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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mad Cash for Katrina Victims

According to an NYT article entitled Forced Evacuation of a Battered New Orleans Begins (from today), FEMA is distributing $2000 in debit cards to victims of Katrina.

Michael D. Brown, the FEMA director, said his agency would begin issuing debit cards, worth at least $2,000 each, to allow hurricane victims to buy supplies for immediate needs. More than 319,000 people have already applied for federal disaster relief.  "The concept is to get them some cash in hand," Mr. Brown said, "which allows them, empowers them, to make their own decisions about what they need to have to restart their lives."

Is it just me, or is anyone else worried about giving $2000 to victims without any control over what it gets spent on? Call me paternalist, but since these are public dollars (that I subsidize through taxes), I'm not entirely excited about "empowering" the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, guns and ammo, and lottery tickets. 

The FEMA website contains a news release with more information.  According to officials and the story, the debit cards are being distributed (one per household--do gay couples count as a household?) to "help with disaster needs such as transportation, clothing, rental housing, other housing accommodations," but it doesn't appear that there are any enforceable ways to ensure that the disaster funding goes to those expenses alone.   The government should have ensured that the debit cards were not going to be accepted, as the VISA slogan says, "everywhere you want to be."  Am I nuts (for thinking that)?

Posted by Administrators on September 8, 2005 at 10:28 AM in Dan Markel | Permalink

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Comments

I just read today that Houston simply wants all the victims from New Orleans to leave. Their kind heart has been taken advantage of. Gangs are organizing in schools, the Hospitals (Emergency Rooms) are overwelmed and almost broke. Violent crime is skyrocketing. It has been over a year and most of the people and even now the politicians (Yes, some democrats) are starting to understand that some people are just plain irresponsible and that is why they are poor. Having kids out of wedlock by more than one person thus, overwelming our school systems, police etc.. that are all paid for in whole by taxpayers not people on public assistance. I even heard that some of the Katrina victims using there 2k cards to purchase booze and sit at bus stops and drink all day in public. This country just can't take too much more irresponsibility. Sometimes having a good heart is not the best thing for people. Tough love! Give a person a pole instead of a fish? Think about it.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 29, 2006 4:27:19 PM

I AM A SINGLE MOM OF THREE IN DESPARATE NEED OF MONEY TO CATCH UP ON MY BILLS AND COMPLETE THE REPAIRS TO MY HOME. PLEASE IF ANYONE COULD ASIST ME I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IT. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN WILLING TO HELP US REBUILD OUR LIVES. TAMMY

Posted by: TAMMY LANDRY | May 14, 2006 12:50:19 PM

I happened accross this site. I am appauled at the stupidity of some of these blatantly ignorant comments. It has been 5.5 months since Katrina. I have a job, no car still, but hey insurance people don't pay right away all the time. Who cares when you are in the street or living off family and distant friends? As long as some people get something to talk about and point fingers about! My home was completely destroyed. I am a single mother who was, and get this air heads who are stereotypical...FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT...It is the blogs such as these which cause malice in the face of hard working, TAX PAYERS, such as myself whose whole life and everything I and my little girl own is gone. I was given the 2,000 dollar grant money. Thank God, because I was 12 hours from home when the beast struck. I had no way of getting food and only the few clothes I brought for my '3 day trip.' It is pretty scary people to be faced with this and have to deal with the backlash of ignorant comments from people in AMERICA! All I have to say, "God Bless every person who shed a tear for us, who helped us, who searched for us, who clothed us, who fed us, who prayed for us!" The rest of the spin doctors with their ideas??? You have no idea what hell we have lived and have no right to judge. Stop the insanity of ignorance which multiplies like fungus and gives Katrina SURVIVORS a bad image. Like anything or anywhere there are those which take advantage, but talking trash as a whole does not unite!!!! May you never have to deal with what I have seen.

Posted by: KATRINA VICTIM | Feb 21, 2006 9:47:03 PM

I agree with Mike on this all the way. Most of these people were not financially independent before the Hurricane. These people were largely displaced from public housing projects, not homes they owned. $2000.00 is not a lot of money. It might get them the first month in an apartment, a few changes of clothes, and a few groceries, but after the first month or two then what? These people were not on the whole self sufficient to begin with. Is anything being done to help these people or gently nudge them to find employment in their current communities? Is anything being done to help them toward self sufficiency or is it just hey, we gave you a couple thousand dollars, what you do from here is not our problem? Will they go on to live in public housing in their new communities? I don't see how these debit cards are helpful. As a taxpayer I feel I have a right to question how this money is spent. A man who earns his money can spend it as he pleases, a man who is given money should expect to be questioned as to how he spent it. Pardon me if I fail to feel compassion for a person who is supposedly such a victim but prefers to spend his money (handout) on lap dances and booze rather than clothing and a place to live.

Posted by: sam | Nov 14, 2005 12:12:52 AM

I think the problem with the FEMA assistance being given to the evacuees lies in the concept of: learned helplessness and the intense sense of entitlement of *some of the evacuees (especially from New Orleans)

Rather than use that assistance money to find a place to live/rent, they wait. When it runs out, they ask, "Now what are you going to give me? I need more." In my opinion that is the sad scenario of a lot of the evacuees. Most likely, these are the people that have for most of their life been on the public welfare, food stamp, SSI dole.

They should be looking for a place to live or rent. It's not the government or the public's responsibility. Get on a bus if you do not have a car, and go seek employment. Have kids? No problem. There is assistance for child care. There is no reason these people should still be staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and still wanting more and more help.

It's time they got off their butts and do like the rest of us ...
Take care of ourselves and work.

Just my opinion.

With Aloha

Posted by: Aloha | Nov 6, 2005 11:30:48 AM

If you were homeless, wouldn't you want a dance?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 25, 2005 3:33:15 PM

Ahem.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 25, 2005 2:03:03 AM

You can get your $2000 in FEMA money on a debit card or deposited directly to your bank account. So even if the debit cards do say that they can't be used to purchase guns, that restriction wouldn't apply if you had the same money deposited in your bank account, it seems.

Incidentally, I understand the thread of paternalism that suggests that poor people shouldn't be able to buy pleasurable things like alcohol or tobacco, but why are the paternalists in this thread against letting the poor purchase firearms? Is it just a general sense that guns are bad, or is there some particular reason that only those who can easily afford them should have firearms?

Posted by: William Baude | Sep 9, 2005 1:16:55 PM

I read that both the cards distributed by FEMA and the Red Cross prohibit the use of the funds for purchasing alcohol, guns, and the like. This makes sense, since funds doled out under various public assistance programs have similar restrictions. It appears that Josh is correct. Onward.

Posted by: Lori | Sep 9, 2005 10:58:49 AM

If Josh is right, it could be this whole thread is mooted...but when I was looking at the FEMA site, it didn't indicate that the debit cards were restrictive, nor would it make sense that cards being distributed by FEMA should say "Red Cross client." A quick google search just now revealed that there are FEMA cards and Red Cross cards; some people are getting one so far, and may be waiting for the other. This thread was about the reports regarding FEMA cards. Onward.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 9, 2005 9:54:34 AM

Mike: You reason from the fact that a value is difficult to apply to the conclusion that the value should be abandoned? Wow. (And there's my parting shot for this thread too.)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 8, 2005 10:04:21 PM

Josh, the pot shots were unintentional. I just like saying innuendo ad hominem. Anyhow, my view is not that we should control "where, when and how these folks spend the money." But I do want control over one "w" - the what. The 9/11 fund was different because, as I noted above, compensation was tied (if imperfectly) to economic loss.

Paul wrote: Are autonomy and dignity nothing but unreasoned "emotions?"

The problem with "autonomy and dignity." Why, Paul, I'm glad you asked this. Some would say, "Yes, I respect dignity and autonomy. To truly respect the dignity and autonomy of the individual, you need to leave him to fend for himself. Only after becoming self-sufficient can he achive true dignity and autonomy." How can you refute that? You can't. Instead, you're forced to take another sip of espresso, listen to the next bad poet, and answer: "But, Mike, what dignity really means is..."

Anyhow, coffee house discussions - which, upon invocation of Kant, this has become - are fun. But I have a brief to finish before I sleep. As always, it's been my pleasure.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 9:22:18 PM

Mike,

I made a typo, and you're taking pot shots. Anyway, this is what I've read about the debit cards: "Drawn on Chase Bank, the debit cards carry the words 'Red Cross client' and 'This cannot be used for alcohol, tobacco or weapons.'" But, I'm sure that this does not satisfy your need to direct where, when and how these folks spend the money.

Whether one agrees with your statement that the government did not cause their injuries depends on one's view of the role of government. (I know this is an old battle, and I will not get into it.) I will say, however, that the federal and local gov't did not come to their aid soon enough, and, in that sense, gov't is responsible for something. Say what you will about entitlement programs, I think we can all agree that gov't is responsible for responding to citizens in physical danger. (If your house was burning, I am sure you would expect the fire dept to respond.) I say compensation, you say entitlement. You still haven't explained why this is so much worse than the 9/11 compensation fund. Regardless of the method of calculating the amount of compensation (or entitlement), I think your concerns would apply in either case.

Posted by: Josh | Sep 8, 2005 9:02:25 PM

Dan and Mike, I think both of your points are answered by the self-determination point: if we choose to help people, the most autonomy-respecting fashion is to hand out cash. If we assume autonomy is a value we want to respect, we have to give a good reason for our choice to reject it in a particular case. Such a reason might be that there is real evidence that the money will be used in some socially detrimental fashion, which I haven't seen here.

In a way, I think it is even more important to respect autonomy, which is fundamentally equivalent to dignity (insert my usual appeal to Kant here), in a situation like this: the victims of this hurricane have been stripped of so much dignity, privacy, freedom to move about, they've been splashed over the media as third-world-esque refugees and looters -- it seems like we would do well to try and give them as much dignity to hold onto as we are able.

Mike, I don't know if you'll classify this as an "emotional" argument or not. Are autonomy and dignity nothing but unreasoned "emotions?". Maybe B.F. Skinner would say so, but most of is recognize those things as real values that we should be concerned about for their own sake, "emotionally" or otherwise.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 8, 2005 7:33:16 PM

Terri wrote: "you people scare me. when you give your spare change to the homeless, do you go by the next day to demand receipts that prove your money was well-spent? Or maybe you just don't give change in the first place?

You're right. I never give the homeless spare change. I usually buy them lunch, or drop them off food or a Starbucks. That's not including that 10-15% of my work is on non-sexy pro bono cases (re: they don't raise major constitutional issues, and they're not before the SCt or CTA - just lousy state court cases for good people who can't afford a good lawyer). Sorry to hear you only give change. Now, can we get passed the, "If you want accountability, you're evil," non-argument? Indeed, can anyone make a non-emotional argument in support of this program?

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 7:19:27 PM

Dan, good thing you're not running for office. The question of whether Americans want to demand accountability from recipients of these debit cards has effectively been asked and answered. You want to be the guy who stands up and starts babbling about transaction costs and Locke v. Davey? Thousands are homeless and destitute and recently rescued from days with no food or water. Give them the bloody money.

Posted by: Thad | Sep 8, 2005 6:35:10 PM

My vote is with Christine Hurt. This is the cheapest way to bring the most benefit to survivors, and if the survivors end up wasting their money, this doesn't bother me, so long as the government doesn't encourage moral hazard by having a second bailout. Even means-testing benefits would impose huge transactions costs and delay. Give 'em the money, take the SSN, and if people are required to declare the income on their next tax return, it will serve the purpose of means-testing.

Posted by: Ted F | Sep 8, 2005 6:10:36 PM

Paul, there may be a difference analytically, but not functionally: assuming transaction costs aren't an issue (see comments above), the gov't could ensure that the mad-money is used for certain benefits and goods, and not others. This is not unfamiliar: e.g., food stamps, or the religion funding cases, which basically say: hey, it's ok to empower individuals to choose from certain types of educational programming, but to prohibit the use of those funds for others (pervasively sectarian ones). Locke v. Davey was the most recent expression of that principle. In short, I don't see why my desire for accountability ought to attenuate when the government may lawfully put strings on funds that could otherwise be "squandered."

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 8, 2005 6:00:06 PM

Dan: there's a difference between asking for accountability from public programs and asking for accountability from private beneficiaries of public programs.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 8, 2005 5:46:58 PM

Terri, you've got to be kidding, right? Can't citizens ask for a mite more accountability from public programs than what they would ask from private citizens who may do as they please with their post-tax dollars?

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 8, 2005 5:35:33 PM

you people scare me. when you give your spare change to the homeless, do you go by the next day to demand receipts that prove your money was well-spent? Or maybe you just don't give change in the first place?

Posted by: terri | Sep 8, 2005 5:14:39 PM

Josh wrote: I recognize that you may have difficulty conceptualizing the payment as compensation. But, that is only if you don't think what these people lost was worth anything to begin with...

Ah, the wonderful innuendo ad hominem from someone who can't do simple math. I have a serious typo problem, but I can at least partially blame my dyslexia. What's your excuse for confusing 500K for 500mm?

Anyhow, it's not difficult to "conceptualize" money as compensation, since we're trained from 1L that remedies exist, as Laycock coined it, to restore the plaintiff to rightful position. Of course, before there can be a remedy, there needs to be a legally cognizable harm. What happened was sad, and hopefully the refugees had insurance, but the gov't didn't cause the harm, and thus doesn't owe compensation.

Thus, the debit cards are more like an entitlement program. I like entitlement programs, especially since I just graduated law school, and like every other law student who took out loans, got sweetheart deals from the government. The question, again, is whether the government (in theory, us) should give 2K without any strings attached. I don't think so, because as I noted above, poor people tend to make poor spending decisions. (So do a lot of high-income earners, though if you accept, as I do, the definition that wealth should be measure relative to a person's ability to sustain his or her lifestyle of a number of years, these people are not rich.)

Thus, a little paternism is in order. Food = good. Gift certificate so a person can have a nice dinner to escape the realities of being a refugeee = great. Rental deposit or mortgage payment = wondeful. I'd even support setting up an Education IRA for each kid, principal and interest payable upon college attendance. Of course, as someone noted above, it might be more efficient to just give the people the 2K.

Anyhow, what would I do? I'd entrust the money to a private firm, and have them manage the money and issue checks. They could probably even cut a sweet deal with a developer or landlord to start getting people homes.

If we're doling out a lot of money here, I'd create a huge education trust, putting in $500 for each kid who went through this. When the kid reaches college age, he or she can obtain his or her share of the money. Since I'd put in $500 for each kid, and since every kid wouldn't go to college, those who wanted to pull themselves up would have a nice boost for the government.

What would help more - empowering future generations, or cutting checks today.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 5:12:36 PM

As a point of clarification, the debit cards are not being handed out in NO. Remember, mandatory evacuation, that sort of thing. The debit cards are being handed out at the Astrodome, Reliant Center, Reunion arena, etc.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Sep 8, 2005 3:37:31 PM

P.S. The real problem is that communications in the New Orleans are are still a mess. Even areas that have electricity do not have telephone service. ATM machines are not working. So the debit cards may be unusable.

Posted by: nk | Sep 8, 2005 3:17:33 PM

Lets up the ante a bit. Dan notes that use of food stamps for other than their intended purpose is (probably?) a crime, in an attempt to reason by analogy from food-stamps-as-emergency-assistance to 2k-hurricane-payments-as-emergency-assistance.

My question then becomes: why should that be the case even for food stamps? (I'm assuming away cases where someone misuses a food stamp or a hurricane payment and has dependents who rely on them: lets just stick to people without dependents for ethical simplicity here.)

Does our purpose for giving out food stamps, which I take to be keeping people from starving, outweigh the freedom-interest in people being able to spend those resources which are made available to them on whatever they want? (I'm also assuming away addictions, and other biological/psychological effects.)

Why shouldn't someone be free to choose to be hungrier and drunk? I suppose the best answer is "well, then that defeats the purpose for which we are willing to give them money." But is that a purpose that is entitled to obedience?

Suppose we have a society where we think it is right that every person have a basic standard of living. Is that what we really mean? Is our idea of economic justice merely that nobody should die from starvation? Or is it an ideal of freedom, that everyone should have the basic ability to live a fulfilled life?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 8, 2005 3:13:25 PM

Are there 250K evacuees or 250K evacuated households? Don't the cards go household by household? (Defined how? Do college roommates split a debit card?)

Posted by: Will Baude | Sep 8, 2005 3:11:21 PM

Oh, lighten up. So what if they spend it on whiskey and fried pork rinds. If you are implying that they will spend on drugs -- I doubt that many drug dealers have debit card accounts or that a supply of drugs is flowing into New Orleans. If they spend it on New Orleans's most famous commodity -- well more power to them. I understand (NOT THROUGH PERSONAL EXPERIENCE) that a lot of "escorts" can accept credit/debit cards. Poor people are not entitled to luxuries? Just bread and water? I am a Ronald Reagan conservative but I would never say that.

Posted by: nk | Sep 8, 2005 3:04:45 PM

I don't think this is compensation. It is the right thing to do. There are many people--single people, married people, gay people, white, black, etc.--who have lost everything. In some cases, those with financial resources don't even have access to their savings. They're on the road, in a new town--Houston, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Boise. And they don't own anything. Now, we could set up some sort of bureaucracy to provide them with their needs; I'm sure that'd be an effort worth its weight and wait. We could even make that part of FEMA! Or we could give them a bit of cash to get through the next few difficult weeks with a modicum of dignity as we try to figure out where to go next.

Some of it will be wasted. without a doubt. Of course, if we gave people food vouchers, some of them might trade the food vouchers, at a discount, for alcohol, guns, ammo. I'm not sure why we'd approve of that, and not this. Is forcing those who make bad decisions to take a loss on their taxpayer subsidy really a better outcome? Why?

Posted by: Thomas | Sep 8, 2005 3:03:17 PM

Josh,

Your math is off.

250K evacuees times $2000 is NOT $500k. (That would be 250k times $2).

250K evacuees times $2000 is $500,000,000. (That's five hundred million, or half a billion dollars).

I'll leave the discussion of other arguments to others for now. But this definitely is NOT a pittance.

Posted by: Kaimi | Sep 8, 2005 3:01:15 PM

Mike, is your assumption that "poor people make bad spending decisions" based merely on the fact that these people are poor? Otherwise, I am not understanding how you reach that conclusion. So, by that logic, can we assume that all rich people make wise spending decisions based on the very fact that they are rich? (Let's not even get into endowment effects, intergenerational transfer of wealth, social networks, etc.; namely, all the things infinitely more important than "spending decisions" in deciding who is rich and who is poor.)

My suggestion is that instead of agonizing over how these people will spend the money, why don't we view it as compensation. After 9/11, the millions of dollars given to victims' families was not viewed as charity; it was considered compensation for their sacrifice. (Is anybody complaining about the fire fighters' widows driving Mercedes on Staten Island?) This pittance offered by the federal gov't is more of a belated apology and compensation for it's incompetence rather than a handout. (With roughly 250K evacuees, the $500,000 for this program is a pittance.)

I recognize that you may have difficulty conceptualizing the payment as compensation. But, that is only if you don't think what these people lost was worth anything to begin with...

Posted by: Josh | Sep 8, 2005 2:46:42 PM

Gee, aren't you worried about the people who will take food and clothing handouts and... misuse them? like, you know, throw food, or waste it, or give it away to people who really aren't even hungry, or use stale baguettes as weapons?

give me a break. $2000 debit cards won't solve the problems of poverty or homelessness or misery or change human nature. But every single person displaced by the hurricane has suffered shattering losses. And what about the tax dollars THEY paid in the vain belief that their government would help them out come a natural disaster? It's their tax money too.

Posted by: ted | Sep 8, 2005 2:21:06 PM

So what? Let 'em buy a bottle of booze if they want. I think the vast majority of people who are living in refugee shelters will spend 2 grand on necessities, but if someone really wants a drink or two -- c'mon, wouldn't you drink if you were suddenly rendered homeless? Seriously.

And I think there's a difference between opposing lotteries (which is just a tax on poor math skills, c'mon) and opposing a little frivolity even from the poor. The one is basic paternalism. The second is paternalism + moralism.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 8, 2005 2:16:24 PM

Although I hate to say it, I think the debit cards are the most efficient way to handle the situation. As you mention, Dan, the transaction costs of the federal government paying X number of apartment complexes or X number of placement offices or X number of rental car agenies is quite high. Both to ease the manpower constraints of governmental agencies and to empower the evacuees, I say let's take the pros and cons of the debit cards. The evacuees have been through a demoralizing experience, and to be dependent on lines for shelter, food, and clothing is unwieldy and paternalistic. In order for the evacuees to become independent, then they need spending cash. They need to be able to take a cab or rent a car or secure an apartment. To the extent that any number of the evacuees can be presumed "financially irresponsible," then the debit cards may protect against that. Debit cards are not liquid and not convertible easily to a small-denomination commodity. To extract money from a card, someone must have a debit-card reader. No one is going to trade a $2k card for drugs without getting some money back, and so the card will be useless for some vices. Food stamps are useful for this. Vouchers would be useful for this.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Sep 8, 2005 2:14:51 PM

One interesting thing emerging here is the concern that it's poor people that my criticism is targeted at, rather than what I wrote, which is "victims of Katrina." The debit cards aren't being refused to middle class people or wealthy people. And my concern wasn't limited to people who spend money on cheap beer instead of fancy Scotch or Montecristo cigars. So let's remove the concern over "unspoken assumptions" and focus on what the actual arguments here are. My concern, echoed by Mike, is that public dollars be spent on things that are of greatest need--housing and food, and probably some form of transit. I recognize, however, that monitoring costs may in some scenarios outweigh the amount spent on frivolous crap. There might also be a discounted black market that would try to circumvent any restrictions. But in the context of food stamps, I think that's a crime, and one can imagine a similar penalty being imposed for people who abuse FEMA aid this way.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 8, 2005 1:56:15 PM

Ms. Cantrell, my assumption is that poor people make bad spending decisions. Indeed, many people oppose the lottery, calling it a tax on the poor (since it's mostly poor people who play it.) If your argument is that poor people make rational economic choices, then let's hear your support.

Again, most of us who oppose the 2K program have donated to the Red Cross and other organizations. So the issue isn't whether we care, or whether we're heartless. The issue is: can the money be spent more efficiently? I think it can. Granted, the government isn't known for making wise spending choices, so it's no surprise that it seeks to waste money here. But I oppose all wasteful government spending - program that have broad emotional appeal. (And, of course, I'm waiting for someone who has never handled a thankless pro bono case and whose social circle is as diverse as a loaf of Wonder bread to call me a racist or to say I hate poor people.)

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 1:31:45 PM

Lawprof, your argument seems to be this: Because the government wastes money in some situations, it is therefore fine for it to waste money here. Sounds a lot like the naturalistic fallacy.

Again, the victims should be helped. Giving irresponsible people money does not help them. If the federal government wants to house and feed them, great. If the federal government wants to hire teachers or job-search consultants, great. If the government wants to hire therapists and specialists in PTSD, wonderful. But as a taxpayer, I have the right to demand that the federal government spend my money wisely.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 1:20:45 PM

The worrisome unspoken assumption here is that the people receiving money are more likely than not to spend it on items other than food, clothing, shelter and the like. Is that what you would do if you were sitting in the Astrodome? What empirical data do we have to suggest that the victims of Katrina aren't concerned first with getting themselves re-situated? What empirical data do we have that poor people as a whole are financially irresponsible (or are irresponsible at any greater rate than the non-poor)? I vote for giving people some say in how they get back on their feet, especially since $2k is so modest an amount of money.

Posted by: Deborah Cantrell | Sep 8, 2005 1:18:39 PM

Hillel wrote: Walkmans? What is this, 1983?

At least I know html! ;^>

Femalelawprof wrote: Did you have the same concerns about the money those compensated by the 9/11 fund received?

The victim's compensation was tied to actual economic loss. The compensation presupposed that the victim would have obtained the money. Here, the money is being given out "just because." It's not tied to anything. But, if the government said, "Based on your SSN record, you would have made x this month, so we'll give you x or x-y," then sure, I'd be cool with that.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 1:14:24 PM

Umm... and how would you know, Mike, how responsible any of these people are? Your deep insight into the lives of the poor? Sorry, don't buy it.

The government gives out money to individuals and groups all the time, in the form of unemployment benefits, tax rebates, disability benefits, etc. As femalelawprof says, some spend the money well; others squander it. This situation presents no different issues, except insofar as a one-time cash handout is not enough: it's true that we *also* need additional programs to help, for instance, children of parents who might spend the money fecklessly.

Posted by: lawprof | Sep 8, 2005 1:08:19 PM

Did you have the same concerns about the money those compensated by the 9/11 fund received? If not, why not? Surely some members of both groups will spend the money they receive unwisely; others will not.

Posted by: femalelawprof | Sep 8, 2005 12:56:03 PM

Walkmans? What is this, 1983?

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Sep 8, 2005 12:54:31 PM

Am I nuts (for thinking that)?

Uh, no. Everyone I've spoken to about this is upset. Few would have any problem if, say, the federal government made mortgage payments for displaced people. Or if the government paid a housing complex rent so that people didn't have to sleep in shelters. Hell, if the federal government put the 2K in trust (not allowing anyone to touch the money before retirement), I'd be fine.

But giving financially irresponsible people cash? That's crazy. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood, and I know how poor people spend their money. I knew a lot of poor people, but they all seemed able to afford beer, cable, and lottery tickets. (Which is why they are still poor.) I expect to see photos of people without any place to live carrying television sets and walkmans.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2005 12:19:46 PM

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