Poverty

Hackensack Welfare Official Provides Valuable Lesson to Homeless About Dangers of Being Honest, Trustworthy

Turn in found money, lose your benefts

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We need Bruce to sing about the harsh streets of Hackensack
Credit: Dougtone / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Readers may vaguely recall a homeless man by the name of James Brady from Hackensack, N.J. He made the national news earlier in the year because he found $850 on the street and did the right thing and turned it in. The money went unclaimed, and when six months went by, Brady was allowed to keep it. Then, of course, everything went to hell. The Record of Woodland Park explains:

Brady was denied General Assistance and Medicaid benefits by the Hackensack Human Services Department through Dec. 31 because he failed to report new income he received. The income, according to the agency, was the cash he found on Main Street last spring and that police returned to him in October after no one claimed it.

The good deed turned Brady, who was homeless at the time he found the money, into a minor celebrity. He was featured in news reports across the country and honored by the Hackensack City Council. Now, he said, he's being treated like a crook.

"This is stupid," Brady said. "I had already proven my honesty by turning in the $850. They were treating me like I was a dishonest individual, like I was trying to cheat them out of the money."

Agatha Toomey, director of Human Services, said she was just following rules when she denied the benefits. The rules, she said, require any lump sum payment to be reported as income.

"I'm sorry but we had to — I had to — follow regulations," she said. "He only pays five dollars [a month] in rent."

Read the whole story here.

The Record explained that the apartment he moved into over the summer requires him to apply for Medicaid and $210 in monthly assistance from the city of Hackensack. He will be losing both until the end of the year.

Toomey (who apparently is not a Harry Potter villain despite her name) has a reputation for running a tight ship, according to The Record, and the city is considering dumping their own Human Services Department and going through the county instead to save $400,000 a year. Government welfare programs somehow manage to develop reputations for being both very strict and very wasteful at the same time, and the Brady case shows exactly why. Those who follow the rules are the ones who are punished. If Brady had been dishonest and quietly kept the money, this wouldn't have happened.

Fortunately for Brady, reports of his punishment by the city have drawn more citizen donations, and a local United Way has established a dedicated fund for him. Presumably, Toomey will be watching those numbers like a hawk. Maybe he'll get enough private assistance so that he won't need the city's help anyway.