Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Frank Antenori's Interesting Approach to Cost Containment

The state of Arizona is pretty well broke. The feds are pretty well broke. Intrepid Arizona state legislator Frank Antenori (R-Southern Arizona But Not Tucson Fer Crissakes) decided to tackle part of the problem by introducing legislation limiting the kinds of products and services people on public assistance are allowed to buy. No alcohol, no cigarettes. Not a surprise, right, since you can't buy those things with food stamps anyway? Mmm, Frank would like to push it a titch further. It's not simply a matter of what products are food-stamp (or, more accurately, Electronic Benefit Transfer card)- eligible. It's what people on assistance can purchase, period, whether it's on their EBT or with cash, and what happens to them if they break the rules.
While welfare recipients would not be able to buy alcohol and tobacco products, they could acquire other items that are not a necessity - up to a point. His proposal would allow assistance beneficiaries to buy a vehicle worth no more than $5,000 or a television, as long as it doesn't cost more than $300.

That's no alcohol or tobacco, period, no matter how you pay for it. No cell phones, either, unless you don't have a landline, and basic cable only. And--hang on, this is the best part--should the bill become law, until the legislature figures out an enforcement mechanism, it primarily hinges on the most reliable compliance system known to humanity: ratting somebody out.

But until the law gets some legal teeth, Antenori said he foresees a system in which people report those they see at the grocery store using food stamps and then pulling out cash for that bottle of wine or pack of smokes.

"People put $100 of food up on the register, run the EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer card) through, and then throw two big jugs of booze and two cartons of cigarettes (onto the conveyor belt) and pull $100 out of their pocket. If you see that, you call a 1-800 number and notify somebody," Antenori said.

Awesome. No potential for abuse there! None!

The larger problem here is that Antenori is, quite simply, attempting to legislate morality from a position of unexamined privilege, reducing a problem that comes in a dog's-eye-view rainbow of gray to overly simplified black and white, complete with draconian penalties.

That would mean a single bottle of beer could cost a family its food stamps, free health care and any other welfare benefits. Antenori said he has no problem with that.

"If you don't have enough money to buy your own food to exist for your own sustenance, and you need some other hardworking taxpayer that's out there and working and paying taxes to subsidize your food, then you shouldn't have the luxury, at the expense of some other taxpayer, to go out and enjoy the niceties in life," he said.

Frank's indignation at "two big jugs of booze" being rung up for cash mean a bottle of cheap red wine will cost you your healthcare, and that's really going to bite you in the ass when the big jugs of syrupy juice drink and cases of salt-soaked ramen he is happy to subsidize contribute to you developing diabetes and hypertension. I do understand what he's trying to accomplish; if you're on government assistance, yeah, it would be a really good idea to prioritize your cash spending and limit it to things you and your family absolutely need to survive, and cigarettes are never on that list (although processed flour and corn syrup are a-ok). If your budgeting skills suck to the extent that you're blowing your extra cash on a 50" plasma TV and Chivas by the quart, well, I don't see you moving into an actual tax bracket anytime soon, and maybe that's its own punishment. But does accepting food stamps mean you surrender your agency as an adult, so long as your craptastic decision-making stays on the legal side of the line? In Frank Antenori's world, yeah, you do. And Frank gets to decide what you need and don't need, apparently based on rather Monopoly-esque notions of luxury and Marie Antionettish notions of how people should solve any problems this law might cause them.

Antenori said he had not considered whether there should be programs to help those on public assistance quit smoking so they don't lose their benefits. But he said he's not sure they're necessary, adding that people could just quit.

And you know, if they don't want the welfare restrictions, they could just get off welfare. And if they want a beer, they're gonna to be off welfare soon enough anyway, AMIRITE? As long as the good people of Arizona do their jobs and call the 800 number, that is. Not another peep from any of the twelve co-sponsors of this bill decrying the nanny state, 'k?

Edited to add: The bill includes a provision that is sheer morality-legislating, which I did not notice before:

A person shall not receive assistance or cash assistance under this title if the person is found:

1. in possession of, consuming or purchasing alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or illegal drugs.

So merely drinking a beer bought for you by a buddy will get your kids kicked off AHCCCS. This has absolutely nothing to do with people misusing taxpayer dollars, and the argument that it simply keeps people from lying to 1-800-ANTENORI that hey man, it's not mine, it's my friend's is the equivalent of making the entire team run sprints for an hour because one guy's fucking around. Career welfare sucks for society, but this isn't the way to end it. It's not even enforceable. You either grant people some level of funding and accept that some of them are going to piss their last dime away on booze and other things you don't like, or you take complete control of their subsistence behaviors and deliver a box of approved food to the debtor's jail once a week, and the latter isn't going to wash in a free society. Educate people and make quality subsistence both affordable and accessible. But selectively applying 24-hour blue laws to them because you think they're all lazy bastards while you go home to Oro Valley smacks far less of proaction and far more of punitive legislation.

1 comment:

Homer said...

Republicans want to reduce government intrusion into people's private lives!!! Well, maybe not.