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Food Stamp Fraud

February 16, 1994

* "Fraud by County Quake Aid Workers Probed" (Feb. 5) gives the impression that welfare workers are conspiring to pocket food stamps and other emergency funds meant for earthquake victims. As general manager of the union representing more than 40,000 county workers, I feel obligated to set the record straight.

The largest relief effort ever administered within the United States wouldn't have stood a chance of success if not for the dedication of more than 5,000 employees of the Department of Public Social Services. More than 1,600 DPSS workers have processed about 175,000 "emergency" applications for food stamps by working 12-hour shifts, outdoors, on weekends, through darkness, aftershocks and rain. Meanwhile, thousands of other eligibility workers continue to serve the "normal" victims of the recession, coping with their own caseloads and picking up the slack for absent volunteers.

Within days of the anonymous fraud charges, half of the 40 accused workers were cleared of any wrongdoing. Most likely, the others will also be cleared. But even if all 20 were eventually found guilty, they would represent fewer than half a percent of all DPSS employees. That is squeaky clean compared to bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers and others accused of white-collar crime.

Hundreds of DPSS employees were also victims of the Jan. 17 quake. Many are single parents subsisting just above the poverty line. They deserve emergency assistance as much as any other county resident, yet management has blocked their claims. As a result, many dubious "victims" were given immediate relief, while families of the people who distribute the food stamps are going hungry.

GILBERT CEDILLO, General Manager

Local 660, Service Employees

International Union, Los Angeles

* Regarding your article of Feb. 7 on the abuse of the food stamp program: I found it interesting that the state of Maryland is using a "food debit card," called the Independence card. Shouldn't it rather be titled the "Dependence" card? Since when does living on welfare and receiving food stamps from the government give anyone independence?

I also found it interesting that "in response to public outcry" action is now being taken to catch the food stamp abusers and assure the public that their tax dollars will no longer be wasted on food stamps. Shouldn't the article have read, "and government officials responsible for this mess are now covering their rear ends"? Further, if it hadn't been for the big, bad earthquake, none of these "officials" would be in the hot seat in the first place.

SUE SCHOENSIEGEL, Director

Interfaith Food Center

Whittier

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