Random Samplings 48: The Perils and the Privileges of Panhandling

Random Samplings of a Logical Mind — I’m Lynn Woolley

If you want them to get a job, do NOT give them a handout!

Panhandlers’ tax-free windshield-washing business at I-35 and St. Johns in Austin on 7-4-21. (Photo by Lynn Woolley for WBDaily)

ISSUE ONE: Panhandling has its privileges

Begging for money at street corners has become a major industry in cities of all sizes. So what do we do about it? Remember, the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone was finally jailed on a tax-evasion charge.

Homeless tents along Cesar Chavez Street in Austin on April 19, 2021. (Photo by Julie Sullivan for WBDaily)

You may have wondered whether panhandlers pay income taxes on the money they take in. The answer is almost certainly “no.”

No self-respecting street beggar is going to actually report income to the IRS.

And here’s the kicker: The tax code allows gifts up to $15,000 per year before the gift tax kicks in, and even then, taxes would be paid by the donor and not the recipient.

However, if a panhandler decided to report his income and it’s less than $15,010, he could be eligible for an earned income credit.

Of course, to get the credit, he’d need to file a tax return, and have an address for the refund to be sent to.

ISSUE TWO: Houston’s tough love

 Here’s something you may not know: panhandling (begging for money) is protected by the First Amendment as a form of free speech. Of course, you don’t have to give beggars free money –and you don’t have to feel guilty for not forking over the cash.

Back in 2017, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked residents not to give money to them, but rather to redirect funds to agencies that work with the homeless. He called his campaign “Meaningful Change, not Spare Change.” He’s right. It’s time to stop enabling.

The short story “Visiting Hours” included in my book The Clock Tower and Other Stories is a sympathetic look at street begging. (Cover design by Greg Hansen)

When you give free money to someone for doing nothing more than standing on a street corner with a clever sign, you’re encouraging that person not to work.

Mayor Turner’s “tough love” campaign is designed to get homeless people off the street – and hopefully into a job or at least get help for the mentally ill and the druggies.

ISSUE THREE: Ignore the signs 

I’m always fascinated by the signs that the street beggars shove in front of me when I’m stopped at a red light. My guess is that they are accomplished in writing them and in how to present them.

Note that they are almost always written in Magic Marker on ragged cardboard. That’s to show you how down-and-out they are. They know how to make you feel guilty by mentioning their family or their veteran status. They often use the term “God bless” to let you know how spiritual they are.

Sometimes I like to interact. It’s appropriate to point out how many jobs are available right now and ask why they don’t apply for one.

I’ve also thought of asking for a W9 form so I can turn the donation in to the IRS. I’ve also considered making my own sign on a ragged piece of cardboard saying: “I earn my money. So should you.”

Panhandlers set up a windshield-washing business at I-35 & St. Johns in Austin. This is their signage and their garbage dump. (Photo by Lynn Woolley for WBDaily taken March 4, 2021 at 5:30 AM)

An Austin police officer encounters a homeless person either sleeping or unconscious on April 19, 2021. (Photo by Julie Sullivan for WBDaily)

Stay tuned for more Random Samplings of a Logical Mind. I’m Lynn Woolley.

Lynn Woolley is a Texas-based author, broadcaster, and songwriter. Follow his podcast at https://www.PlanetLogic.us. Check out his author’s page at https://www.Amazon.com/author/lynnwoolley. Order books direct from Lynn at https://PlanetLogicPress.Square.Site. Email Lynn at lwoolley9189@gmail.com.

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