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LINCOLN — State Auditor Mike Foley offered an apology Friday for comments he made last week about the financial skills of low-income Nebraskans.
In a letter published in today's Omaha World-Herald, Foley said he had not chosen his words carefully and was speaking in sweeping generalities when he made the comments.
“I apologize to anyone who may have found my remarks hurtful,” he said, adding that he and his staff are working to repair leaks in the social safety net.
The statements at issue were part of a presentation Foley gave at an Americans for Prosperity seminar in Lincoln.
According to a recording of the event, he said: “Now if you are a low-income person, you're probably not managing your money very well anyway. Sorry to stereotype, but that's true.”
State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha and state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers criticized Foley for the remarks and called for him to apologize.
At the time, Nordquist said the auditor appeared to be disconnected from the reality that thousands of families live paycheck to paycheck, struggle to afford the basics and have few assets.
On Friday, Nordquist said Foley was doing the right thing by admitting that he misspoke and that his comments were inappropriate.
"It takes a big person to admit when they are wrong," Nordquist said. "Too many politicians today throw around divisive rhetoric and refuse to take responsibility when they cross the line. I genuinely thank Auditor Foley for his sincere apology."
In his letter, Foley said money management problems plague citizens at all income levels.
“Many low-income Nebraskans do an exemplary job of raising their families and contributing to society through creativity, thrift and a remarkable work ethic,” he said.
He also said that “our dignity as human persons is never to be measured by the size of our incomes or quantity of assets.”
Powers was only partially mollified by the letter, calling it “one of those lame, if-you're-offended” apologies.
“I'm glad he's at least somewhat apologized,” Powers said.
Foley made the controversial remarks while describing his office's recent audits, many of which focused on problems within programs operated by the State Department of Health and Human Services.
The comments related to an energy assistance program.
Foley's audit found that HHS had sent emergency assistance checks directly to households, in violation of agency rules. He said many people receiving the checks did not spend them on heating and cooling costs.
Foley's Public Pulse apology
A week ago, while speaking to a citizens group, I made a statement that has now received wider circulation and has generated considerable controversy. By not choosing my words carefully and by speaking with a sweeping generalization, I gave the impression that low income persons probably have poor money management skills.
The brief remark, as part of a 90 minute presentation, has been interpreted by some as disparaging to hardworking Nebraskans who live paycheck to paycheck, play by the rules, and pay their taxes.
Deficient money management skills plague citizens at all income levels and there are societal costs that need to be acknowledged. It is indisputable that many low-income Nebraskans do an exemplary job of raising their families and contribute to society through creativity, thrift and a remarkable work ethic.
Our dignity as human persons is never to be measured by the size of our incomes or quantity of assets and many of us are only a serious medical incident or employer downsizing away from severe financial stress which can justify public assistance. But for the grace of God, there go I.
It is a privilege to serve in public office and I apologize to anyone who may have found my remarks hurtful as my staff and I work hard to protect taxpayer interests and to ensure that the social safety net which today leaks away tens of millions of dollars is repaired.