Taxpayers: You're feeding Koresh's harem

MIKE ROYKO

March 26, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

If women are so dim-witted that they would move in with David Koresh, the wacky Waco cult leader, and become part of his harem, that is not my concern. Different strokes for different folks, as the goof generation liked to say.

But I don't want to work to support Koresh's many wives -- as many as 47 of them, according to some reports. Nor do I want to work to feed the many children these women and Koresh have spawned. Not that I dislike children. I just think that if a man has them, he ought to pay for their upkeep himself.

However, it appears that as a taxpayer, I've been saddled with the responsibility of feeding Koresh's many wives and children. And probably Koresh, too.

In a recent dispatch from Waco, Chicago Tribune reporter James Coates quoted a former clerk at Sam's Warehouse, one of those big discount stores that sells products in large quantities.

The woman said: "They used to come in here and buy all sorts of staples -- things like a couple hundred pounds of pinto beans, cases of powdered milk, millet -- you know, survival food.

"They mostly used food stamps. A lot of his wives were registered for welfare."

Is that the purpose of our welfare system -- to support the many wives and children of David Koresh? And to provide a stockpile of survival food that permits him to maintain his standoff with the federal agents?

I thought welfare was supposed to go to unfortunate people who, for valid reasons, are unable to support themselves and their families.

This doesn't appear to be very valid. Not if Koresh can afford to buy an arsenal of expensive military assault weapons, a fleet of about 30 go-carts, a satellite TV dish and the latest in high-tech sound equipment.

But who's to know? As a supervisor in the Waco welfare office said, with a touch of sarcasm: "We have a face-to-face eligibility interview with every applicant. It is true we do not ask if they are in an armed cult. That is not one of our questions."

No, but it does seem strange that a herd of wives of one man should be able to cadge food stamps -- and possibly other benefits -- from a welfare office. How many of Koresh's wives were on the mooch?

The supervisor said: "There are confidentiality laws. I can't tell you if an individual is on food stamps. But we do accept applications from anyone. Everyone goes through an eligibility interview. And eligibility is based on different criteria. It's different for different individuals.

"But not every person who applies gets the benefits. People are rejected if they make over the income limit, if they don't provide the necessary verification, if they have resources available to them."

However, the food stamp laws -- which provide up to $370 monthly for a four-person household -- are so flexible that it would be unlikely that someone would be turned down unless they walked in and said: "Hi, I am one of David Koresh's 47 wives and want stamps so we can prepare to do war against the government."

You don't need a permanent address and even if you have one, nobody is going to check it out.

So it is conceivable that with 47 wives, Koresh could have been knocking down several thousand dollars a month in food stamps. And maybe considerably more, if his spouses put in for cash welfare.

Of course, in terms of federal spending, that is just peanuts. No, less than peanuts. It is a mere grain of sand on a long, wide beach, considering that the federal government now gives out about $18 billion in food stamps.

But by Washington's spending standards, even $18 billion is peanuts. So why even bother writing about Koresh's petty rip-off?

Because people are sitting down at this very moment figuring out how much they will owe the government on April 15. They will be trying to figure out how to retain -- to misuse one of President Clinton's favorite phrases -- "their fair share."

We have an interesting contrast. The laws permit the many wives of David Koresh to walk into a welfare office and, with considerable ease, walk out with your money and mine.

At the same time, the tax laws are such that if you make even an innocent error, a computer will snarl and send out a letter demanding that you pay up right now, chump, or you are in deep stuff.

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