Missouri’s hypocritical war on poor people

If you qualify for TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] in Missouri, don’t try to use your benefits card at an ATM near a liquor store, a strip joint or a baseball stadium. As of August 28, 2013, it’s against Missouri law to use public-assistance funds to buy a bottle of booze, watch a pole dancer, or attend a sporting event. Under the law, using taxpayers’ money to indulge in those activities constitutes waste, fraud and/or abuse. But only if you’re a poor person. If you’re a state legislator, no problem: Waste taxpayers’ money any way you want to. [More on this a bit later.]

Sure, I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for a lap dance. [That goes for you, too, state legislators.] But I still take offense at the reasoning behind the new law. The implication is that poor people are a bunch of lazy freeloaders who misuse taxpayers’ money on frivolities, rather than the necessities for which the funds are intended. Now, there’s a stereotype if I ever heard one.

I’m old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Today, that worthy effort—the one that tried to address the causes of poverty—has been perverted into a right-wing, de facto War on Poor People.

On the same day that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [a Democrat] signed the bill limiting welfare-funds use, it also published an article outlining a new series of hearings to explore “reforms” to Missouri’s Medicaid program. Of course, in this state, “reform” means doing everything possible to gut the program. In the article, Republicans are reported to say that “their top priority is overhauling the $9 billion system, to make it more cost-efficient and to promote personal responsibility.”

According to our Republican-dominated state legislature, poor people need to be more “personally responsible,” because obviously, their economic disadvantage is their own fault.  Another stereotype, of course.

All of this reasoning—if one can call it that—is all the more galling because of the hypocrisy it represents. At the same time that they decry how poor people are wasting our tax dollars at strip clubs, state legislators waste vast sums of money in do-nothing legislative sessions, where the main priority is blocking anything that might help the Missouri economy in general, and economically disadvantaged people in specific. In  2013, my tax dollars paid the salaries of state legislators who wasted time and money doing the following:

-Passing what has been dubbed by national commentators as the most extreme gun law in America: The bill would have made it a Missouri crime for federal agents to attempt to enforce federal gun laws in the state and could have landed journalists in jail for publishing the names of gun owner. That’s nullification of federal law, and if I remember correctly, that issue was settled by the Civil War, making this year’s effort a colossal example of waste and lack of responsibility.

-Blocking any attempt to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act: Turning down the federal funds that would have come to the state by expanding Medicaid means that 300,000 Missourians will continue to be shut out of health insurance.

-Passing two bills banning Sharia law in Missouri

-Passing bills aimed at remedying the imaginary problems of a “war on Christmas” and the United Nations sustainability program called Agenda 21.

That’s far from a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. They are wasting our time and our money on problems that don’t exist, bills that violate the Constitution of the United States, and boilerplace, irrelevant and just plain mean legislation pushed by the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Committee [ALEC].

They want poor people to demonstrate more personal responsibility, while as legislators, they demonstrate very little public responsibility.

And as for their shock at poor people using TANF funds to buy tickets to sports events: Yes, I understand their concern, but let’s not forget that this moral indignation comes from legislators who—because of their positions of power—get free tickets to football and baseball games from their corporate cronies. And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of denying “welfare” to poor people while doling out giant sums in corporate welfare to fat-cat political donors.

Perhaps, as a corollary to restricting TANF recipients’ use of public funds, citizens should consider revoking Missouri legislators’ taxpayer-check-cashing privileges, too.