Almost lost in last week’s press conference kerfuffle was House Speaker Bill O’Brien’s message that he wants a law passed to prevent welfare recipients from spending their benefits on tobacco, alcohol or lottery tickets.
In her People In My Neighborhood blog, Livia Gershon puts a human face on the proposed legislation. The Nashua welfare recipient admits to feeling a “swell of disapproval” when someone who is feeding her children with food stamps pulls out a cigarette. But then, she says, she reminds herself that they are ”almost by definition, in a state of acute or prolonged crisis.”
Take Nicole, who’s raising three kids with a mentally ill boyfriend on a budget so tight that she has to worry about how to pay for both soap and shampoo. She pays for basic cable because she doesn’t want to be left out of conversations about what’s going on in the news. Should I judge her because I don’t have cable?
Or, take “Red Rooster.” After 20 years driving a truck, he lost his job when the economy tanked, and he’s got heart problems that keep him out of work. He gets government benefits. And he drinks quite a bit of beer, though his doctor says he shouldn’t. Would it help anything to kick him off welfare?
Government policies are supposed to be about achieving desirable social outcomes, like healthy kids with halfway stable homes. Saying that’s something we can shoot for only once parents agree to live on oranges and wheat bread—in the face of the daily stresses caused by an economic system where they can’t hope to find a decent job—doesn’t make for a particularly effective policy.