We must stop dehumanizing the poor through policy

Ronald Dixon

Last week, policymakers in both chambers of the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature passed a bill that would severely restrict the ways welfare recipients can use their benefits. The wording of the bill —  which Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to sign — would ban welfare checks from theme parks, swimming pools, movie theaters and other public emporia.
 
While this bill may sound sensible (Why should the poor waste taxpayer dollars on entertainment?), it is merely the latest attempt in a long line of proposals that are meant to dehumanize the poor. 
 
Simply put, politicians who claim they are helping the poor by regulating how they use welfare checks provide no evidence that these controls would improve the conditions of the socioeconomically disadvantaged.
 
They also obstruct attempts to pass laws that would actually improve the conditions of the poor, including those that would create adequately funded schools or employment opportunities for jobless families. 
 
There may also be racial implications for this conservative rhetoric. Since the 1980s, with former President Ronald Reagan’s depiction of the (black) “welfare queen,” Republicans have seemed to perpetuate the stereotype that the poor, particularly those who are nonwhite, are “lazy moochers.” 
 
Ultimately, if these politicians were really interested in helping the poor, they would do something to improve their living conditions — not restrict welfare benefits based upon flawed, classist and racist assumptions.