This is the world in which we live

by Joe Buck Coates

What happened over the course of about a day and half at the CCEMA office late last week was not a banner moment in Copiah County’s history (see front page story, “One deed, one call. . .”). But, its very telling of the times.  It’s no secret that government assistance–what is supposed to be a safety-net for those truly in need–has become a way of life.  Many residents in Copiah County simply believe, for example, that when a storm such as Isaac strikes the area, that they are entitled to receive a check from FEMA.  And, let’s face it, FEMA funds are provided by TAXPAYERS–the money is not simply printed or picked off a tree or pulled from a magical treasure chest somewhere.
One could blame what happened after Katrina–the worst storm on record around  here–as the culprit.  The Red Cross, FEMA and a dozen other outlets were giving away money left-and-right all over the region. Some of the checks allegedly totalled up to $3,000. Katrina basically solidified a sense of entitlement to many.  (Actually, we have to go back decades to trace the roots of the problem of government assistance as a way of life–more like the 1930s under FDR’s New Deal, but I digress.)  Many may now think ‘Hey, a hurricane’s coming!  Guess I’ll be getting another check!’  A bright light has certainly been shed on the lengths to which many will go for their ‘free’ check.
Is it really worth it, though?  Remember those millions and millions of taxpayer dollars that poured into south Mississippi and even into Copiah County afterward? Everyone got a check, it seems.  But some lied about their circumstances, taking thousands of taxpayer dollars, and got caught.  According to the U. S. Attorney’s Office, over 400 people have been convicted for fraud and fraudulent activity associated with the recovery after Hurricane Katrina.   In fact, a special federal task force of attorneys was assigned just to prosecute fraud cases related to Katrina.  My guess here is that this special unit will be carried over to prosecute similar fraudulent activity in the wake of Isaac.
The fact is that Copiah County was only mildly impacted by TS Isaac. Yes, the wind blew a few trees down, even on a few homes.  Several residences were slightly damaged by tree branches snapped by the wind.  Heck, we even suffered a little damage from leaks in two different places in our home.  We didn’t lose power but neighbors and friends did.  We were just made a little uncomfortable by it.  A few hundred others, though, decided they needed a check because of the mildly disagreeable conditions.
On the other side of the coin, one could say that the workers at CCEMA never should have taken the first name and especially shouldn’t have allowed the fracas to go on for over a day.  The agency has never been involved with such a task before and will never be slated with it. Staff members there, though, are trained to aid those in need. Perhaps after attempting to assist the first visitor, CCEMA staffers felt like they had no choice but to assist the others.  Undoubtedly, this event has tested the staff members’ training and will compel a change in operating procedures.
Either way, over 1,400 area residents took advantage of a story–a lie–that the first visitor allegedly told to others, many of whom began twisting it to sound like something else was going on, contacted everyone they knew and wasted not only their time, but also the time and resources of Copiah County Emergency Management Agency and the City Of Hazlehurst while ‘registering’ for ‘FEMA checks.’  Furthermore, these folks took advantage of an agency worker attempting to do the right thing by helping a neighbor they truly believed was in need.  At the very least, those that portrayed false pretenses could be subject to federal investigation and prosecution for fraud by the U. S. Attorney’s Office.
Yep, this is the world in which we now live.

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