controlled. At the same time, we lose perspective if we blow their infractions out of proportion.