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Back to School Program Lacks Accountability

<p>Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)</p>
Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

In recent weeks, I have been critical of how some federal stimulus dollars are being spent. One program in particular has raised a red flag. A new Back to School program—created somewhat hurriedly, without any public input—was announced earlier this month. The program gives families who receive food stamps $200 per child to, supposedly, purchase back-to-school supplies. The program costs taxpayers $140 million dollars. While these are federal dollars, the state has had a hand in determining how the money is spent.

There are several troubling elements to this program. The first is the lack of oversight measures. There are none in place to ensure that the money will actually be spent on back-to-school supplies. Beneficiaries of this program are able to access the money at any ATM machine and will be able to use the cash at their discretion. Local media outlets have already reported abuses.

There are several ways to ensure that the money would be spent as it was intended. A better plan would be to give the money to a not-for-profit, such as the United Way, which already has the Stuff a Bus program, or give it directly to school districts that are in the best position to provide supplies to the children who need it most.

The second troubling aspect is, is it a wise use of stimulus dollars. I am hard-pressed to see how this program will provide a lasting stimulus for our troubled economy. If the intent of the federal stimulus program is to spur the economy, the money would be better spent on capital projects and job-creating investments.

Other states have thought of better ways to spend the same stimulus money. In Tennessee, state officials took the same money and spent it on job creation. According to a recent New York Times article, the money was used to put 300 people to work. People were put to work in various positions ranging from food services to highway transportation. The funding has given some businesses the tools to help them expand to maintain the new workforce.

Due to these reasons, I have urged out Congressional delegates to review the program and to have better oversight of the stimulus money in general. To that end, a letter was mailed to our federal legislators on Aug. 14, urging them to implement better safeguards and to use the money to create long-lasting jobs. While families may experience temporary relief with the back to school grants, the program contains no accountability or checks and balances to ensure that the money will be spent as intended. I will continue to keep a watchful eye on such programs and urge taxpayers to do the same. The amount of money from the stimulus–$24.6 billion for New York—is unprecedented. More accountability is the least of which taxpayers should expect to accompany such a large sum. For more information, visit http://www.recovery.ny.gov/.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.