By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Lewiston Maine Mayor Robert Macdonald advocated enacting a state law that would require welfare recipients’ “names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected” be enumerated on a state website that is made accessible to the general public. Mayor Macdonald claims that because recipients of public pensions, they are government employees, that if this information is public record then the people have a right to know where the money is being spent on welfare recipients.
It is rather difficult in reading the mayor’s letter to the editor of the Twin City Times to accept his notion that his actions are in the public’s interest to see where tax dollars are paid, when he simultaneously makes many references disparaging recipients and those who advocate their plight. Yet, he claims to support privacy rights in other respects.
Here is an excerpt of the mayor’s letter as it appears in the Twin City Times.
Enough is Enough: Mainers have a right to know how their money is spent
September 24, 2015 | Author editor
By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
It’s time for a major overhaul of the many laws and policies dealing with confidentiality, laws that dictate how federal, state and local government are run.
A person’s medical records, financial statements and other personal information should be blocked from busybodies who seek it out of curiosity. This type of information should remain protected.
Recently, a friend asked if it would be possible to locate a gentleman he had known for many years and was now terminally ill. He sought to contact the man with the hope of providing him help and comfort in his final days. I called an organization I felt could locate the man.
I was told, correctly, that they could not give out that information. I asked if I left my friend’s name and number, could it be passed along to the person if, in fact, they knew him. I was told, again correctly, this would not be possible.
I bring this to the reader’s attention in an attempt not only to show the foolishness of these laws, but the fear they strike into the average law-abiding citizen.
In Maine there is a website that lists the pension amounts received by everyone who is issued a monthly check by the State of Maine. No privacy here because this is being paid out by the State; accordingly, taxpayers have a right to know.
Yet other recipients of state revenues are shielded. Yes, I am referring to those known as welfare recipients. Why are they treated differently than pensioners? (A rhetorical question).
The answer: our liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies have made them a victimized, protected class. It’s none of your business how much of your money they get and spend. Who are you to question it? Just shut up and pay!
Well, the days of being quiet are gone. We will be submitting a bill to the next legislative session asking that a website be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole. After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.
From the beginning the mayor’s arguments break down. He claims that medical information should remain protected from “busybodies who seek it out of curiosity” but then goes on to preach that every welfare recipient’s information should be made available to these same busybodies he claim are interested otherwise in health records. He does not seem to recognize that income information in general is not a public record for individual citizens, and there are numerous federal and state laws that consider public assistance as a form of income on par with that received from wages or investments. In fact, it is a violation of fair credit laws to deny a loan or extension of credit because a person’s income is derived, or partially derived, from public assistance. Individual incomes of private citizens is not a public record, yet Mayor Macdonald proposes that a certain classification of income must be divorced from the privacy rights of other forms of income. And, when coupled with his political, partisan rants it seems clear that he believes recipients of welfare benefits have a lesser expectation of privacy due to their economic status.
In an attempt to justify the publication of this private data, he makes a false comparison with those in public employment. Public employees’ wages and benefits are subject to public disclosure laws on account of their employment with the state. In fact, on a state level all public spending is subject to disclosure. One of the original reasons for this is that there have been incidents of corruption where public employees were given compensation that amounted to unlawful enrichment. In the case for welfare recipients the amounts spent for the various benefits are made in aggregate, without reference in to individual recipients, with the intent on maintaining privacy.
When balancing the need for disclosure versus individual privacy it is hard to advocate a legitimate government need to expose the privacy rights of individuals.
In another disingenuous aspect of Mayor Macdonald’s position is that he believes, correctly, that medical information should remain private but the logic he involves is that many individual expenses for medical treatment are paid to those on public assistance. He demands a granular accounting for expenses paid by taxpayers but many of the benefits paid on behalf of public assistance are in the form of medical expenses. Should those also be made a public record?
Moreover the presence of this information prevents individuals in totality from having privacy with respect to their income and where they reside. This information can be used to harm individuals on Macdoald’s List.
Many recipients of assistance have been victims of domestic violence or other situations where their location may be used by those wishing harm to locate them and commit crimes. We have also seen where states, in a similar analogue, published the names and residences of those having Concealed Pistol Licenses in an effort to exert what can only be described as a measure to deter individuals from having these permits. The listing lead to several burglaries where felons now knew the residence of each CPL holder, who likely owned a firearm, and thus created an efficient means to steal their property.
A lesser effect would be a means for which potential creditors, and landlords could bypass restrictions on discovery of income sources by referencing these lists when considering extending credit or residency to the recipients.
Mayor Macdonald needs to educate himself on the importance of maintaining equal protection of all citizens and not as a means to attack a demographic of individuals whom he believes are deserving of shaming. His actions are also another example of politicians taking away rights at any opportunity they see fit, especially in a failed attempt to benefit them politically.
By Darren Smith
Source: Twin City Times
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