Monthly Archives: October 2011

Food Stamp Fraud

Food Stamps

Food stamp sign in local store window

As we all know, when times are tough people will do things that they never would normally consider just to get by. The economic climate which we all now face has pushed many otherwise law abiding citizens to the edge, creating a few criminals in the process. One way in which this can happen is through fraud. Fraud is defined as a false representation of a matter of fact – basically a lie. Usually fraud is committed to achieve an outcome that is otherwise impossible. For instance, someone may claim to have a disability so they can qualify for medicaid assistance that would not otherwise be available.

In the case at hand a Wake County woman, Lauren Brewer, was recently arrested and charged with food stamp fraud and receiving medical assistance through fraud. What was her lie? Mrs. Brewer allegedly lied to social workers, stating that she was divorced and lived alone, when in fact she was happily married and living with her husband. How much did this simple lie cost the government? Almost $34,000.00! Mrs. Brewer is alleged to have defrauded tax payers of $27,506 in government medical assistance and $6,572 in food stamps.

This little white lie will ultimately cost Mrs. Brewer either a lot of money or an extended stay in her local federal corrections facility. Unfortunately she is not alone, as the continued economic downturn has put many families into financial situations where risking it all seems preferable to the alternative. Thankfully there are programs like Roads to Justice which can help families understand their options and avoid resorting to criminal behavior.

R2JNC Fundraiser

Attention supporters!

We are kicking off our first ever fundraiser. We plan to raise $5,000 by November 10. We’ve worked so far using our own funds, but the time has come to kick it up a notch. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot, but with your help, the results will be amazing!

You can donate via this website using Paypal or you can send us a check at P.O. Box 9563, Chapel Hill, NC 27515.

Since we are a nonprofit corporation and our 501c3 status is pending approval, your donations will be tax deductible the moment we receive our tax-exempt status notification. If you have any questions, please contact me at jennifer @ roadstojustice.org. (Please leave the spaces out of the email address- spaces were included to deter spambots. Thank you.)

Talking about Poverty with Children

Sesame Street is debuting a new muppet, a seven-year old girl named Lily, who is dealing with what is euphemistically called “food security issues”. Currently she is scheduled to appear in only one show.  Sesame Street and other PBS shows seems to be a rare area where people living in poverty as well as the affluent and educated share an interest. Will this character reach children who don’t understand hunger as well as the kids for whom hunger is a regular concern?

In 2002, Sesame Street introduced an HIV positive muppet in South Africa and Kenya. Kami’s struggle with the loss of her mother to AIDS as well as her own illness might seem like a rough topic for a children’s program, but with so many children similarly suffering, doesn’t it make sense to give them someone to relate to?

So many children in the U.S. going to bed hungry, we’ll be watching to see how children respond to this new character.

Poverty and Debt in Rural America

 

Few people in North Carolina or the rest of the country have not been touched by the recent economic downturn, but this slump has hit rural areas, including rural North Carolina, particularly hard.

Endemic Rural Poverty

Most urban and suburban dwellers have in their minds a certain romanticized image of rural America. They think rural areas are “idyllic, healthy settings in which people experience few significant stresses or problems.”  The reality of rural America is considerably less romantic.

As Professor Katherine Porter wrote in Going Broke the Hard Way: The Economics of Rural Failure, 2005 Wisc. L. Rev. 969, 1015-1018, rural people are more likely to be poor than urban residents. Furthermore, while urban poverty is frequently alleviated with an upswing in the economy, rural poverty remains constant. When the economy has a downturn, rural areas are hit even harder than urban ones.

Lower Wages, Higher Expenses, Less Wealth

Rural poverty remains a problem for several reasons.  The biggest problem is a lower wages in urban areas.  Many people believe that most rural Americans work in an agricultural field, such as farming, ranching, or forestry. The truth is that very few rural residents work in agriculture.  The majority of rural workers work in manufacturing and the service industry, much like people in urban areas. The problem is that good jobs are even harder to come by. Unemployment is generally higher in rural areas. Educational levels in rural areas are, on average, less than those in urban ones. As a result, higher paying jobs that require higher levels of education are less likely to be located in rural areas, and if they do, they are less likely to help the local population.  Additionally, the lower population density makes rural areas less attractive to many businesses as there are fewer customers in a given area.

Not only do rural dwellers have lower wages, but they also have higher expenses. Although housing costs are generally lower in rural areas, transportation costs are significantly higher.  With no public transportation and long distances to jobs and shopping, rural residents spend more money purchasing and maintaining their vehicles than do urban residents. Rural residents also pay significantly more for health care.  They pay more for out-of-pocket care and they pay higher insurance premiums. They also frequently pay more for food and utilities.

The total effect of lower wages and higher expenses is a dramatic reduction in the total net wealth of rural residents.  Rural residents on average have less equity in their homes and vehicles than urban residents.  Less wealth and less equity mean less of an ability to weather a financial crisis. For example, an urban dweller with equity in his home can obtain a home equity loan to meet basic expenses during a temporary downturn. She could sell her car and use the equity to pay debts, or to purchase a less expensive car and rid herself of a troublesome loan. Rural residents have considerably less of an ability to do this.

Fewer Solutions Available

Not only do rural dwellers have greater problems with debt, but they also have more trouble finding legal help. With the recent changes of the Bankruptcy Reform Act and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), personal bankruptcies have become more complicated and fewer general practitioners in rural counties are handling them. A rural dweller with large debt problems will frequently have to make multiple trips to a distant city to find a lawyer who focuses their practice in this area. This involves more time off work, more expense for child care, and larger transportation expenses than for people living in a city.

Additionally, in this current era of budget cuts, rural areas do not have the population density or the political influence to keep the help that was once available, as seen by the recent cuts to Legal Aid and the complete elimination of several rural offices.

This is why organizations like Roads to Justice North Carolina are critical.  R2JNC’s mission is to provide legal education and services to the people who need them most, but have the least access to them.