Addicts and entitlement programs

I have literally lost track of the number of alcoholics and addicts I know who have used their disability checks, utility checks and food stamp cards to get alcohol and drugs. I have concluded that putting any kind of benefits check or a food stamp card directly in the hands of someone with a substance abuse disorder is an exercise in stupidity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they shouldn’t receive the benefits. Addiction is an illness, and having an illness doesn’t disqualify a person from receiving assistance. Entitlement programs can help addicts gain the stability they need to begin or maintain the recovery process. But a disability check can also be used to buy alcohol. A food stamp card can be cashed in to buy crack. And that enables the addict and wastes taxpayer dollars.

Why doesn’t the government require that people with addiction disorders have payees for their disability checks, utility checks and food stamp cards? Good question, huh? I sure wish someone would answer it for me. I’m so tired of seeing my friends drink and smoke their checks. I hate addiction.

P.S. I don’t totally have the answer for this. Even with payees to receive the checks, pay the bills and buy the groceries, there are still ways to get alcohol and drugs. You can panhandle. A 40oz beer is a couple of bucks. You can trade anything for crack. Seriously. I recently heard about a guy trading in cans of food he got at a food pantry. Wow. If you want it bad enough, you can rob and steal. But still, having a payee for benefits would cut down on the enabling and taxpayer fraud. That would be something, right?

Update, 10/23/2010: Since I first wrote this post, I have personally witnessed payees from a government agency regularly giving money to an addict, even after being told that the money was being used to buy drugs. This included writing checks directly to the addict for large sums of money ($500 and $1000), and doing nothing to intervene or assist the addict in getting treatment. The government required a payee because of the addiction history, but the government-agency payee gave the addict large sums of money, knowing that it would be spent on drugs. This is one of the most frustrating situations I have ever encountered. And it is happening with other people I know. I have concluded that the government payees must not care very much about the addicts or about taxpayer dollars.

9 comments on “Addicts and entitlement programs

  1. Travis October 13, 2008 1:35 pm

    I agree with you. Here is a website that talks about this same problem in 1994 from the Social Security side. So, the government has known this is a problem for a long time – you would think something could have been done in four years. http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/gao/gao20.htm

  2. Matt Barnes October 13, 2008 2:09 pm

    My apologies for posting off-topic. Please note that The Hobo Days has now moved to http://homelesstales.com and would be grateful if you could update your link,

    Thanks,

    Matt.

  3. Cara Michele October 13, 2008 5:28 pm

    Travis, thanks for the link. And if I’m doing the math right, that’s 14 years, not four. So yeah, a solution to the payee problem most definitely should have been found by now. One thing that apparently has changed since 1994 is that addiction is no longer a qualifying condition for disability benefits. But serious mental illness can be. And as we well know from serving our homeless friends, there is a strong link between mental illness and addiction. And the physical damage from addiction (brain injury, liver damage, etc.) may also be considered as a disabling condition. Sounds like finding payees was a problem in 1994. There are non-profits who can do that for us here. But unless clients volunteer for a payee, the process to have one assigned can be difficult.

    Matt, no problem. Thanks for info. I’ve updated the link. :)

  4. Jessica October 14, 2008 8:28 am

    I don’t know a lot about all of this, but I do know about the WIC (Women Infants and Children) Program where recipients receive vouchers for very, very specific grocery items. It is a program to ensure that everyone who needs healthy food (pregnant women, children, nursing mothers) can get it. The voucher will literally say Good For 1 Dozen Large White Eggs, X ounces of Peanut Butter, X ounces of dry cereal.

    Why aren’t food stamps set up the same way? I understand that it would be a bummer if I was a food stamp recipient and I couldn’t buy poptarts, TV dinners, and all the other junk I spend my money on – but wouldn’t it help?

    Or why doesn’t the government set up their own stores that the food stamps are good at?

    I understand that the vouchers could still be traded. The only solution I see for that is requiring a photo ID when redeeming… Anyway, just my thoughts on the subject.

  5. Cara Michele October 14, 2008 8:37 am

    WIC is awesome. I’m taking a momma to sign up today or tomorrow.

    The problem that I see with food stamps is the stores. There are stores that will take your food stamp card and give you cash for it. For example, you have $200 on your card and they will take that and give you $100 cash. (Yes, that’s fraud.) So even if there were a voucher program and even if your photo was on it, I think they could get around it and still do that.

    As for the government store thing, good idea. But it would probably cost a small fortune to implement. They have government stores on military bases, though, right? Maybe something modeled after that? I like your creative thinking. Maybe you should run for office. Or work for the government. For real.

  6. Jessica October 14, 2008 10:22 am

    Yes, the stores on military bases are called commissaries.

    I need to organize my thoughts and write a letter to http://www.co.guilford.nc.us/government/socservices/ . I have a lot of thoughts. I don’t think a stream of consciousness will get very far, so I have some work ahead of me.

  7. Cara Michele October 14, 2008 10:24 am

    I’d love to see it when you send it, if you want to share.

  8. Gerardo R April 1, 2010 3:31 am

    How about requiring all welfare, food stamps, and social security disability benefits to be drug tested? I think the entitlement (free money) addiction is stronger than their crack/heroin/ and/or alcohol addiction!

  9. Cara Michele April 5, 2010 12:29 pm

    Gerardo, the desire for money is not stronger than the addiction, but the money feeds the addiction, and in the case of crack addiction, can be a trigger for using. If drug testing were implemented, what would happen if someone tests positive? I’m not against drug testing, but I don’t believe in denying help to someone because they’re an alcoholic or addict. I do think that there should be some kind of control in place to prevent them from using government benefits to feed addiction, but quite honestly, I continue to be amazed at the ways that people get money to feed addiction. I’d be fine with having people live in a group situation, more structured and monitored, if they’re still actively drinking and/or using, but there are difficulties with that, as well. I want to be clear that I’m not against helping alcoholics and addicts, because I believe that addiction is an illness, not a choice, but I don’t have the answers for what that system of helping looks like. I just know that our current system is rife with fraud and abuse, and it’s an outrage to taxpayers and an enabler for addicts and alcoholics. We need to find a better way.

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