A state lawmaker in Arizona wants to ban the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer cards for fast food purchases within the state. In the process, she's making a spirited bid for worst lawmaking human in the American Southwest, and holy shit that's a field with heavy competition.
EBT cards are essentially a more efficient extension of the food stamps programs Republicans across the country have been desperately trying (and in some cases, succeeding) to destroy for the past several years. Now, Arizona state representative Kelly Townsend is seeking to limit EBT usage by making it impossible to use the cards to purchase fast food. Sounds good in theory, right? Yeah, not so much in practice.
Let's clarify the most important aspect of this, which is that EBT cards already cannot be used to purchase fast food except for those belonging to three groups: the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless. Townsend might actually have the glimmer of a point if we were talking about cards being used to purchase food for kids or even just non-disabled adults; instead, by her own admission (though not in these words), she is deliberately targeting the most vulnerable members of society, the ones least likely to be able to attain the nutritional standards she's setting. She might likewise have a point if more nutritional options were readily available at cheaper prices, as she claims. This notion, however, is absurd on its face: healthier food is significantly more expensive than junk food, as well as being harder to come by. The people Townsend is targeting could theoretically save money by buying (negligibly) more healthy ingredients and preparing them from scratch, but not everyone is in a situation that would allow them to do so (such as the homeless, since they're homeless, ffs). In the most charitable reading possible, Townsend is proposing setting up unnecessary roadblocks for people already drastically disadvantaged by American society. We'll get to the least charitable version in a minute.
The most unbelievable part of this is that in an attempt to explain herself, Townsend actually gave us the following quote:
"It's just a luxury that we can't afford right now," Townsend said.
A luxury. A LUXURY. This lady is talking about McDonald's as a "luxury" too rich for the state to possibly afford to subsidize. Why, when she was but a wee tyke, the poor subsisted off grubs and sticks, and had the common decency to starve to death in private, not in the street where decent, regular Americans might have their day ruined by having to watch! The horror!
Take a minute and read that quote over again. Let it simmer. Don't just let the rage spill over — let it slow-cook.
Simply put, the ultimate goal here is to make life difficult for the most disadvantaged of American's poor. It's hard enough to be poor when you're an able-bodied young person; imagine how much worse it is to be elderly, disabled, or homeless at the same time. Hell, imagine the situation if someone is all three. Since fast food can't currently be bought with EBT cards by anyone in Arizona who isn't elderly, disabled, or homeless, those groups were obviously originally excluded from the law for a reason. Lawmakers with actual hearts rather than a chunk of ice where their feels should come from recognized that the situation for these groups isn't the same as that of able-bodied younger people with a reliable place to rest their heads at night. Due to the nature of their situation, some of these people will never be able to pull themselves out of the mire in which they find themselves, and Kelly Townsend's solution is to make their lives more difficult and miserable.
This is where we come to the least possible charitable reading of Townsend's intent. Townsend talks a lot about the cost not just of the food stamps program itself, but of the ensuing medical bills (that the state will have to foot) if people are allowed to eat less healthy foods. Meanwhile, the nature of this proposed law means that more of the people who can least afford to do so will go hungry. In that sense, Townsend's proposal accomplishes what she's after when it comes to reducing the state's medical costs: the state doesn't have to pay anything when the people affected by this change die. Whether that's her intent or not is ultimately irrelevant.
Image via Kelly Townsend for Arizona State Representative/Facebook.