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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Public assistance and optics

At notalwaysright.com or one of its related sites, I read a story that's familiar. The submitter, a woman buying foods using food stamps or another public assistance program, recounted how she was challenged by the person behind her in line because she bought an Oprah magazine at the same time. She recounted how she responded, one of those "Who are you to judge?" responses.

First of all, I think we can all agree that buying an Oprah magazine is a serious lapse of judgment.

I'm not the kind of person to debate a random person in line, but if I were, the story wouldn't end there.

Her: "Is it your job to tell me how to live my life?"
Me: "Let me ask this, are you a registered voter?"
Her: "Yes."
Me: "Do you follow the issues and vote regularly?"
Her: "Yes."
Me: "I'm glad to hear that. Now, you are absolutely correct that it isn't my job to control what you buy when you're on public assistance. However, it is the job of our elected officials to set the terms for public assistance programs, including what one can and can't buy. And it is the job of registered voters like us to elect these officials.

"Now, what you need to consider is the optics of your purchase here. Were your benefits to be cut by $20 a year, you no doubt would protest, saying that you can't afford it, that people like you are least able to afford it. But this purchase here indicates you could afford it; you'd save enough by cutting one luxury purchase like this each month. A magazine isn't a luxury, normally, but by being on a public assistance program where you state that you can't afford necessities, that makes everything else a luxury.

"And given there's a public library in this town with a reading room with dozens of magazines, with rather generous hours of operation, buying a magazine indicates you either place a high value on convenience, or are subject to impulse purchases. Neither option reflects well on you.

"For voters who not only have to pay for their own necessities, but also the necessities of others, they are understandably upset by behavior like this. Upset voters vote for candidates that will be less generous with public assistance.

"Now, is your sense of self-righteousness worth that?"

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