Free Wheels For Welfare In "Taxechuesettes"

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Sun May 10 22:44:24 MDT 2009

Boston Herald

Free cars for poor fuel road rage

By Hillary Chabot
Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gov. Deval Patrick's free wheels for welfare recipients program is revving 
up despite the stalled economy, as the keys to donated cars loaded with 
state-funded insurance, repairs and even AAA membership are handed out to 
get them to work.

But the program - fueled by a funding boost despite the state's fiscal 
crash - allows those who end up back on welfare to keep the cars anyway.

"It's mind-boggling. You've got people out there saying, 'I just lost my 
job. Hey, can I get a free car, too?' " said House Minority Leader Brad 
Jones (R-North Reading).

The Patrick administration decided last month to funnel an additional 
$30,000 to the nearly $400,000 annual car ownership program.

The program, which is provided by the State Department of Transitional 
Assistance, gives out about 65 cars a year, said DTA Commissioner Julia Kehoe.

The state pays for the car's insurance, inspection, excise tax, title, 
registration, repairs and a AAA membership for one year at a total cost of 
roughly $6,000 per car.

The program, which started in 2006, distributes cars donated by non-profit 
charities such as Good News Garage, a Lutheran charity, which also does the 
repair work on the car and bills the state.

Kehoe defended the program, saying the state breaks even by cutting welfare 
payments to the family - about $6,000 a year.

"If you look at the overall picture, this helps make sure people aren't 
staying on cash assistance. It's a relatively short payment for a long-term 
benefit," Kehoe said.

But Kehoe admitted about 20 percent of those who received a car ended up 
back on welfare, and while they lose the insurance and other benefits, they 
don't have to return the car.

"Given the state's fiscal condition, paying for AAA and auto inspection 
costs is outrageous," said Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei 
(R-Wakefield). "There are so many families out there trying to deal with 
layoffs and pay cuts. You have to wonder what the state's priorities are at 
this point."

Applicants for cars must have a job or prove they could get one if they had 
the car in order to qualify. Once they have the wheels, they must send DTA 
their pay stubs to prove they are employed.

To get the cars, they must be unable to reach work by public transportation 
and have a clean driving record. The program is only available to families 
on welfare with children.

Kehoe said the bulk of cars go to places with less public transportation, 
such as Fitchburg, New Bedford and Lowell.

"I can't believe there are no restrictions on how they use the car," Jones 
said. "I just don't see this as a core function of government."
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