Thursday, February 18, 2010

go directly to jail

When someone on the street asks me for a few bucks, I usually give it to them, given that I'm carrying any cash on me. Today I had a different request.

I was checking out at the grocery store when a man walked up and asked if he could use his EBT (food stamps) card to pay for some of my groceries and I could pay him back, so he could use the cash to fix his car. EBT doesn't let you pay for things like car repairs. It took me a while to understand what he was trying to ask me to do. I was skeptical about the car story, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt.

So I agreed.

The whole procedure went smoothly, and it wasn't until I got to my car that I realized two things.

1. What I did was possibly illegal. Food stamps are for food. Okay - technically, this man did use the stamps on food. I just happened to pay him back for it in cash. On the one hand, I've got to give him credit for being enterprising. Plus, if he really needed the money for his car, then the world is a better place because of this. On the other hand, I should support my government (and taxes) for how they choose to give assistance. The money's supposed to go to food, not car repair (or whatever else it may end up doing). And enterprising isn't a good thing when it's unethical.

2. I forgot to use $7 worth of my coveted Kroger coupons at the check out. Which means I'd really like to go back and credit them. But when they try to credit my account and it comes up as paid for with EBT, then I may have some complicated explaining to do. Perhaps I should come with this blog post printed out. I've already imagined the scenarios where they drag me into the back room (you know, the one behind the huge 2-way mirror at the front of stores that they use to track customers as they come and go) and put me under intense questioning, maybe charge me with minor offenses that I'll never get taken off my record. What will be my defensive argument? Will I start crying? If needed, how will I break out? Is $7 worth the risk?

If I were approached by someone again to do something similar, I think I would just ask for $10 cash back at the register and give it to them straight up. Donations are much simpler than exchanges.


Elizabeth Downie said...

Oh my gosh, that is so funny. And sounds like something I would do then panic about later too. lol

I'll bake you a cake with a nail file on it.

candice said...

You are such a sucker! There are actually programs for low income people who need cars/car repairs. I know that because there is a lady in my ward who is a single mom of four small boys, her kids are all very little and neal and i wanted to help her out "anonymously". When we went to the bishopric they told us there were state programs that were in a much better position to help her than we were (who will actually give people cars if they qualify).
It was super nice of you to "help", but i probably wouldn't do it again :)

Jen said...

Hey, it's not for you to worry about. Someone asked for help and you helped. The onus is on that guy to prove himself honest.

Dave said...

I go back and forth on whether or not you did a moral thing. Luckily for you, today I'm feeling libertarian-y. :)

This means that we should trust people to make good decisions with money and if we want to help them give cash with no strings attached. If we want to lift the poor we should let them spend our donations on food, car repair, rent, alcohol or drugs. They know what's best for them and I shouldn't put conditions on my charity.

Of course, my paternalistic self says poor people have poor ways. We should give only targeted credit cards that can only be used on responsible foods (carrots, bread, milk etc; not ho-hos) and responsible car repair (transmission repair; not spinning rims). When my paternalistic self comes to town he's going to have some cross words for you. :)

But maybe he's gone for good.

mspaze31 said...

oh erin. you're too nice. i wouldn't send you to jail ;-)

Dawn said...

You're a nice person. I hope he used it for car repair and not to buy a bottle. Or worse. My cynical side showing I guess.

Erin said...

Candice, thanks for keeping me better informed of what's available to help people!

The other day someone asked Abe for some money on the street for food, so Abe took him to Potbelly's and bought him a sandwich. Probably the best way to go about it...