Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.
The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.
Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said.
Maria Thomas, 29, with four daughters, helps friends sell piles of brand-name clothes, taking pains not to ask if they are stolen. “I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “I’m just helping get rid of them.”
To keep her lights on, Rosa Pena, 24, sold the groceries she bought with food stamps and then kept her children fed with school lunches and help from neighbors. Her post-welfare credo is widely shared: “I’ll do what I have to do.”
And as any conservative can tell you, this is working 100% as intended. If those on welfare turn to crime, then it’s clearly permissible to cut welfare even further to stop coddling these criminals, and then of course pass those savings through tax cuts on to the Almighty Job Creators, who will then certainly create more jobs and uplift these broken souls back into society. Any time now, those jobs will be just pouring out. Yep.
Of course without that vital last part, it becomes and endless conveyor belt to transfer wealth to the wealthy and drive the poor into other states (preferably blue ones) where they become somebody else’s problem. Meanwhile, red states like Arizona get to claim they’ve cut welfare rolls and that the rest of America needs to follow their success.
Meanwhile, the expensive private prison conglomerates designed to incarcerate the increasingly desperate among us costing taxpayers far more per person than the welfare did in the first place is beside the point, that money’s well spent because we’re tough on crime. Certainly the GOP is licking their chops at the latest iteration of the House GOP budget, turning safety net programs into block grants they can raid for even more tax cuts and wealth transfer. And if the GOP gets control, guess what’s happening to these programs in the future?
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the top House Republican on budget issues, calls the current welfare program “an unprecedented success.” Mitt Romney, who leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would place similar restrictions on “all these federal programs.” One of his rivals, Rick Santorum, calls the welfare law a source of spiritual rejuvenation.
“It didn’t just cut the rolls, but it saved lives,” Mr. Santorum said, giving the poor “something dependency doesn’t give: hope.”
As in “hope God chose you to be rich, because otherwise you’re screwed.” Happy Easter Hunger Games from the GOP. Don’t worry, when you die, your suffering will be rewarded in the next life. Oh wait, it won’t because you were poor and wasted your life so you obviously sinned, so it’s okay if we kick your face in a few more times.
Zandar is ABLC's Cincinnati-area correspondent, covering Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana politics and all the nearly endless unintentional comedy the Tri-State area brings. He's proprietor of Zandar vs. The Stupid, where he's been blogging since 2008, and you can also find him at Balloon Juice and The Reaction as a contributor, or you can yell at him on Twitter at @ZandarVTS.
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