No cinema, no swimming and no underwear: Kansas is restricting welfare

I know I should be careful about giving the oxygen of publicity to truly awful ideas, especially during an election campaign, but there is something hideously fascinating about the state of mind behind a new set of proposals recently approved by the State legislature in Kansas (incidentally, where my brother-in-law lives).  Recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families are to be limited to a maximum withdrawal of $25 in any one day, which could be tough if they want to buy shoes for children.  Beyond that, a large number of activities will be forbidden to them.  The report on CNN  has a long list of items including

body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships or visits to psychics …  spending the funds at theme parks, dog or horse racing tracks, a “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.”

From other reports it appears that the list also extends to swimming pools, alcohol and cinemas.

So what’s wrong with that?  Three things.  The first is a misunderstanding of what income maintenance payments do.  The whole point of using money for distributing goods is that people get the money and they buy the goods they choose to have, rather than the goods we think they ought to have instead.  If government wants them to have something different, they have the option of providing the goods rather than the money.   The reason why most governments don’t is that they think markets work better.  Not, it seems, in the land of the free.

The second problem is a deep contempt for people who receive state benefits – partly punitive, partly puritanical,  a determination to ensure that poor people shouldn’t ever have any entertainments.  Right-wing conservatives have always been concerned with the intrusive ‘nanny state’; this is an extreme example.    The third objection is the presumptuous foolishness of the list.  It’s presumptuous because it assumes that it’s possible for government to control how money is used – it isn’t.  Anything that can be bought and sold can be traded.  It’s foolish because of what it includes, and what it doesn’t.  Children shouldn’t learn to swim? Women shouldn’t buy underwear? Really?

One comment

  1. gwenvaneijk

    Glad you wrote about this afwul policy anyway, I think if it’s beyond just an idea and actual policy then protest by writing about it is very much needed. I just recently blogged (in Dutch) about a proposal of the Rotterdam city council to hand out giftcards only and no money to welfare recipients who need a new refrigerator or the like, for fear that they buy a flatscreen or alcohol in stead, as it is ‘known’, they said, that many people in debt are big spenders. Deep contempt, indeed. Also problematic because if welfare recipients can no longer spend their money how they see fit they can never ‘prove’ that they are responsible about money (of course they shouldn’t have to prove that, but apparently they do) nor disprove the stereotype of the welfare scrounger.

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