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Background image: Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge.

What's a poor guy to do?

It’s amazing how our society criticizes needy people for having needs and yet works so hard to block their every avenue of escape from poverty.

I remember the mid-1960s when Congressional debate over Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights bills was the big news. Opponents complained that black people were leeches lazily soaking up welfare. So let’s keep discriminatory employment practices to keep them out of jobs.

Even at 13, I knew contempt when I heard it.

There’s been progress in the four decades since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are now a colorblind nation – nobody sees white, black or even brown people any more – but the poor, as the Bible predicted, are doggedly determined to remain with us (Deuteronomy, Matthew, Mark and John) because being poor is such a good deal.

Recently the Missouri legislature began work on a law to prohibit people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) from buying steak and fish. Lawmakers in Kansas passed a bill to stop Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients from spending their money on, among other things, tickets to the swimming pool, movies, theme parks and cruise ships (just keeping up with Massachusetts).

Rick Brattin, who runs his own drywall business outside Kansas City when not serving in the Missouri legislature, said he introduced the SNAP bill because current benefits are too generous and recipients are spending their extra money frivolously. He said if his family of seven qualified for SNAP, they’d get $1,000 a month in food stamps.

“I couldn’t dream of spending that much money per month,” he said. “I would have to just go through and just start throwing stuff in the cart.”

At that rate, each of the seven Brattins could pig out on $4.76 worth of surf and turf a day.

And the lowest income Americans – even though they earn too little to pay federal income taxes – still pay more than 17 cents of every dollar they make back to government in other taxes.

What’s a poor guy to do?

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