Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/167

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ABUSE OF PUBLIC CHARITY.
ABUSE OF PUBLIC CHARITY.
By BIRD S. COLER,
COMPTROLLER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

TEN per cent of all the human beings who die in New York city are buried in Potter's Field at public expense; but the records of organized charity, official and semiofficial, show that less than one per cent of the living are paupers or dependent persons. There are two explanations of the difference between the number of living poor and penniless dead. The chief one is that abuse of public charity has grown to such proportions that the city has become the Mecca of the chronic idlers and tramps of the entire country. It is easier for an industrious and shrewd professional beggar to live in luxury in New York than to exist in any other city in the world. No magic wand of ancient fable was ever more potent to unlock the gates of castle or prison than the name of charity is to open a way to the public treasury. The liberal and well-nigh indiscriminate giving of the money of the taxpayers for the relief of sickness and poverty has been commanded by law, sanctioned by custom, and approved by public opinion until the possibility of checking or reforming the abuse grows more and more remote as the burden increases and the evil results multiply.

The city of New York gives annually to public charity more than $5,000,000, and contributes indirectly $2,000,000 more. Of the money raised by taxation for city purposes proper (State taxes, interest, and county expenses eliminated), almost twelve per cent is properly chargeable to relief of poverty and sickness. Of this expenditure more than $3,000,000 is paid to private institutions and societies over which the city authorities have no control or supervision. The payments are made in compliance with the provisions of acts of the State Legislature. The only provision in these laws that enables the city officers to protect the treasury from fraud is a clause under which the comptroller is permitted to verify the bills of the institutions for the care of committed persons. There is a constitutional safeguard against outright swindling of the city, in the requirement that charitable institutions shall be inspected and their bills approved by the State Board of Charities, but the system is open to many abuses where the public officers are powerless.

The present comptroller of the city has found that a number of alleged charitable institutions and societies receiving money from the city apply nearly all their funds to the payment of salaries of officers and employees, while their relief work is very limited and of doubtful character. Other societies, he found upon investigation,