Republican congressman: Hurricane Sandy aid shouldn't go to "Gucci bags and massage parlors"

Christ, what an asshole. Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa (a state that has long benefited from a shit-ton of federal funds and tax breaks) said Tuesday federal aid for people whose homes and lives were trashed by Hurricane Sandy should include restrictions against using aid "Gucci bags and massage parlors."

Quoth the douche, "I want to get them the resources that are necessary to lift them out of this water and the sand and the ashes and the death that's over there in the East Coast and especially in the Northeast."

"But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook," he later added, "because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary," he said, referring to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. (HuffPo)


  1. More proof that King is not fit to hold office.

    That said, shouldn’t the government put requirements on how funds are spent? While probably not widespread, I’m sure that some people regularly abuse social welfare programs in this way. I’ve known people who literally sell proscription medications they get from Medicaid at a profit. I’m sure these people are outliers, but they’re expensive outliers who are abusing the social safety net.

    Edit: Please read my responses to the comments below. I’m trying to advocate political discussion elevated above the content-free status quo, but that means calling out both sides, not just the side you dislike more.

    1. Does disaster aid usually involve handing out cash to individuals? I thought it went to specific programs, which I assume have the same rules against abuse as other social welfare programs. 

      This just sounds like a continuation of the “welfare queen” myth. Yes, some people abuse social programs. Yes, it is already illegal and there are systems in place to prosecute fraudsters. But the myth of widespread, unpunished abuse is just a way of arguing to dismantle programs that are really needed. 

    2. He’s not suggested similar restrictions on farm subsidies, which enrich many in his district.  How bout millionaires who received tax cuts and refunds?  Since the argument for this relief is that it’s for investment in the US, shouldn’t we impose limits?  I know some millionaires invest this money in off shore accounts in order to lessen their tax burden. 

      1. Are you implying that there is something wrong with massive subsidies for ethanol plants and corn growers?

    3. Okay, so we seem to agree that Rep. King is talking out of his (really rather talkative) ass with the Gucci bag thing: when you give aid to people who genuinely need it, they’re going to tend to spend it on their needs.

      So, with that established, what makes your admitted outliers “expensive?” If they are rare, they need to be getting disproportionately large amounts of money in order to be expensive, because otherwise they can’t represent very much of your expenditure.

      And if we *are* talking about outliers here, you do realize that it costs money to track those things down, right? For example, when Florida started drug testing welfare recipients, it cost the state more money than it saved them. So it can be policing the outliers that turns out to actually be “expensive.” Rep. King seems to be assuming that this sort of thing is audited by helpful fairies.

    4. Some people abuse any system placed near them – the real question is, does a small amount of abuse change anything fundamental about the value of the system? Sometimes a very small parasitic cost raises a disproportionate amount of concern, which then negatively impacts the people who we are trying to help more than the original parasitism did. Don’t let your sense of indignation cloud the real goal.

      In this case, someone using federal funds to buy clothes for their kid at Target shouldn’t have to jump through a bunch of weird hoops (which will be disproportionately applied based on the individual’s race and SES) to prove that it wasn’t a fancy purse that they bought. That sort of thing would cause a chilling effect much worse than the original problem of a few people making bad decisions with relief funds.

      The other problem with the comments is that they are dismissive and disrespectful. As pointed out by another commenter, no one says, “These farm subsidies are important, just make sure you put some language in there to make sure those rednecks don’t go buying NASCAR shirts and Bud Light with the money!”

    5. I see you’re the sort of person Reagan was reaching with his “I’ve seen ‘strapping young bucks’ buying t-bone steaks…” line.

      1. Exactly, his buddy’s comment disappeared, but I was going to say that King was obviously using coded language when talking about “them”. Defending it with weak anecdotal evidence isn’t very convincing either.

    6. I would also mention that even among the 1%, people abuse their health insurance in order to procure drugs illegally for recreational use.  They also may be using tax refunds and subsidies to buy pain meds from Medicaid recipients. 

    7. I’m trying to advocate political discussion elevated above the content-free status quo

      Funny, because what you actually did was keep repeating the same contentless blather and then link to insurance industry propaganda.

  2. I think that’s an important statement. I was in Katrina, and I saw what people did with their FEMA aid. Now we’re talking about the Jersey Shore and NYC being hit? Yeah, using federal aid for Gucci bags is a reasonable concern.

  3. @michael K above: Sure, but he didn’t say that. Did he? He fearmongered when hopemongering is what is called for. I wonder how he’d feel about Olympia Snow mocking tornado victims.

  4. You don’t need restrictions against ‘Gucci bags and massage parlors’.  All you need is a system that gives relief to those who need it because they suffered the damage in question.  If those people choose to, instead of using that money to repair their possessions or buy food or whatever it’s needed for, spend it on Gucci bags, that’s their choice, and they will live with the consequences.  If they somehow manage to do both, maybe they found a spectacular deal on a repair job, and they’re being more efficient than we projected, good for them, they’re now helping to stimulate the economy. 

    If they never needed the money in the first place, well then they committed fraud, and we can take care of that. 

    1. “All you need is a system that gives relief to those who need it because they suffered the damage in question.”

      And as this brand of Republican, his “solution” is naturally to remove the system entirely and privatize a FEMA alternative.

    2. Social conservatives do not believe in the economic freedom you are describing. Not for the poor, anyway. 

  5. KING: I don’t really go back and re-live that sort of thing. Some of the big votes that I’ve thought about, some of the jury’s still out. And at this point, maybe I’d answer that question another way, probably the singular vote that stands out that went against the grain, and it turns out to be the best vote that I cast, was my “no” vote to the $51.5 billion to [Hurricane] Katrina. That probably was my best vote. But as far as doing something different again, I don’t know.

  6. This is just the typical GOP point of view.  They’re always worried that the Federal Dollars that ended up in their pocket from the kickback they recieved when they doled out the gov’t contract to their fraternity brother will be taken away from them in the amorphous form of a possible future tax hike.  To minimize that they’ll lead the public to believe that all Federal Aid money is wasted by undeserving low-lifes.

  7. These guys are always tossing around ill-considered words about common sense issues… sometimes out of dumb preconceptions, regional biases, and banal culture-war cliches. This seems to be the case here. Sometimes, though, it’s a deliberate way to keep up a reasonable tension in the regional competition for federal funding. 

    Not pretty…but it’s how the sausage gets made.

  8. Christ I’m an asshole but I agree with Steve King. For example, food stamps can only be used for food. But the atm cards issued to Katrina victims could be and were used for purchases such as designer handbags; there were no controls against waste and abuse. I thought that was unfair to the people that money should have gone to help.

      1. The GAO first testified before the Senate in February of [2006] where they stated that the full extent of the fraud was unknown but may reach tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. The GAO testified that this disaster assistance money was used to purchase items such as a $450 tattoo, $400 massages, a $1,100 engagement ring, a $1,300 handgun, $150 of products at Condoms To Go, gambling, bail bond services and adult entertainment, just to name a few. The GAO also testified that FEMA paid for hotel rooms for $438 per night in New York City and $375 per day for beachfront accommodations in Panama City, Florida.


        1. Notice that, you can’t get through one of these without at least one reasonable item being questioned.  Condoms, and other birth control items, are a reasonable basic household expense for any couple or sexually active individual and should most definitely be on any list of approved items.

          Been displaced by a huge disaster?  Who cares about getting pregnant, don’t worry about little things like that.

  9. About 12 years ago here in BC the right wing party was elected on a wave of right wing ‘crack down on the welfare bums’ rhetoric.

    True to their word, they started an aggressive program of assessing every single recipient of income assistance and disability assistance, at astronomical cost.

    They succeeded in identifying less than 10 abusers of the disability assistance benefits – at a cost that would have housed those 10 individuals and many of the rest in luxury for the rest of their lives. 

    They also succeeded in getting a large number of people off the ‘basic’ welfare rolls.  Onto the disability rolls – turns out their disabilities had made it difficult/insurmountable for them to go through the process of qualifying for the (higher) disability benefits. 

    Net result – fewer people collecting lower benefits, thousands of people collecting the benefits they actually deserved and needed.  Cost to government was higher, and ridiculous if you include the cost of the review.

    For some reason, the ruling party never quite saw fit to release the results of their ‘cleaning house’ agenda and policies. 

  10. I don’t mean to be a jerk here – but I don’t understand the problem with someone saying “you shouldn’t use federal relief funds meant for necessities on luxuries. It kinda sounds like common sense?

    I mean, I seriously don’t understand why he’s a jerk for suggesting it?

    1. There’s no evidence of it apart from isolated incidences, and he’s deliberately using coded language to suggest that the abuse was by ‘ghetto fabulous’ blacks. It’s no different than Reagan’s racist fairy tales of black welfare mothers driving brand new Cadillacs.

      His record also shows little worry about real government waste so he’s a hypocrite on that count alone. 

      Welcome btw, if you decide to stick around.

  11. I also take issue with notion that every misuse “costs” taxpayers.  I knew someone who was selling some (not all) of her food stamps who most definitely qualified and needed them in the intended sense.  The fact that she could mooch/ steal from her extended family to cover the difference doesn’t change the need, unless you believe we should expect old people on pensions to pay for all the needs of their adult children and young grandchildren.  If she had used the stamps as intended the cost would have been no less to taxpayers.  And the fact that her parents could help her a bit without literally starving does not prove she was not in need.  And her parents did make a partly successful effort to steer her away from this behavior, but just refused to cut her off.

    Yes she was doing wrong in this scenario, but stealing from taxpayers was not really her crime.  In the ideal version she would have still gotten the same government aid, but she would have used it correctly, spared her family, and tried to get her life in order.  Although that would have really required a much more robust healthcare system as well to attend to her long standing, often crippling psychological problems.  Putting the full cost on her family is not a great solution.

    And yes if there were an easy, cheap way to make certain proper use, without any chance of wrongly impeding proper use, that would be great.  But so far those efforts either cost more than the fraud, and/or end up impeding alot of proper use as collateral damage.

    You also have to remember that some people in real need may be damaged, may be unpleasant people, and may do some stupid things.  They are not all saints but that is no excuse to damn them to ever more suffering and and even more damage resulting in even worse behavior.  You should not have to be perfect, or even half way decent, to be treated like a human being with basic needs.  There are alot of people out there who I’d never voluntarily spend 10 mins with who I still believe deserve help.

  12. I pay flood insurance (I’m legally required to, and the rates are going up again this year) so that wealthy people can build vacation homes on barrier islands.  The money that will be used to pay for the reconstruction of homes that are built on temporary ground comes directly from my pocket – and yet, I could not possibly afford one of those homes.

    So I don’t have a lot in common with those of you who think it’s perfectly OK to buy Gucci bags with my flood insurance money.  I think people who build on barrier islands should be offered relocation money or nothing at all, choose one.

    1. I believe you are misunderstanding somewhat. The “Gucci purchasers” are not billionaires shoring up their island mansions, it’s code for “impoverished black people who are wasting the money we are so generously doling out to them. Look at them buying anything other than rags and seed corn. How dare they.”

      1. I don’t see any reason to believe that.  Is there a magic decoder ring?  Because to me, it looks like the guy was very specifically referencing the use of Katrina funds to buy luxury goods, which is well documented.

        The fact that he’s an objectionable person doesn’t mean everything he says secretly means something objectionable.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        1. He’s not talking about using funds to rebuild mansions, as much as that might be a problem. Think about it. People who can afford fancy houses have no reason to cash a government relief check at the Prada store. They wouldn’t warrant a raised eyebrow walking in there. Who would? People who look like they don’t belong there, i.e. poor people (“n****r rich” is the unfortunate but common term for a poor person who’s come into a windfall and spends it unwisely.)

          As a poster pointed out above, they’re entitled to the money. If they want to spend it on stupid shit that’s their problem and none of anyone else’s business.

          1. I still think you’re reading much more into the actual words than is there.  He didn’t say anything like that, as far as I read.   You’re adding a whole lot out of your own opinion and beliefs that you aren’t supporting with any real evidence yet.

            And I totally disagree with the idea that you are entitled to spend insurance money on things other than what the contract made by the insurance company says you can spend it on, or the idea that you are entitled to spend tax-funded bailouts on anything other than what the bailout rules say you can spend it on.  That’s silly; insurance is a contract, not a right, and government policies are designed to achieve some sort of goal, not just to dispose of unsightly piles of money.

          2. I don’t know what to tell you. There’s a reason it’s called a “dog whistle;” you can’t hear it but the intended audience understands the subtext perfectly well. Only ⅓ of welfare recipients are black (as opposed to 61% white) but you know damn well that when someone uses the term “welfare queen” they’re not talking about rednecks driving new Camaros.

            (Also, I’ve never seen an insurance contract specify what the beneficiary is allowed to spend settlement money on. Since cash is fungible, it would be pointless to insert any such clause.)

          3. Reached the reply limit…

            Also, I’ve never seen an insurance contract specify what the beneficiary is allowed to spend settlement money on. Since cash is fungible, it would be pointless to insert any such clause.

            I had an enormous walnut tree fall on my barn.  The insurance company made it quite clear (as per contract) that I was entitled to a payment for the (high) cost of rebuilding the structure, if-and-only-if I actually rebuilt it.  If I chose not to rebuild it, I would be only entitled to the (low) market value of the building.  The difference between these two figures was in five digits!  If I had not rebuilt the barn, I would have been committing fraud.  There’s nothing unusual about this situation.

            Edit: I do get your point about the “dog whistle” though.

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