Republican legislators in red states like Kansas and Missouri are doing their damnedest to ensure that poor people never experience one moment of fun or pleasure on the public dime. The Kansas legislature recently passed a bill that would prohibit people from using their cash assistance at pools, movie theaters, cruise ships, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses. It would also restrict them from withdrawing more than $25 per day from their benefit accounts. A Missouri bill would prevent people from using food assistance to purchase seafood, chips, soda, energy drinks, and cookies.
Some restrictions on public benefits make sense, but these bills seem largely motivated by moral panic and antipathy. Republicans generally regard poverty as the direct result of moral failings. Conservative ideology demands that people with moral failings be treated with a firm hand or they will continue to make bad choices. These bills also provide a troubling insight into the conservative imagination. They perceive poverty as fun. They think that poor people spend their days going to the movies, eating lobster, and taking the occasional cruise courtesy of the taxpayer. Their deeply distorted view of poverty leads to policies that only compound the stresses that poor people experience every day. It’s cruelty thinly disguised as paternalistic compassion. And in most red states, that cruelty is only becoming more entrenched.