Posted at: 08/13/2009 1:47 PM |
Updated at: 08/13/2009 5:57 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

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Maggie Brooks: "Back to School" fraud widespread

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks calls it the worst case of government spending she's ever seen. It has to do with "Back to School" money from the state. The state says the money is helping families in need get their children ready for school.

This is all about the $200 per child money that local families on food stamps got. It's stimulus money the state gave them to buy back to school items, like books and clothes. But Maggie Brooks says she has evidence that people here in Monroe County are using the money to buy flat screen TV's, video game players and sometimes just hard cash.

Brooks says the county is getting calls from Walmart on Hudson Avenue, telling them customers were using back to school money to buy these kinds of electronics. The other thing people were doing is going to Tops using their special state debit card to buy a pack of gum and then collecting the balance of the money in cash. In fact, News 10NBC got calls this week that Tops and Walmart nearly ran out of cash a couple of nights ago. Brooks says the state basically gave these families a blank check. She calls it sickening and a crime.

"From our perspective if the money is not being used to purchase items not related for back to school supplies, then it constitutes welfare fraud," Brooks said.

"Is it fraud? Iis it a crime?" asked Kristin Proud, Deputy Director of State Operations and the governor's point person on the "Back to School" grant program. "Based on the parameters of how this program is set up and what the technology will allow us to monitor about these purchaces, I would not say people are going to be charged for not using it for the intended purpose."

The state says as many stories of people buying X-boxes and TV's, it's hearing stories of families that are buying back to school items. The county can't start a fraud investigation until the state deems it fraud. Brooks says she's going to call the governor's office to have his stop this program right now. Although, most of the money is already out.

To read Governor David Paterson news release on the $200 grant, go to:

Here are letters sent to Governor Paterson's office from families who received the money:

Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 6:48 PM
Subject: Thank you for the back to school supplies

I found out today because I got my $131 dollars in Food stamps on Saturday, and went food shopping today. I spent it all, and used another $20 from my bank account, leaving me $30. The cashier pointed out the "cash balance" on my EBT card at the bottom of my reciept. I didn't believe her.
We didn't recieve any announcements in the mail, I never heard it on the news, and when I "googled" it there was small story in the NY Times the other day.
The 20 or so women on line at the check cashing place ahead of me joked that had it been in the Daily News, every one would have known. 
The woman directly in front of me got $600 for her triplets; she went to the very next window and bought a $500 money order for her kid's daycare tuition.
Me, I owed my son $20 from the other day when I had to borrow it; he earns money taking out the neighbor's trash at $5 a week. He's saving to buy his own PSP. He's 10. I have to put $60 in my bank account to cover the automatic debit of my life insurance policy and my son's NY Saves college fund. Because if I hadn't recieved this gift today I would have had to borrow even more money from my mom.
I wanted to thank George Soros. I wanted to thank whoever did this... and whatever feed back you get... that there are no restrictions, how could you make sure the money is used for what it's intended--which is back-to-school supplies... I wanted to tell you that believe me, that's exactly what it's going for... 
I've been unemployed/self-employed since November of 2007.  I don't get unemployment. I can't get Public assistance because my rent is too high, and also if I do get Public Assistance it requires me to do menial work for the city, and I won't be able to do my Freelance work. I am a graphic designer/illustrator. So I rely on Food Stamps, and it's not enough.
This little grant today made me, and a lot of women on that line today, very happy.
Thank you.


Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 8:14 PM

August 12, 2009
Dear Mr. Soros,
I want to take this opportunity to show my appreciation and thank you for the $200 cash grant we received. As an unemployed, single parent in NYC, the grant was a much welcomed surprise. To many, $200 does not seem like a lot, but to those who currently have no income such as myself, it felt as if I had won the lotto. Having recently left my job due to unbearable circumstances, not receiving unemployment, and only getting foodstamps, having cash to provide my daughter with the necessities she need for school is a tremendous blessing.
I continue to remain positive, knowing that things will turn around in due time - and with your gift I see that they are, slowly but surely. I'm currently enrolled in NYU's graduate program and I'm looking forward to starting in September, as I transition into a new career in HR and Development. Additionally, I'll be volunteering at the Red Cross when I have down time. I have no idea how I'm going to fund the remainder of my tuition and purchase books but again thanks to you, I have so much hope.
Thanks again for your kindness.

Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 10:01 PM
Subject: Thank You Ltr for Mr. Soros


Greetings REDACTED,


Thank you so much for your assistance earlier when I contacted you and I would truly appreciate you forwarding the attached letter to Mr. Soros.  Have a great day.