Welfare Under The Palm Trees

October 17, 2003

When the German Parliament votes today on a sweeping package of tax cuts and welfare reforms, it is not a stretch to say it will be responding, at least in part, to the anger aroused by people like "Florida" John Rolf, the 64-year-old former German banker living in Miami on $2,200 a month in German welfare checks.

While his case is extreme -- and the German Health and Social Security Ministry has since said it will stop paying his benefits if he stays abroad -- it is not unusual. Stories of welfare recipients who own yachts and luxury cars are a staple of the German news media:

  • Germany has only loosely regulated the welfare benefits it extends to German citizens abroad; John's package includes $1,023 a month for rent, an $854 living allowance and $170 to pay for a housekeeper, since he is considered disabled.
  • After John's case was publicized, the Health and Social Security Ministry researched other cases of Germans living abroad on welfare and discovered 1,055 people in more than 80 countries are claiming benefits at an annual cost to Germany of roughly $6.4 million.

"It's the perfect case for everybody to get upset about," said Josef Joffe, the editor of the weekly Die Zeit. "In a welfare state that was not collapsing under its load, you would just accept it and move on to the next case file. But we're living in another world in Germany today."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is expected to win Friday's vote after trying for months to persuade left-wing members of his coalition that Germany must finally take a scalpel to its welfare system, which can make being unemployed more lucrative than working.

Source: Mark Landler, "A German Banker on Welfare Among Miami's Palms," New York Times, October 17, 2003.

 

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