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.”
Not your father’s welfare handouts:
+ PDF: Wheels for welfare application process + Ex-pol pleads not guilty to 23 corruption charges+ Everett politician accused of groping stylist+ Gov aims to ease jail time for drug offenders+ Howie Carr: This is not your father’s welfare [email protected]
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