A program in Massachusetts that provides cars and free insurance, repairs, and AAA membership to welfare recipients is getting a funding boost from Governor Deval Patrick, even when the state faces fiscal belt tightening.
The program, administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance, gives out about 65 cars a year and costs the state nearly $400,000 annually. The cars are donated by non-profit charities but the state pays for insurance, inspection, excise tax, title, registration, repairs and AAA membership for one year at a total cost of roughly $6,000 per car.
DTA Comissioner Julia Kehoe defended the program to the Boston Herald, saying the state breaks even by cutting welfare payments to the family by about $6,000 per year. The program also requires recipients to prove they have a job they need to get to, are unable to reach work by public transportation, and have a clean driving record.
If the recipient loses their job, they lose the insurance and other benefits, but they don’t have to return the donated car. Kehoe admitted about 20 percent of those who receive a car end up in that situation and back on the public dole.
State Republicans are outraged at what they see as another entitlement program.
“It’s mind-boggling. You’ve got people out there saying, ‘I just lost my job. Hey, can I get a free car, too?’” House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) told the Boston Herald.
The charities that provide the cars have a different perspective. Hal Colston, founder of the Good News Garage, says the idea for the program came from his own experiences working with low-income clients at a social service agency. He found that many employment opportunities that paid a livable wage existed in outlying growth areas impossible to access without a vehicle.
It is also very difficult for an individual on a limited income to purchase and maintain a reliable vehicle. Colston tells the story of a client, a single mother with two children, who came to him in tears after purchasing a car for $500, but on the way home the brakes failed and it continued to break down repeatedly. He tried to help the client get the seller to refund her money, but was unsuccessful.
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