Lakewood, NJ – As rumors swirl about more impending arrests in Lakewood, the Lakewood Vaad is hoping to take concrete steps to help the community through a crisis that has made national headlines and has had many local area residents living in fear.
Seven couple have been arrested for fraudulently taking advantage of public assistance benefits. As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2u3VyEI), dozens of people have since called the Ocean County Social Services offices to discontinue their benefits or to revise the income information that they had previously reported in the wake of the recent arrests.
A statement released by the Lakewood Vaad expressed sadness at the arrests, noting that dishonesty and deliberately bending the rules to qualify for public assistance cannot be excused.
Rabbi Moshe Zev Weissberg of the Lakewood Vaad said that despite media reports, there is no “criminal conspiracy” or “culture of fraud” in Lakewood.
A significant number of Lakewood residents have sacrificed material comforts in order to be able to live their chosen lifestyle and legally qualify as either low income or working poor, observed Rabbi Weissberg. While many are eligible for government benefits, they come with a sea of rules and qualifications that can be exceptionally hard to understand.
“The programs themselves are not particularly customer service friendly and you feel like you are on line at motor vehicles,” Rabbi Weissberg told VIN News.
“People in the community and askanim don’t have the knowledge to answer questions that come up. Each program has its own Shulchan Aruch and very often answers that you get from representatives are contradictory. If a grandparent pays a granchild’s tuition, is that reportable income? Are Chanukah gifts from a bubby and zaidy reportable income?”
This week’s arrests have been extremely painful to many, including Rabbi Weissberg.
“Skirting the law is not okay,” said Rabbi Weissberg. “As a community we need to do better.”
The Lakewood Vaad hopes to be implementing several approaches in the near future to clarify the particulars of public assistance programs so that no area residents inadvertently make mistakes that create legal troubles for them down the road.
Rabbi Weissberg said that the vaad hopes to partner with local government.
“We need to have people on the local level who can answer questions, so that those who need these programs can get real answers in a non-threatening environment,” said Rabbi Weissberg. “We also hope to be able to provide expertise on a community level to deal with these issues in the future.”
Rabbi Weissberg was quick to note that the Lakewood Vaad’s efforts to prevent problems in the future is not at attempt to justify any possible wrongdoing that may have occurred and that it is important that those who qualify for benefits and are in need continue in the programs.
“If people who really need help and are scared off from applying for help that would be a disaster,” said Rabbi Weissberg.