Just as the economic downturn of the late 1970s/ early 1980s gave rise to Ronald Reagan's campaign against welfare Cadillac, and the economic downturn of the early 1990s gave rise to Bill Clinton's promise to end welfare as we know it, the economic downturn of the late Bush/early Obama years is feeding the stirrings of new political moves to limit welfare programs. First Mayor Bloomberg's administration, backed by the New York State health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, asked Washington for the authority to bar food stamp recipients from spending their benefits on sugary drinks such as Coke and Pepsi. (See the earlier post here, "No Food Stamps for Soda.")
Now the Boston Globe reports that the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts, Charles Baker, is criticizing the state's Democratic incumbent seeking re-election, Deval Patrick, for allowing the state's welfare electronic payment cards to be used by welfare recipients to pay for liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Reports the Globe:
The campaign even printed up "Deval Patrick's Massachusetts EBT Welfare Cards," to use for "booze, cash, cigarettes, and/or lottery tickets," a striking attempt to mock a governor who himself grew up on welfare.
The Globe article more or less mocks Mr. Baker. But if the technology exists to prevent welfare recipients from using state benefits to pay for alcohol and cigarettes, why not use it? I guess one could maybe make the argument that the self-discipline needed wisely to allocate limited resources is a skill that benefits recipients will eventually need to stay off welfare, so training them in that skill while they are on welfare would be helpful, and giving them the freedom to make mistakes is a necessary part of training them. But from the perspective of a hardworking, taxpaying, non-welfare recipient, it's got to be infuriating, or at least sad, to see someone at the checkout counter using an electronic benefits card issued with your tax dollars paying for booze or cigarettes.
Not that I have anything against anyone using their own money to pay for booze or cigarettes. But if I wanted to give either to poor people who I don't know as a gift, I'd prefer to make that choice voluntarily, rather than having the money forcibly extracted from me by the government and then having the government give the money away for me. Especially since under RomneyCare the Massachusetts taxpayers are also paying for the health effects of the booze and cigarettes whose purchase they are subsidizing.