Just when it seemed the state of Arizona couldn’t sink any lower, it became the only state in the union to stop welfare checks due to the federal shutdown. The decision came in the face of assurances that the money would be reimbursed once the shutdown is over.
As if to add insult to injury, the state couldn’t wait to reopen the Grand Canyon National Park on Saturday, using $651,000 in state funds. This sum will keep it running only for a week. There is NO guarantee that Arizona will be reimbursed for those funds.
Arizona can fund the poor for less than it can fund the Grand Canyon
The welfare decision was supposed to affect 5200 families. They receive an average of $207 a week from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. In other words, for $517,500, the most vulnerable residents of Arizona get a week of support for their iffy existence. That’s less money, over the same amount of time, than Governor Jan Brewer is using to open the Grand Canyon.
After days of protests by Democrats and advocacy groups, Brewer finally reversed her order to halt the welfare checks. The Arizona governor said that ‘just’ 3200 families failed to receive their checks for October because of her action.
The quick decision to reopen the Grand Canyon is understandable. Yes, businesses were suffering under the closure of the park. And, yes, it’s worthwhile to bring in income and tax dollars by reopening it. However, the state is hoarding a rainy-day fund of $450,000,000. In view of that, why wasn’t the welfare of Arizona’s poorest also a priority? As state senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, put it:
The rainy-day fund is for emergencies, and this is an emergency. This is beyond hurting the families. … Families are relying upon this.
There was no word from the governor’s office about where the money would come from to restore the missing checks. But there’s obviously no shortage of money available to take care of the problem. How could a decision get any more immoral than choosing to feed Arizona’s businesses and tourists while trying to starve the poor?
Native American Tribes are among those who would be hit by the cut
According to the Department of Economic Security, the programs that would have been affected included cash assistance, refugee assistance, and welfare funds for four Native American tribes: the Hopi, Pascua Yaqui, Salt River Pima-Maricopa, and San Carlos Apache tribes. What a Columbus Day message that kick-in-the-teeth would have been!
Of course, the disparity doesn’t end there. If the shutdown isn’t over by next Saturday, Arizona will pay $93,000 a day to continue keeping the Grand Canyon open, but continuing welfare payments is still a question mark, as Brewer was eager to make clear. She said:
If the federal government remains at a stalemate come November, Arizona may be faced with catastrophic budgetary challenges and choices as we figure out how to salvage TANF and other critical programs.
The idea of denying essential benefits to the poor, and only the poor, is beyond immoral; it verges on the criminal.
The whole nation should shudder not only at the brutality of the choice Arizona tried to make, but also at what additional harm Brewer and the Tea Party ‘patriots’ might unleash as a Thanksgiving Day surprise.