Sunday, August 06, 2006

Off the record

Survival is often a matter of gaming the system. Migrants have tough work seasons and give up a lot of family time to earn money. They travel over one thousand miles every year to make a better living than they can earn back home. So long as migrants keep their needs modest, they can often game the system to maximize their work season. They can often get additional money from public programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid, and other public entitlements.
 
In the case of two-income, or more, migrants, one of the couple will cash his or her checks for living expenses and the other will save their checks until just before leaving. Although many migrants, of the legal kind, have checking accounts, they are better off with their earnings in cash. This is because they will often be asked, when applying for services, how much money they have in their bank accounts. You can't very well qualify for food stamps or Medicaid with a few grand in your account. So, these liquid assets are often off the record and considered spent. By receiving these services, migrants can stretch their earnings quite a ways unless they tend to splurge. So, this covers food and healthcare.
 
Other costs can be covered by collecting unemployment checks. In Wisconsin, you need to work 4 months straight to qualify for unemployment. This is perfect for seasonal workers because they don't quit, they get laid off. This, then, forms the basis for receiving income to pay for monthly expenses. Thus, migrants are able to preserve their capital a little more.
 
Once back home in the RGV, migrants have another trick up their sleeve for making money without losing their benefits. They make all cash deals. They either sell off stuff that they took home or work for cash. This is ideal because there is no paper trail for their income. The migrants are able to eat their cake and have it too.
 
You may be thinking that this is fraud. Perhaps you're right, technically. Migrants, however, see it as survival. We are talking about people who don't earn very much when compared to a college graduate with an entry-level job. They have to make money somehow. Furthermore, it's up to the agencies to prove that these people have cash. Obviously, cash could just as easily not be there and the family could be in real need.
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