Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Booze, No Smokes, No HBO, No Problem

State Representative Frank Antenori is floating a bill making anybody who gets welfare in Arizona to sign an affidavit limiting what they can do with the money they don't get from the state. Namely, he doesn't want to see people buying liquor, cigarettes, premium cable service, or a ritzy car.

Granted, enforcement will be pretty hard unless you happen to be standing in front of Rep. Antenori at the Sav-Mart, or a tattler, as he explains to the Arizona Daily Star:
"People put $100 of food up on the register, run the EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer card) through, and then throw two big jugs of booze and two cartons of cigarettes (onto the conveyor belt) and pull $100 out of their pocket. If you see that, you call a 1-800 number and notify somebody," Antenori said.

"If you've got 80 bucks to buy a gallon of booze and two cartons of cigarettes, then why the heck are we paying for your food?" he asked.

That would mean a single bottle of beer could cost a family its food stamps, free health care and any other welfare benefits. Antenori said he has no problem with that.

"If you don't have enough money to buy your own food to exist for your own sustenance, and you need some other hardworking taxpayer that's out there and working and paying taxes to subsidize your food, then you shouldn't have the luxury, at the expense of some other taxpayer, to go out and enjoy the niceties in life," he said.
The knee-jerk reaction to Rep. Antenori's proposal is to accuse him of conjuring up the old welfare-bum stereotype. Ted over at Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion questions the actual number of welfare recipients who have a benefits card in one hand and a wad of cash in the other.

Let's think about this from another angle: The Obama Administration put limits on executive pay for companies getting government bailout money. I maintain that when you get government aid, it's reasonable to let the government set boundaries on your spending habits so that the money -- our tax dollars -- is spent wisely and not frittered into expensive bonuses or perks. A lot of you would agree.

So let's think of public assistance as simply a personal bailout. If you need government assistance, the government has the right to dictate your spending habits -- even with money you didn't get from the state. Why? Because how you spend is critical to getting you off the dole. As the government sacrifices some money for your sake, you should sacrifice by cutting out the extras. There's precedent: as it is, welfare money can't be spent on booze or smokes.

This does not mean living on bread and water and a beat-up Yugo. But when you're trying to put your financial life back together, a key lesson is distinguishing between a want and a need.

It's temping to write off Rep. Antenori's proposal as war on the poor because he presents it with a touch of mean-spiritedness. He cites a hypothetical case, jazzed up to play to our emotions. Putting a virtual "How's my spending? Call 1-800..." bumper sticker on welfare recipients leaves me with a creepy feeling. How many of you would call this number and not feel some tinge of guilt?

Get rid of the emotional baggage and the bill isn't unreasonable. But it won't sell unless there's an urgency attached to it. Come back to me with some solid examples of welfare waste and we'll go from there.

1 comment:

fraizerbaz said...

Very interesting, indeed. I feel that anyone who truly NEEDS welfare would have no problem giving up the unnecessary expenses.

You know I live very frugally. I've given frivolity up long ago... any sort of paid television, smoking, I purchase most of mine and my daughter's clothes second-hand, and when I DO buy something new, it's from Ross. I drink an alcoholic beverage now only on special occasions, I don't have a cell phone that costs me (fill in the amount) every month. In fact, my cell phone is prepaid and its average cost is about $7.48 per month. I seldom use it. You get the point.

The only thing I wont give up is my internet service for $29.99/month. Dial-up is a major FAIL; you just can't transfer files that way, and I won't go to the library just to use the internet due to its time-restrictions.