Arizona's Republican legislators have officially declared War on the Poor.
And it looks like our Southern Arizona Republican delegation is determined to lead the charge by portraying people who need food stamps and other government services as scofflaws taking government money to live high on the hog.
It's hard to imagine a time when it makes less sense to demonize people who need assistance because they find themselves out of a job. In our economy which was driven into a recession – actually, to the brink of another Great Depression — by the irresponsible policies of the Bush administration, hard-working people who have prided themselves on making it on their own have seen their jobs disappear.
Even people with full-time, low-wage jobs can't make ends meet. A year's salary for a minimum wage job paying $7.25 an hour is only $15,000, not enough to support one person, let alone a family.
It's not enough that the Republican-majority legislature is ripping Arizona's safety net to shreds in a frenzy of budget cutting. (I guess you could argue those cuts couldn't be avoided, given the deep hole our state budget is in. But to argue that, you have to accept the discredited notion that tax cuts to corporations add money to the budget. And that the wealthiest among us, who have benefited most from the growing divide between the rich and the middle class, need more income tax cuts instead of having their rates raised to the level they were a decade or two ago.)
On top of that, Southern Arizona Republicans want to take welfare assistance away from people caught buying cigarettes or beer with their own money.
No, I'm not kidding. Frank Antenori (R, LD-30) has sponsored HB2770, which states, "a person shall not receive assistance or cash assistance" if he or she is in possession of – yes, the bill says "possession of" – alcohol or tobacco. This applies to adults, not minors. If you're caught with a pack of cigarettes or a glass of beer, you're cut off.
Three other Southern Arizona Republicans have co-sponsored the bill: our own Al Melvin as well as David Stevens (LD-30) and David Gowan (LD-25). Vic Williams and Jonathan Paton, who I generally disagree with, exhibited enough good sense to keep their fingerprints off this vile piece of legislation – though we don't know yet how they'll vote.
Antenori, et al, want us to visualize a cigar-chomping, beer-swilling welfare cheat who is making out like a bandit on his generous welfare benefits. The image plays into the vicious blame-the-victim myth that people are poor because they're lazy and shiftless and there are plenty of good jobs for anyone who wants one.
I wonder if these legislators have bothered to talk with any of the recently unemployed people in their districts.
Antenori, Melvin and the others don't want us to see the families with children who depend on welfare assistance to put a roof over their heads, food on their tables and clothes on their backs. Take away food stamps and other services from parents, and you take them away from their children as well. Even little things like bringing pencils and paper to school become a struggle.
I'm sure if you asked the sponsors of this legislation, they would proclaim their belief in "family values" with sanctimonious expressions on their faces. I guess their notion of "family" doesn't include people who have lost their jobs.
David Stevens is taking the War on the Poor even further. He wants all Arizonans to be able to peer into the records of every person receiving government assistance.
A Democratic legislator said sarcastically that we might as well just put a scarlet letter on anyone who applies for a government program. I'm not sure Republicans would understand his sarcasm. "Of course that's what we want," they would most likely reply.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.