It Isn’t Kansas; It’s Us; We’re Vile People

SNAPOver at Salon, Digby wrote, The Republican Campaign to Destroy the Poor Stoops to a New Low. It’s a general article, but she is specifically referring to a new Kansas law that only allows people on assistance to get a maximum of $25 per day from an ATM. As Dylan Matthews wrote last week, it is a way of soaking the poor with expensive ATM fees. You know the ones; I’m sure you have been desperate at times and found yourself facing the screen, “This transaction will cost $3.00 in addition to whatever other fees your bank changes. Would you like to continue?”

Matthews noted that in addition to the various bank charges, the state of Kansas itself charges a $1.00 fee for withdrawals. So a conservative estimate involves $1.50 from the bank (but other banks charge more) and $1.00 from the state, for a total of $2.50 for each $20 withdrawn. That represents a 12.5% surcharge. What’s interesting about this is that a common conservative claim is that the poor need to learn the proper ways to manage their money. And here are these very same conservatives insisting that they do otherwise. I have little doubt that the banks themselves have worked behind the scenes to make this happen.

But the main thing is that this is about punishing the poor. It isn’t just a question of the financial penalty. The very idea of limiting withdrawals from their accounts is meant to make a big production of saying, “You are on assistance; you can’t be trusted; you are a low life.” Of course, clearly the politicians who are pushing this are the most repugnant kind of people. What’s more, Mother Jones reported earlier this year, People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us. But data don’t matter to these conservatives. They start with the conclusion: people are poor because they are immoral. The rest follows from that conclusion.

Dylan Matthews sums up exactly what I think:

I hate these kinds of provisions. Everyone gets benefits from the government, but, as Emily Badger has noted, benefits for the middle class and rich never seem to come with any strings attached. No one has ever been banned from spending their mortgage interest deduction or electric vehicle tax credit on movie tickets. When it comes time to crack the whip and eliminate frivolous expenses, it seems only the poor get targeted.

But sadly, the problem isn’t fundamentally with the politicians. Yes, of course, they are vile human beings. But think about that little factoid I mentioned above about people who get food stamps making better food purchasing decisions. Most Americans — including liberals — would find that surprising. Our default way of thinking is that there must be something wrong with the poor. Indeed, David Brooks has never been publicly shamed for claiming that the poor are suffering because of their lack of middle class values — even though it is both offensive and intellectually embarrassing.

So the question is how long will the American middle class continue to feel superior to the poor? How long will it take before it realizes that the issue with poverty is not “They behave so badly” but rather “There for the grace of God”? Americans are a particularly parochial people. We think rather highly of ourselves, when all of our advantages have been given to us. It would be wonderful — but extremely surprising — if we finally managed to grow up.

See Also

Should People Pursuing Risky Careers Be Forced to Starve?
Pay No Attention to Rich Man’s Welfare!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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