Marilu Garcia has a problem a lot of people would pray for:
The government won’t stop sending her money.
Since September 1994, the Spokane Valley woman has received four checks totaling more than $700 from the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services.
The state, according to the receipts, tried to pay her for working with foster kids as a bus driver, a chaperone and even a psychiatrist.
Marilu did tend bar for awhile in Alaska, but that’s as close to the psychiatric field as she ever ventured.
In fact, the woman never worked a day for the state.
The hitch is that every time Marilu mails back a check, a new one shows up. Even the attorney she hired hasn’t been able to dry up this unwanted cash cow.
“I don’t want anything I’m not entitled to,” says Marilu, 39. “My mother didn’t raise me to do that.”
Marilu is a single mom who fought her way off welfare. She enrolled at Spokane Community College through a state-funded program. Last June, she earned an applied science degree.
Now a dietetic technician, Marilu manages food services at Franklin Hills, a North Side nursing home and retirement complex.
Let’s be honest: We all know people who would take the money and run. People who would rationalize their thievery as a way to get back at the blood-sucking system.
“I wonder how many others are wrongly getting checks and they aren’t going back?” Marilu says. “The most important thing for me is to be able to sleep at night.”
Last January, she hired Spokane attorney Steve Nash, who made additional calls and fired off a stern letter.
“The bottom line,” he wrote to a Children and Family Services worker last February, “is that she does not know why she has received these monies and she wants to make sure that she returns them….
“She would like her name removed from the DSHS or DCFS records as a provider.”
All the checks are mailed from Olympia to Marilu’s address in Otis Orchards. They are made out to Marilu Tester, the married name she stopped using after a divorce six years ago.
For awhile it looked as if Nash’s letter did the trick. About seven months passed with no unsolicited loot rolling in. Then early last month, payday struck again.
This time the state wants to give her $77.41 for driving a 15-year-old foster child she never heard of to an undisclosed location.
“I keep getting demoted,” says Marilu, laughing. “I liked it better when I was a psychiatrist.”
Nash is baffled.
“It’s very strange,” he says. “She returns the checks, we do everything we can to give the damn money back.”
So what gives?
Marilu was somehow given a code number identifying her as a contract worker for the Department of Children and Family Services.
“This has really blown me away,” says Bev McLaughlin a the Spokane DCFS clerical worker who has spent hours trying to solve this.
“What I want to do is get her wiped out of the system. I can’t figure this out and I have a lot of better things to do.”
Whether or not the checks stop coming, Marilu never again wants to rely on government handouts. “It’s depressing,” she says of her days on welfare. “Once you get on it’s so hard to get off.”
Struggling to raise two young daughters alone, Marilu has known some pretty bleak financial times.
You have to wonder:
Let’s say the government goofs sent her a check for a million bucks by mistake. Wouldn’t she be a little bit tempted to cash it and, well, take her chances?
Marilu fires back an answer before the question is finished. “I’m a law-abiding person,” she says. “You can get in big trouble for that.”