11/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Beer, Cigarettes and Flat Screen TVs: Targeting the Poor in Times of Economic Crisis

If I received one bailout dollar for every time a poor person was accused of spending hard earned tax payer money on beer, cigarettes, and flat screen televisions, I'd be rich -- or at least as rich as AIG, who coincidentally received over $70 billion from the government to stave off bankruptcy.

In the stimulus bill, the government allocated $5 billion dollars to states to help needy women and families whose financial situations have been made worse by the current recession. Conservatives and others have responded to the relief by calling it a misuse of tax payer funds and accusing mothers of purchasing beer and cigarettes with the money. The question is where were these concerned citizens when the government was doling out money to banks and businesses with little to no accountability?

When it comes to lending a helping hand to poor people, there seems to be a double standard. Since the start of the recession, the Administration has implemented several programs to help families and businesses in need -- tax cuts, the $8,000 home buyer's credit, cash for clunkers, the homeowner affordability plan, among others. For the most part, all of these programs have been targeted toward the middle-class with an aim toward stimulating the economy and helping families recover. Very few poor people have been able to take advantage of the above-mentioned programs.

Of the few programs in the stimulus package designed to help those living in poverty or families in need, the government requires states to put up a 20 percent match in order to tap into the funds. To date, only 26 states have been able to meet the requirements to receive the funds.

Matching funds are nothing new, but during this economic crisis requiring states that are already strapped or in fiscal despair to come up with 20 percent to receive so-called emergency funds does not make much sense. Why didn't banks have to put up a 20 percent match in order to receive federal dollars?

On a separate but related note, the idea that if cash is given directly to poor people they will squander or misuse it is without merit. When women struggling to make ends meet receive extra money, they use it to provide for their families, buy food and clothing, and to pay utility bills and rent. Yes, there may be a few in the bunch who may choose to misappropriate the money, but those individuals are in the minority. They are the exception and not the rule.

In the U.S., the poor have always been considered a burden to shoulder or a problem to be solved. Programs to help individuals and families living in poverty should be viewed as social investments and economic stimuli. They should go hand-in-hand with the Administration's current efforts to revive the economy and move families into the middle class.

The Administration should revisit the match requirements for states to receive emergency funds to help and provide support to families in need. And conservatives should be more concerned about how the $750 billion given to banks is being spent as opposed to the paltry $200-per-child given to women to help make ends meet in this downturn. At the end of the day, what difference does it really make if a woman chooses to buy pizza over bread to feed her hungry family?