HOUSTON (KTRK) --I cried shooting this story.
Not a heaving sobbing messy cry, but tears nonetheless. It doesn't happen too often as an investigative reporter. I get angry when I feel like I'm not being told the truth. I get frustrated when I can't get a straight answer. I'm proud when our investigative team does good work.
But this moment drew my tears out. In a world when we text more than we talk and talk on the phone more than in person, sharing a real life emotional moment is a rare gift. So Claudia, thank you for letting us share it.
Claudia Wolff is like a lot of Houstonians and maybe like a lot of you. She's proud, reluctant to ask for help even when she needs it, probably a little embarrassed we made a fuss over her. But when an anonymous viewer sent a check to satisfy her entire $5,000 debt to the state for a mistake the state made, we wanted all of you to share in that moment too.
Claudia is a 60-year-old liver transplant patient. She's on disability and mistakenly qualified for food stamps three years ago. It took state employees years to catch their error and by then Claudia had received $5000 in food stamp benefits. The state demanded it all back.
Texas is willing to take $25 per month, but these days Claudia can't even afford that. As one of you told us after our first report aired, "if she could afford to pay it back, she wouldn't have needed food stamps in the first place."
When Claudia got the check her hand shook as she covered her wide open mouth; you can't fake that kind of surprise. She welled up and so did I. It reminds me of the power behind what we share with you.
I didn't change Claudia's life. You did.
Yes there is one anonymous viewer out there who did more than most, but collectively you as viewers watched our original report, reacted to it and felt stirred enough to do something. So thanks. Thanks for watching, thanks for reacting, thanks for letting me be in on the moment that lifted what would have been a life-long burden from one of our neighbors.
It's not what we set out to do and we don't do it often. We set out to highlight the fact that in the last five years, state Health and Human Service Commission employees have given 39,000 Texans $41 million in food stamps they didn't qualify for - and now have to pay back through no fault of their own.
We looked not at fraud, but at agency error and the fact that state and federal rules insist that people on the margins have to pay back the errant benefit at a time when some state employees were getting accuracy bonuses.
It just didn't seem fair.
To the anonymous viewer, thank you. Your generosity is rare. I hope you know and can see for yourself just how much of a difference you made - not just for Claudia but for me too.