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Providing Targeted Assistance - Separating the Flowers from the Weeds

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

In my opinion, the public and private sectors really need to take a more targeted, data-driven approach when providing assistance to people claiming to be “in need.” No doubt, there are many families throughout Harris County who are truly destitute, hungry, and struggling simply to avoid becoming homeless. Still, we’ve all seen hundreds of expensive SUVs, trucks, and cars lined up at the charity and government food distribution centers awaiting their free handout. I submit to you that people who can afford to buy, fuel, maintain, and insure those vehicles can also probably afford to buy a bag of groceries. In fact, the “truly” needy often don’t own a vehicle. To target that population, I suggest some food distribution centers be set up at the Metro Transit Park & Ride hubs. On scheduled dates/times, people in need of assistance could ride a Metro bus to the closest hub, grab a bag of groceries, and then ride back to their neighborhood. Using available data, City and County officials could also distribute some food at low-income apartments, thus taking food directly to the families who probably need it the most.

Taxpayer-funded rental assistance also needs to be targeted to needy families who legitimately haven’t been able to pay their apartment rent. I stress the word "legitimately" since the ban on evictions allows people to stay in their apartments rent free with no adverse consequences. This on-going eviction ban is simply ripe for fraud and abuse. Since March 2020, I wonder how many renters have (1) remained employed, (2) been receiving enhanced unemployment benefits, (3) received federal stimulus checks, (4) received federal tax refunds, and/or (5) received other government financial benefits, and still haven’t paid ANYTHING towards their monthly rent? Beyond that, how many people have submitted fake rental agreements in order to fraudulently obtain government assistance funds (a relatively new scam)? Officials should carefully screen all applicants to ensure that rent assistance funds actually go to eligible people who truly need and deserve it. To do otherwise would be diverting limited funding from deserving families and sending it to irresponsible freeloaders and/or criminals who chose to use the COVID-19 crisis to scam the system. Using applicable applicant data, officials should separate the flowers from the weeds and then distribute rent assistance accordingly.

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