The GOP is cultivating a staggeringly disdainful view of Americans who are struggling to get by in the wake of the Great Recession. Seeking to gut the social safety net programs on which an increasing number of Americans rely, Republicans have demonized the poor as dependent, lazy drug-users who pilfer Uncle Sam for trips to Hawaii. In that vein, House Republicans are bringing a bill to the floor today to ensure that low-income Americans don’t use federal benefits to pay for “lap dances.”
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) says he’s trying to close a “strip-club loophole” which allows beneficiaries of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program use state-issued debit cards at strip clubs, casinos, and liquor stores. “It’s pretty rampant around the country,” he insists.
Naturally, no one thinks adult entertainment is an appropriate use for TANF funds. But as Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Melissa Boteach notes, the use of funds at strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos is hardly a “pressing national crisis,” but rather a politically valuable message for the GOP, regardless of its veracity, because it’s useful to the GOP to paint vulnerable Americans as “delinquent and criminally inclined“:
But putting politics above policy in this crass way is unfortunate and cynical. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program has experienced benefit cuts of more than 20 percent, after adjusting for inflation, even as the Great Recession and the slow economic recovery have caused elevated levels of unemployment and poverty. Many low-income workers on TANF are unable to access the child care they need to make work possible and ultimately end up paying nearly half their income towards care for their children. And low-wage workers are constantly facing the threat of a layoff because more than 80 percent lack access to a single paid sick day to take care of themselves, a sick kid, or an elderly relative.
And the big vote on TANF is about strip clubs?
This vote represents yet another instance in the creeping trend of conservatives to demonize the poor — and then threaten anyone who votes against the legislation with supporting “welfare spending” for strip club admissions. The tactic enables conservatives to imply that tough economic circumstances somehow make poor people delinquent and criminally inclined.
Boustany pushes the common refrain that such bills are an “obligation to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately.” But as Boteach points out, TANF and other social safety net programs are already subject to federal and state audits. And for measures like drug-testing welfare recipients, such proposals can cost thousands to catch one drug user because the positive test rate is so low.
At a time when nearly half of the U.S population is just one financial shock away from poverty, Republicans should focus on bolstering the very programs that ensure the economic security of families. Instead, Republicans seem committed to push a strip club stereotype for a political win while stripping vulnerable Americans of a safety net.