6 Cruel Moves Made by Local Governments Against the Poor

Republicans in the federal government aren't the only ones who punish people for being poor.

Photo Credit: Annette Shaff/Shutterstock

Often these days, Republicans in the federal government are credited with doing the most harm to America’s poor. Pushing for deep cuts to Medicaid exemplifies their disregard for those who are old, sick and have limited resources. But we should not forget to look closer to home to see the often shocking moves made by city and state governments that exacerbate problems in poor communities.

Here are six examples of these injustices that are still in practice today.

1. Punishing loiterers with fines.

Honolulu and many other American cities have made it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk in recent years. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reports that local laws criminalizing homelessness have risen since 2011 by 43%. These laws aren’t focused on any one location; other cities that issue tickets to homeless people simply for sitting on the sidewalk include Orlando, FL; Santa Cruz, CA; and Manchester, NH. 

2. Depriving homeless people of basic hygiene.

Last week, the Guardian reported on a recent decision by Anaheim’s city government to confiscate portable toilets located in a homeless encampment, seemingly for no reason. Activists have warned Anaheim officials that beyond their lack of regard for human dignity, failure to provide basic amenities to the homeless could lead to a public health crisis, like the recent outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego, which caused 15 deaths.

3. Running manipulative state lotteries.

The poor buy lotto tickets more often than anyone else: half of all tickets are purchased by the poorest third of Americans. Lotteries are advertised more in poor communities, further perpetuating what is sometimes a habit fueled by gambling addiction. For all the shaming we hear of those who pay the "stupidity tax,” state governments are still making millions off the desperate and destitute—often instead of directly funding the services needed to pull them out of poverty.

4. Requiring the poor to pay exorbitant bail.

Much has been written about the exploitative bail industry, which local governments prop up in order to further bleed the poor, often after they are arrested for nonviolent crimes. The courts demanded one California woman pay $100,000 in bail for shoplifting $38 worth of items.

5. Enforcing prison time for people unable to pay traffic tickets.

And you thought debtor’s prisons were confined to Dickens novels. Texas only recently reversed its practice of imprisoning poor people unable to afford tickets that sometimes add up to just a few hundred dollars. Now the conservative state will ask people whether they can afford to pay or need an alternative punishment to jail time.

6. Closing Planned Parenthood clinics and endangering pregnant women.

The defunding of Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas coincides with a doubled rate of poor pregnant women dying from lack of maternal health care. Poor women of color suffer the most from the wave of politically fueled campaigns against reproductive health clinics across the South.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.