A welfare lottery ban proposed in North Carolina has become a viral internet debate (with most coming down in favor of the strangely invasive and paternalistic measure) and remains a sad example of how Americans have taken to blaming and demonizing the poor for enduring economic frailty.
The welfare lottery ban seems to be one of a continual stream of GOP proposals to stigmatize, humiliate or otherwise micromanage the lives of those who rely on public assistance to get by. (It should be noted for the record that when it’s counter-proposed that lawmakers who also rely on public money for salary be similarly sanctioned, they balk.)
An earlier post on The Inquisitr about the welfare lottery ban has attracted a decent amount of attention — with nearly all comments in favor of such a measure, despite the relative small amount we spend on public assistance as a country. Similar posts about food stamps and other forms of poverty help draw the same reaction, with a strongly voiced desire to see suffering and restriction heaped upon the impoverished, many of whom are the working poor.
Here’s how the inevitable support goes — if you have the money for lottery tickets, you shouldn’t be on welfare, right? Well, wrong. Lottery tickets are a fairly cheap thrill for the impoverished, and even the very, very financially strapped usually set a few dollars aside each week for entertainment. Moreover, the level of intrusiveness required — the lawmaker who proposed the initiative has stated “poor people” may not understand the unlikely chance of a lottery win — is both foolhardy and stereotypical in its assumption.
Rep. Paul Stam, the Republican congressman responsible, has introduced a proposal that sounds entirely ideological in both theory and execution. Of the welfare lottery ban, it would involve a clerk intuiting at the point of purchase whether an individual is likely on welfare — we’re sure that won’t be applied in any racist ways — and humiliatingly asking whether or not they receive public assistance before selling a lotto ticket to them.
As far as we can tell, no sanction will be applied should a clerk sell a lottery ticket to a welfare recipient — it’s merely a proposed bit of legislation to remind poor people that they are far less entitled to privacy than their fellows, one more unnecessary humiliation heaped upon a population consisting of many (children of suspected food stamp recipients, the disabled, the elderly) with no domain over whether or not they remain poor.
The Guardian Express expresses similar reservations, noting that the completely toothless and spiteful welfare lottery ban proposal will yield no difference save for stigma, writing:
“When Stam himself states the law would only be enforced when it is obvious that a person is on welfare, it seems the point would be moot, as people would become crafty and make their purchases at a separate store or a different day. Moreover, what of the individual in bankruptcy? How would a clerk know about their status? Perhaps, they would have a henna tattoo on their forehead that would wear out as soon as their bankruptcy was final and they were once again allowed to purchase the forbidden tickets.”
Notably absent, of course, are recipients of corporate welfare — but we suppose they’ve become so rich off the public teat, it’s like a lottery of its own. Who needs Powerball when you’ve got oil and agriculture subsidies, right?
The problem with the support for likely unconstitutional and certainly unkind stigmatizing legislation like the welfare lottery ban is not so much it’s a poor way to treat your fellow humans committing no crime other than poor arithmetic skills, it’s that when you point fingers, as movie Mike Brady says, four fingers are pointing back at you.
Few intend to rely on public assistance, and many of you reading this post will undoubtedly find yourself unexpectedly requiring this sort of help — or watching a friend or child who encounter rough times.
When we suggest things like a welfare lottery ban, it not only erodes search and seizure protections for our poorer fellow citizens, but for us. It doesn’t just stigmatize poverty for others, it similarly sanctions us should we ever be in for unforeseen income drops.
A welfare lottery ban is not just a bad and unnecessary law, it’s a poor showing of American decency, and those who would advocate it should remember many of us live a paycheck away from financial ruin ourselves. Better we spend our time and resources on making a welfare lottery ban less necessary by making more jobs for welfare recipients, right?