Transparency in government is a good thing. You want to know as much as you can about how your money is being spent.
But is there such a thing as too much transparency? For example, EBT cards are funded with taxpayer dollars. Should you be able to see who is receiving those dollars and what they are spending them on?
You can petition the government now to see amounts that are spent and where, but a mayor in Maine wants to create a public database that lists recipients by name and shows how they are spending what they get from the government.
“In Maine there is a website that lists the pension amounts received by everyone who is issued a monthly check by the State of Maine,” Macdonald wrote in an article in the Twin City Times. “No privacy here because this is being paid out by the State; accordingly, taxpayers have a right to know.”
“Yet other recipients of state revenues are shielded. Yes, I am referring to those known as welfare recipients. Why are they treated differently than pensioners?”
He answered his question by saying “our liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies have made them a victimized, protected class.”
Mayor Macdonald then assured the reader that he was working on getting a bill in the next legislative session to create a statewide public database that would hold the names, addresses, length of time on public assistance and what benefits are being collected.
“After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent,” Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald wrote.
Is he right to call for this? Move past the emotional reaction you might initially feel regarding the plight of some welfare recipients and consider the question logically?
If you are the recipient of property that was forcibly taken from another person, doesn’t that person at least have a right to know how it’s being spent?
Would it be ok to identify recipients by just a number, but still list how they spend their portion of the largesse? Why would that be wrong?
It’s possible to make the case for keeping the names and addresses private while revealing the purchases, but is there a case for making it open to public view?
When questioned about the database being an attempt to shame recipients, Macdonald said they already “flaunt it in public.”
Shaming recipients was a contentious topic in Missouri recently when a Republican lawmaker tried to prohibit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients from buying “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.”
Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin said, “I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards.”
So the questions are, should welfare recipients have to be subjected to the same transparency we expect regarding other expenditures of taxpayer money and should the acceptance of those benefits come with strings or limits attached?
There’s a reason radio talk show host Andrew Wilkow uses the phrase “All hail the recipient.”
All hail the recipient…All hail the recipient …All hail the recipient…now down on one knee and bow your head. #FiscalCliff
— Andrew Wilkow (@WilkowMajority) January 1, 2013
Whenever any action is suggested to somehow limit or change government benefits, it’s considered an attack on the recipient, who is apparently untouchable.
Should they be?
A few years ago there was a story out of Atlanta about folks who went to get government money to pay their heating bills. They were upset when they discovered there wasn’t enough money for everyone. The reporter spoke to one of the families who didn’t get a check. The photographer snapped a photo of the person they interviewed. In the background of the recipient’s home, you could see a huge flatscreen television and a XBOX.
It was a profound photo which demands an answer to the question: Why are they getting taxpayer money if they can afford all that?
Just as there are examples of XBOXes and lobster dinners, there are examples of people who truly need help and don’t want to be the recipient.
Does a need in one person justify the violation of rights in another? That’s what the redistribution of wealth is. If we are to tolerate the violation of our property rights for the recipient, are we not allowed to know how our wealth is spent? Why is it unacceptable to violate their right to privacy?
But it’s shaming the recipient, they say.
Indeed, some will be shamed. Some people already feel shame and won’t need the benefits for long. They will find a job and not need them.
Others long forgot their shame and have grown comfortable. Something like this might be painful enough to their ego to motivate them to find a job.
Still others have no shame and will wear public knowledge of their welfare status like a badge of honor.
When it comes down to it, when a business accepts government money for work it does, it’s subject to transparency requirements.
Why should it be different for those who collect taxpayer money without earning it?