“No good deed goes unpunished.” We would all like to believe that the old adage is cynical and that we will not be punished for doing the right thing but that is exactly what happened to James Brady of Hackensack New Jersey. Brady was once a news photographer and a market data analyst but fell on hard times after sinking into depression following the attack on the World Trade Center where he was supposed to have been at a business meeting on September 11, 2001.
He had lived on the streets for a time and on April 16 he went out for his daily walk from the Bergen County homeless shelter where he was residing at the time when he found a bank envelope containing $850. Given his situation it would have been understandable if he had chosen to just keep the money, but that was not what he did.
Realizing that the money might be just as important to the person who lost it as coming into that much would be to him he did the right thing, he took the money to the police and turned it in.
Then things began to look up for James. He got the psychiatric help that he needed along with medication to treat his depression, and in July he moved into his own apartment with a county housing voucher which covered all but $5 of his $1,095 rent. He was given a commendation for his act of honesty and since the money was never claimed it was returned to him.
He didn’t go out and get drunk or buy street drugs with his unexpected gain. On the day that he received the money he bought toilet paper, napkins, a bath mat and a sandwich. He is depressed but he is not irresponsible.
Because of his new address, he was required to re-apply for his Medicaid and assistance benefits through the city Human Services Department as he was no longer in the jurisdiction of the county department. That was where his new problems began.
During one of his meetings with Agatha Toomey, director of Human Services she noticed a news story about the money, his honesty and his commendation from the City Council. She asked him what he had done with the money and he told her.
He also says that he did not know that he was supposed to report the money and, “I’m not trying to hide anything.”
At his next meeting with Toomey he was informed that his assistance, the $1,090 rent voucher and $210 in cash would be disallowed and that he could re-apply in January of next year.
Toomey defends the decision saying, “I’m sorry but we had to — I had to — follow regulations. He only pays $5 [a month] in rent.”
For his part Brady said,
“I had already proven my honesty by turning in the $850. They were treating me like I was a dishonest individual, like I was trying to cheat them out of the money.”
The $210 had been the only source of money for non food items but what worries Brady more than that is the loss of his Medicaid benefit. He has been doing well since getting regular therapy for his depression and taking his medications and he also has an upcoming appointment with the dentist to have an infected tooth treated. Now he doesn’t know what he will do.
Brady says, “I don’t want to incur any bills that I have to pay out of pocket because I don’t have the money.”
The city police director, Michael Mordaga, who praised Brady’s honesty when he turned the money in has nothing to say about the situation he finds himself in now.
The Mayor on the other hand says, “There should have been some way to work this out and get around this, I hope something can be done about it.”
Councilwoman Rose Greenman said that there is a need to look at every aspect of each situation and, “I think it’s very narrowly interpreted for someone to deny this kind of person.”
Toomey stands by her decision saying that she cannot apply different standards to different people, however there may be a different reason for her stance.
The city department is very near to being closed in favor of allowing the county to handle all of these cases, a much more efficient way of dealing with those in need, perhaps Ms. Toomey is more interested in protecting her own position than she is in serving those who she is charged with helping.
There are those who are coming to Mr. Brady’s aid though. The assemblyman from the district who supports the change from a city run facility to one department for the whole county, has said that he is disappointing to hear that a person in Brady’s circumstance should be denied aid because of a one time influx of $850 which, as he notes, is not really very much money to begin with.
“Where is the compassion in this?” He asked. “The person was honest, he found some money, he turned it in, and now is being victimized for being an honest person. It makes no sense.”
Brady has an appointment with a legal aid lawyer this week to see if they can do anything to help him get his benefits restored so that he can continue to make progress in his quest to get back on his feet and become someone who no longer needs assistance and is again a contributing member of society.
The United Way of Bergen County has set up a fund to assist James in the meantime, those who wish to contribute can send a check made out to “BCUW/Compassion Fund/Mr. Brady” to them at:
6 Forest Ave.
Paramus, New Jersey 07652
You can also contribute online HERE