Public Dollars: We all benefit, so why the double standard?

Apr 28, 2015

Families experiencing poverty have a lot to worry about – finding a safe place to live, putting food on the table, and making sure young children have clothes warm enough to make it through the cold winter evenings. Yesterday, the Governor put his foot down to making things even harder for families living in poverty by vetoing SB 148, and we thank him for that. Some states are not as lucky. Last week the Washington Post wrote a piece about state legislatures across the country putting in place new laws that restrict public assistance to those who most need. For example, restrictions include limiting cash withdrawals to $25 per day and specifically saying that funds cannot be used on things like cruise ships. As though families struggling to pay rent and feed children would have the means to pay for a cruise to the Caribbean. The frustration with many of these bills is that they rely upon a “single story” – a dangerous practice that Novelist Chimamanda Adichie rightly pointed out, “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” The Post article makes three big points about the many ways policies like those in Kansas are problematic and incomplete.
  1. There is no evidence that our low-income neighbors are wasteful in their spending or that there is any fraud.
  2. Bills like these place judgment and restrictions on SNAP or TANF recipients that would never be placed on farmers or seniors receiving social security.
  3. We all benefit from our tax dollars. Not only do we all use and need good schools, police, and infrastructure, but most of us receive much more direct support in terms of tax credits, student loans, Medicare, and subsidies on the health care exchange. And some of these are much more expensive to the government then TANF.
A great quote in the article is “we begrudge them, their housing vouchers, for instance, even though government spends about four times as much subsidizing housing for upper-income homeowners.” People experiencing poverty are some of the best money managers, because they have to be. Putting burdensome requirements on our low-income neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet, is completely unfair and is a clear double standard. However, it also misses another big point, we ALL benefit from public dollars.  
Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.