When you go to the grocery store, do you pay attention to what the person in front of you is purchasing? Do you watch carefully to see how they pay? Oftentimes you will hear someone tell a story about how they saw someone purchase lobster, or an expensive cut of meat with food stamps. These anecdotal stories also drive anger toward the poor for wasting taxpayer money. And the accusations expand from there: The poor use the money for tattoos, drugs, and other frivolous items.
In Kansas this week, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law that bans the use of public assistance funds to visit swimming pools, see movies, go gambling, or get tattoos. The entire bill, chock full of bad things, is here, if you want to read it.
One of the key items in the bill is a drug testing requirement, which has been proven to be a waste of time, resources, and money in other states that have tried it. This won’t be a rehash of several other diaries from the past year, but suffice it to say: Drug testing welfare recipients is a true waste of time and only benefits the drug testing companies.
The meat of the bill—and the truly degrading part—is here:
No TANF cash assistance shall be used to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco products, lottery tickets, concert tickets, professional or collegiate sporting event tickets or tickets for other entertainment events intended for the general public or sexually oriented adult materials. No TANF cash assistance shall be used in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body-piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store,vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or sexually oriented business or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment, or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.
Who knows where the state of Kansas is getting its information about how poor people are spending their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) money, but it’s a safe bet the vast amount of them aren’t spending their benefits frivolously. And one item that is not on the list will surprise no one: If you are receiving welfare in Kansas, you can purchase a firearm with your your benefits.
You cannot take your child to a Saturday afternoon matinee to see the latest Disney movie, but you can purchase a gun.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the typical business loses 5 percent of its revenue to fraud each year. In the TANF program, it can be assumed to be similar to that of the unemployment program, where fraud accounts for less than 2 percent of unemployment insurance payments. If you look at the fraud rate for SNAP (what is colloquially known as food stamps) it is less than 1 percent.
The Kansas law also imposes a limit of $25 cash per day, and a photo requirement on the card itself.
TANF cash assistance transactions for cash withdrawals from automated teller machines shall be limited to $25, per transaction and to one transaction per day. No TANF cash assistance shall be used for purchases at points of sale outside the state of Kansas. (15) (A) The secretary for children and families shall place a photograph of the recipient, if agreed to by such recipient of public assistance, on any Kansas benefits card issued by the Kansas department for children and families that the recipient uses in obtaining food, cash or any other services. When a recipient of public assistance is a minor or otherwise incapacitated individual, a parent or legal guardian of such recipient may have a photograph of such parent or legal guardian placed on the card
While it does not say in the legislation, let’s go out on a limb here and make an educated guess that a TANF card cannot be used as photo ID to vote with.
Of course this wouldn’t be a poor-hating bill if it did not have the typical Republican platitudes. Gov. Brownback stated:
“The primary focus of the bill is to get people back to work,” he said. “Because that’s where the real benefit is. getting people off public assistance and back into the marketplace with the dignity and far more income there than the pittance that government gives them.
“And I hope we don’t lose track of the primary focus of what we’re after here.”
It’s great to tell people to get back to work, but it does nothing to address the root causes of poverty, nor does it actually do anything to help someone break the cycle of poverty.
If you are a poor child you likely have unemployed, irregularly employed, teen, or single parents
and are affected by lead poisoning, inadequate housing, untreated asthma, and other conditions that demonstrably restrain academic achievement. If you are black, you are impacted by these conditions even more than your white counterparts, putting you even further behind the economic eight-ball, and even further behind academically.
The Republican solutions to these problems are to attack everything but the root cause. Teachers are to blame for poor academic performance, even if they’re teaching kids who have no idea where their next meal is coming from. Yet the teacher is to blame for the child not performing well on a test?
Republicans cut school funding and make white flight even easier with the advent of school choice, where the taxpayer is saddled with the bill for sending children to private schools. Urban centers across America have seen manufacturing jobs decline. Productivity has gone up while wages have stayed stagnant. Yet is is the fault of the person living in poverty for failing to find a job that can support them and their family.
If the Republican Party really wanted to end poverty, it could. Instead of limiting benefits and punishing people for being poor it would be far better to ensure that everyone employed earned a living wage.
Programs should be available to make sure that substandard housing is brought up to code and any lead paint should be remediated—lead poisoning shouldn’t be something any parent should even have to think about.
Children should not go hungry in school, our schools should be fully funded, and no public funding should be going to private schools.
And lastly, single payer healthcare should be available to all. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to have your asthma treated.