First, the Governor, to his credit, has come out unequivocally in support of this sensible program (and yes, it is sensible — more on that in a second).
“It's a program that saves money and enables people who are on welfare to get to work,” Patrick said yesterday, adding it was former Gov. Mitt Romney's initiative. “Either we're serious about getting people off welfare and into jobs, or we're not.”
Well put. That is what it means to be a Democrat: both fiscally and socially responsible.
Second, Yvonne Abraham has a spectacular column in today's Globe. After noting the aforementioned legislative hysteria over the donated car program, she aptly observes:
legislators have their own free ride program. It's called a per diem, and it's a scam. And that particular welfare giveaway isn't going anywhere.
And here's the truly hilarious part:
Naturally, the men most outraged about the car giveaways have been lining up for their own windfalls.
Let's take Scott Brown, for example. First among huffers and puffers, the Republican senator authored one of the amendments to abolish the program. Yet Brown collected $3,926 in per diems in 2008 – in addition to his $76,400 salary. And he's on track to take almost as much this year: As of May 1, he had claimed $1,378 for making the journey to Beacon Hill from Wrentham.
House Republican leader Brad Jones was similarly exercised over the car program, even though it was the brainchild of former GOP governor Mitt Romney. Jones got $3,186 in per diem payments last year. Neither legislator was available for interviews.
Senator Steven Baddour sponsored another amendment to kill the cars program. The Democrat collected $3,458 in per diems last year for his drives from Methuen. His cosponsor Stephen Brewer cleaned up: he claimed $6,660 for trips from Barre last year. So far this year he has gotten $720 in addition to his $76,400 salary.
Total damages to the state last year, according to Abraham: $534,400 — considerably more than the $400,000 or so devoted to the donated cars program.
So the per diem looks like an outstanding opportunity to trim the budget in tough times, no?
I asked Brewer how he reconciles nixing the car program with his own enthusiastic embrace of per diems. “I'm out there earning my living,” he said. “This is a job that never ends, trust me.”
My heart bleeds, Senator, my heart bleeds. But Abraham is not finished twisting the knife just yet.
John Rezende is out there earning his living. Rezende's family spent nine months in a shelter last year after he lost his job and their house burned down. Each month, they got $520 in cash from the Department of Transitional Assistance and $400 in food stamps.
Without the 1996 Chevy Tahoe the DTA and the Wellesley charity Good News Garage gave him, Rezende says he wouldn't have been a reliable employee at a New Bedford nursing home where he works, because it's a 45-minute walk from his house. And he definitely wouldn't have been able to work the night duties and double shifts that turn his $10 an hour into a decent wage. He would still be living off taxpayers' money.
“My life is 110 percent better with this vehicle,” he said.
This year, Rezende will make enough money to pay his own taxes. Too much of which will go to the shortsighted, hypocritical dolts on Beacon Hill.
Game, set, and match. We need more opinionated reporting like this.
Third, the DTA itself has put out some useful information about the program. I have reprinted the entire info sheet at the end of this post. Here are a few highlights:
- Over the last three fiscal years, the program's success rate of getting participants off of welfare has indeed hovered around 80%.
- The annual savings in welfare benefits to the state over the last three fiscal years as a result of moving participants off of welfare have averaged $280,000. In addition, some clients were homeless at the time of their participation, so they received additional state benefits (see the fact sheet for details). And that does not include the benefit to the state of having an average of 46 newly-employed people each year paying taxes to the state and otherwise stimulating the economy. I don't know how much these folks paid in income taxes, but if they paid anything at all, it would seem that this program is either revenue-neutral or vanishingly close to it.
I just see no argument in favor of the position that this program, alone among all the other wasteful or dubious programs that the state funds, merits all the negative attention it has received. Kudos to the administration for backing it. Shame on the pandering legislators who seem determined to kowtow to talk radio simpletons in bashing it, and kudos to Yvonne Abraham for calling them out. Let's hope that common sense and decency prevail on this as we move forward in the budget process.
Here is the full memo from DTA:
About the Transportation Support Program
• In addition to many vital self-sufficiency services, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) administers transportation supports for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) clients participating in a work, education or professional training activity.
• Supports include gas cards and public transportation passes, as well as the Car Ownership Program. Started under Governor Romney in 2006, this program connects cars donated by the public to qualified families participating in TAFDC. The program allows families who have no other means to travel to work to transition from welfare to work and off cash assistance.
• Over the past three fiscal years, 180 clients have participated in the program. More than 80% of the participants have moved off of TAFDC, saving the Commonwealth more than $835,000∗ in cash benefits during this time.
• In FY07, 45 eligible DTA clients participated in the program. 39 clients transitioned off cash assistance because of the support. The program achieved an 85% success rate. These successes resulted in savings of cash benefits of over $210,000 for the Commonwealth.
• In FY08, 74 clients participated in the program. 56 clients were able to transition off cash assistance, resulting in an 80% success and savings of cash benefits of over $319,000 for the Commonwealth.
• In FY09, 61 clients have benefitted from the program, with 44 clients transitioning off cash assistance, resulting in a 77% success rate and savings of cash benefits of over $310,000 for the Commonwealth.
o Four of these clients were homeless at the time they received their donated vehicles. With Emergency Assistance shelter benefits and cash assistance, each of these clients had received approximately $40,000 in annualized state benefits. After receiving their donated cars, they cost the Commonwealth $6,000 and successfully transitioned out of shelter and off cash assistance. By participating in this program, these four families alone saved the Commonwealth $136,000.
• An early version of this program began under Governor Cellucci. The program was o
perational from FY99 to the end of FY02 as a car loan program.
• The current Car Ownership Program was started under Governor Romney in May 2006.
• The vehicle is provided to an eligible family by TransAction Associates, Inc., of Waltham, MA.
• The Commonwealth spends approximately $6,000 per donated car to make appropriate repairs so the vehicle passes inspection and to cover each client's insurance, excise tax, title, registration, inspection, and AAA membership for (up to) one year. The full program costs an average of $380,000 per fiscal year.
• As of FY02, 11 other states offered car donation programs, including New York, California, Colorado and Illinois.
• The Car Ownership Program is only available to qualified participants of TAFDC. The average monthly cash benefit for the program is less than $500/month.
• Interested persons notify their DTA case manager, who makes a referral to TransAction Associates, the contracted vendor.
• To be eligible for this program, TAFDC clients must:
o be employed or about to become employed (must have a job offer within 30 days of the request);
o have a valid Massachusetts driver's license;
o have no means of transportation (personal or public) to get to work;
o not own a vehicle; and
o not have been sanctioned by DTA for any reason in the last six months.
• The client must be “in good standing” by meeting all of the requirements of the TAFDC program and must be in the process of becoming self-sufficient through employment.
Process and Oversight
• In addition to the above criteria, TransAction Associates investigates each client's driving record and determines whether their expected household income will be sufficient to own a vehicle.
• If the client qualifies for the program, the completed paperwork is submitted to the Good News Garage or Four Wheels to Work, nonprofit organizations that:
o Interview the client to match a car with his/her needs;
o Discuss procedures for the warranty, as well as operation and maintenance of the vehicle at the time of vehicle delivery;
o Reimburse the client for the cost of a car inspection sticker;
o Provide a full 30-day warranty on the vehicle;
o Provide cost discounts on approved repairs for the first 30 days of ownership;
o Once the client has completed the necessary paperwork and acquired insurance, he or she receives a car from the Good News Garage or Four Wheels to Work;
o After receiving a car, the client must provide pay stubs each month to TransAction Associates. If no verification is provided, TransAction Associates will not reimburse the cost of insurance after the first six months.
• The Department budgeted for 60 cars for this program in FY09. Due to high demand, the program was suspended in December 2008 after meeting this target.
• In late April 2009, after recognizing savings in other transportation supports, the Department invested additional funding into the program of approximately $30,000, which is enough for a maximum of five cars.