Welfare fraud is widely acknowledged as the most galling of non-violent crimes.
The reason? It involves the misappropriation of each taxpayer’s money — income that is being stolen from us by neighbors who do not have a genuine need.
So, on Monday morning, when readers opened their paper to see that 14 residents of Clinton County had been charged with welfare fraud, anger and gratitude must have welled up in households all over the county — anger at the accused and gratitude that the authorities had made the arrests.
Understand we are not saying all or any of the 14 are guilty. That will be decided in court.
But knowing that the County Department of Social Services, the Sheriff’s Department (which played a big role in the recent arrests) and the District Attorney’s Office are on watch restores some of the faith that is eroded away, little by little, every time we hear about people getting benefits to which they are not entitled.
Half of Clinton County’s budget goes to pay out public assistance through Social Services. That means that everyone who pays $1 in taxes or fees to the county is giving 50 cents to people who are needy — and, unfortunately, to a few who aren’t.
Welfare cheats may as well be walking up to you, reaching their hand into your pocket and withdrawing money so they can buy whatever they want.
While schools and local governments, to which we all contribute tax money, struggle to maintain quality services, welfare cheats are usurping tax dollars for their own gratification.
Some of the people named in Monday’s paper are accused of having stolen many thousands of dollars from the public treasury.
What makes the crime even worse is that the truly needy people sustain a black eye, along with the cheats.
No one would begrudge public assistance to the single mother with a low-paying job who must support several children, for example. Or the family whose main bread-winner has been laid off. They and others like them could scarcely survive without public support.
But, because of outrage over the cheats, recipients who deserve and need the benefits also endure scorn from some members of the public. It causes unwarranted shame.
We congratulate and thank the public agencies who are on the job making sure the people who receive public money have a genuine, documented need.
We await the judicial outcome of these cases before forming our own judgments on the people charged.
And we hope anyone else tempted to try such theft will be deterred by knowing that arrests are being made.