Katrina Victims to Get $2K Debit Cards

This is the wrong thing to do.

The federal government plans to hand out debit cards worth $2,000 each to families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff, under fire for his agency’s response to the disaster, held a conference call with governors of states with evacuees and described the plan. While many details remained to be worked out, the plan was to quickly begin distributing the cards, starting with people in major evacuation centers such as the Houston Astrodome.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the cards are aimed at providing “some immediate cash assistance to those who are in shelters, those that were evacuated.”

Perfect. Two companies will end up benefiting most from this government handout. Phillip Morris and Anheuser-Busch.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, a Republican, said he had concerns about the potential for abuse.

“That’s a lot of money. The question is how do you separate the needy from those who just want a $2,000 handout,” he said.

Exactly. In the same way that I don’t give a $20 dollar bill to the guy on the street corner with a sign that says “Will Work for Food”, the government will simply be wasting tax payer dollars if they proceed with this idea. No doubt there is a group of people back in Washington D.C. who believe this is the great “feel good, shot-in-the-arm” program that is just the kind of story the media will jump upon.

Here’s a better idea. Issue vouchers to Hurricane Katrina victims for places like Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, or Target. Help them buy personal necessities, food, diapers, formula and like goods. Help them purchase tools and other home repair supplies so (if they are lucky enough to still have a livable home) they can do a quick patching of a roof, temporary window replacement, or rent equipment like fumigation machinery and carpet cleaners.

Yes, we need to help the displaced, the homeless, and the penniless during these immediate days after the hurricane, but giving people cash with no strings attached is a bad move. There will be those who are responsible with the funds, but a majority will not. It is highly likely that they’ll be back next month asking for more, and the government will be hard pressed to deny them.

And think of the bad press that would generate!

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