Kansas Governor Sam Brownback recently signed into law a bill that would curtail what those who receive public assistance could purchase with their government-issued debit cards.
This exhaustive list includes, but not limited to:
Alcoholic beverages, gambling venues, tattoo, massage and body piercing parlors; spas and nail salons, lingerie shops, tobacco and vapor products, arcades and movie theaters; swimming pools, cruise ships (that's right cruise ships) and tickets for entertainment events intended for the general public.
It cannot be quantified as to the amount of public assistance that is actually spent on the aforementioned banned items. But the Associated Press, citing a federal report last year, found that less than one percent of total aid was used at liquor stores, casinos or strips clubs.
The federal government already requires states to restrict welfare recipients from using their cards in liquor stores, gaming or gambling establishments or adult entertainment venues.
Kansas' average monthly allotment is $400. The Kansas law allows a maximum daily withdrawal of $25. It requires 12 visits to the ATM to withdraw the total allotment, minus the $1 bank fee for every trip, reducing the payment to $384 monthly.
Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker proposed earlier this year to drug test some recipients of public assistance.
Beyond the data that indicates these examples are merely solutions in search of a problem, it reflects the acceptable public degradation one is free to use against low-income individuals.
Are those who seek public assistance also guilty of character flaws so egregious that human dignity is no longer applicable? Why are low-income individuals rendered to piñata status for public amusement?
There are certain items that one would not like to see purchased with public funds -- like those already prohibited by the federal government. Nor purchasing illegal drugs with public funds. But the law enacted in Kansas and that which is proposed in Wisconsin are a constant and punitive reminder of one's economic plight.
The amount the federal government subsidizes corporations is nearly double that for public assistance, but it would seem nonsensical to enact similar draconian measures to guard against abuse even though we know some corporate misuse of public funds occur.
If the issue is how one uses public funding, why not demand that all members of Congress be drug tested? Although not a majority, there have been enough individuals in Congress who have been arrested for DUI's and illegal drug use to warrant testing using the rationale of the Wisconsin law.
If Kansas were so concerned with the potential abuse of public assistance, would it not serve the interests of all taxpayers in the Jayhawk state to take action against Wal-Mart?
According to Forbes Magazine, the nation's largest employer, known for the low wages it pays many of its workers, cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. Moreover how many of the employees on public assistance use their store discount and food stamps to purchase items at Wal-Mart?
Is this the American way? Apparently so!
While Wal-Mart business practices are known widely, it is those languishing in poverty that bears the brunt of public ire.
Policies such as those in Kansas and proposed in Wisconsin are divisive tactics of Novocain to numb the pain of increasing economic fears.
It is a ruse to protect unfettered markets, supported by Democrats and Republicans. The poor are expendable, and the term middle class becomes an amorphous designation designed to pacify those who are being squeezed by a contracting economy, taking slender satisfaction that they are not like their low-income brother or sister.
It is little wonder that the New York Times recently reported that the 2016 presidential candidates are scrambling for a focus-group tested phrase to replace "middle class."
It seems as nondescript as middle class has become, it is incongruent with the reality of many Americans.
It doesn't matter if the catchphrase du jour is "ordinary Americans," "hard-working taxpayers," or some other appealing term, at some point only action will assuage the growing economic fears.
But there will soon come a day of reckoning when blaming the poor for political gain will be an insufficient practice.
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