Tuesday, May 25, 2004

BERLIN (AP) — A German retiree who provoked outrage by getting German social services to pay his rent in Miami has returned home — and promptly applied for welfare payments, a Frankfurt official said yesterday.

The case of Rolf John, 65, prompted the German government to pass legislation making it harder for citizens living abroad to claim welfare.

The laws passed in January meant that Mr. John no longer qualified to have German taxpayers fund his $875 monthly rent in Miami.

So he returned to Germany and registered with the social security office in Frankfurt, which granted him a payment of $246 to support himself until the beginning of June, council member Franz Frey said.

Mr. John turned down an offer of accommodation in a city homeless shelter.

Dubbed “Florida Rolf” by German media, Mr. John has become a symbol of the German welfare state’s cost as the government seeks to trim benefits and curb “social security under palm trees.”

In other recent cases, two German citizens successfully sued to receive a free supply of the potency drug Viagra from the national health care system.

A court in the summer upheld Mr. John’s social security payments in the United States, arguing that he suffers from depression and needed to continue living in familiar surroundings.

The ruling came as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged Germans to accept cuts to the generous welfare state, part of his efforts to revive the stagnant economy.

Under the new regulations, Mr. John, who left Germany in 1979, was no longer eligible for benefits in Miami because he had lived abroad for more than two years.

Mr. Schroeder’s reforms include changes to make Germans pay more of their health care costs, a freeze in retirement benefits and laws putting more pressure on the unemployed to take low-paying jobs.

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