Letter: Shaming our way to prosperity

Dear Editor:

At a time when more Kansas families are finding it difficult to make ends meet and provide for their children, the State remains determined to unravel the few remaining threads of our social safety net. Fresh on the heels of its refusal to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured Kansans, the ideologically driven Kansas Legislature decided this past week that it was time to double down on its war on the poor. Although in the minority, it is important to note that there were a few principled representatives and senators that did not vote for this legislation. By taking the unprecedented action of codifying controversial welfare reforms implemented by officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration over the past four years into law, the Legislature hopes to ensure that Gov. Brownback’s harrowing legacy endures well beyond the end of his term.

The intent of codifying the reforms into law was taken not to advance the interests of needy Kansans but, rather, to advance a radical ideology that seeks to portray the poor and the have-nots as inherently lazy and irresponsible. New reforms written into the bill such as limiting ATM transfers to $25 per day, an amendment authored by Senator Tyson, were conceived not as means to aid struggling Kansas families, but borne out of an attitude of distrust and disdain for the poor. Likewise, restrictions on using one’s benefits on cruises, nail salons and sporting events were conjured up in an effort to paint the poor as naturally decadent and greedy, not as a means to prevent fraud.

This way of thinking and, in this case, legislating, is not new. Throughout the years we’ve heard politicians tell imaginative tales of “Welfare Queens” living large, and of “Strapping Young Bucks” able to buy steak dinners while living off the government dole. This type of rhetoric is, by design, hurtful and does absolutely nothing to help families living in poverty. All that it accomplishes in the end is to further distort our conversations about poverty and to delay solutions being brought to the table.

Everyone seems to be looking for the magic pill; the single answer to eliminating poverty. The causes and conditions of poverty are anything but simple. The Kansas Legislature, however, has now made the argument that the solution to poverty is to cut programs and to make what’s left more difficult to access. The result, they assert, is that the poor will somehow just disappear; that the programs themselves are the cause of the poor’s plight, and that it is possible to shame the poor into prosperity. Of course, there is no such thing as a magic pill. The only way to make a difference with regard to poverty is for us to all work together towards the goal of eradicating it. Cutting vital programs and shaming struggling Kansas families without first addressing the root causes of poverty will only make matters worse. It is time for us to have a conversation about poverty in Kansas and to find practical solutions to the problems that many of our neighbors are struggling with.

Richard Jackson, CCAP
CEO, East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation

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