Governor Paterson’s plan to give $200-per-child “back to school” bonus payments to welfare and Food Stamp recipients exemplifies the federal stimulus bill at its worst.  It’s basically a helicopter drop of cash justified on the grounds that, after all, these folks need the money and will spend it–which, when you come right down to it, is justification enough for just about anything.

Violating the much-touted “transparency” of the stimulus program, the plan also was conceived in secret.   The governor’s staff bypassed the Legislature (based, perhaps, on this budgetary language) and did not seek alternatives from welfare administrators in New York City and county governments around the state.

The program will combine $140 million from New York’s share of the stimulus bill’s Emergency Contingency Fund for State TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Programs with a $35 million match from a private donor–reportedly the billionaire global financier George Soros–thereby avoiding direct use of the state’s own funds.

It will allocate $200 to every child between ages 3 and 17 in a household receiving TANF cash assistance or Food Stamps — even if the kids are not attending school, and even if their parents have been “sanctioned” for failing to seek work.

The federal department of Health and Human Services says the temporary fund is “intended to build upon and renew the principles of work and responsibility that underlie successful welfare reform initiatives.”  But former state Sen. Raymond A. Meier of Utica, who used to chair the Senate Social Services Committee, has another view:

The “Back to School Program” sounds warm and fuzzy, but it’s a frontal assault on the guiding principles that made welfare reform work. By handing out checks without regard to any effort to work, exercise parental responsibility or comply with basic program requirements, it marks a small but significant step back toward the bad old system that trapped recipients in dependency and poverty.

As for stimulating the economy, $170 $175 million will barely be noticed in a state with a roughly trillion-dollar GDP.  Assuming all the money is spent immediately, it will boost state and local sales tax revenues by a little over $7 million each.  For the state government alone, that will represent an increase in receipts of about .07 percent–that’s seven one-hundredths of a percent.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is the Empire Center’s founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.