Republican candidate for Congress Steve Ferrara compared welfare recipients to pets that would starve without assistance in a meeting last month, according to audio obtained by Phoenix New Times.
During a discussion with the Arizona State University College Republicans on September 4, Ferrara said that people receiving government benefits are no longer self-reliant. An individual on welfare becomes an "economic captive," Ferrara says in the recording.
Welfare programs are pernicious, he says, and conservatives who talk about government "paternalism" minimize the scope of the problem. Unlike the bond between parent and child, Ferrara says the relationship between government and a welfare recipient is more like that of an animal and its owner.
"It's worse than a child, you've relegated them to the status of a pet. Right? I mean, honestly," Ferrara says. "Because if you can't feed yourself, like – we all love our pets. But if you don't put the food down for them, you don't put the roof over their head, they would starve, right? And that's essentially what you've done to poor people with these programs."
Government assistance programs trap recipients in "an economic shack where they don't have the ability to reach their fullest potential," Ferrara added.
In an emailed statement to New Times, Ferrara said that he was confident his comments would be taken out of context for this article. So, a full transcript of the discussion would be available on his campaign website for "the critical thinker," Ferrara said.
"In brief, I was quoting long-cherished social contract and Enlightenment principles which celebrate uplifting the human spirit and warn against regressive government policies that stifle the ability for people to achieve their full, true, and uniquely human potential," Ferrara said in the statement.
The ASU College Republicans chapter declined to comment when asked about Ferrara's remarks captured in the audio recording.
Ferrara, a doctor and Navy veteran, is running against former Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton for the open seat in Congressional District 9, a metro Phoenix district which encompasses much of Tempe and parts of Mesa and Chandler.
The district is currently represented by Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, who opted to run for Senate. The political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight show the CD9 race leaning heavily in Stanton's favor.
The "pets" comment came about in a somewhat roundabout way during the hour-long College Republicans conversation.
Ferrara went on a tangent as he discussed income and housing inequality in California. After referencing the work of William Graham Sumner – a 19th-century academic who supported laissez-faire economic policies and opposed welfare – Ferrara segued to comparing poor people to animals.
In the recording, at least one student can be heard politely pushing back on Ferrara's logic.
If they don't want to turn people into the equivalent of pets, the student asks, wouldn't it be better to give welfare recipients money, as opposed to enrolling them in government assistance programs?
Thank you @ASUCollegeGOP for inviting Team Ferrara to your meeting this week. It's inspiring to see the level of engagement these college students have. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share my vision for #AZ09 with so many. #FerraraforCongress #Arizona pic.twitter.com/7aKllJDLTh— Steve Ferrara (@steveferraramd) September 6, 2018
"How are they gonna use the money?" Ferrara responds. By giving them cash to be used on food or health care, they will no longer be able to take advantage of subsidies that come with government assistance programs, Ferrara says.
He goes on to criticize the U.S. health-care system, arguing that releasing people from Medicaid by giving them money to cover their own health insurance wouldn't work because private health insurance is much more expensive.
Relying on his experience as a doctor, Ferrara says that exclusively treating patients who rely on government health insurance programs is economically impossible.
"Medicaid pays rock bottom – like, I'm a doctor," Ferrara says. "Every Medicaid patient you take care of, you lose money ... So if you only took care of Medicaid patients, you'd go out of business in a day."
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Despite this kind of cold analysis, Ferrara was careful to emphasize in his remarks to the College Republicans that the GOP cares about the poor.
Republicans favor low taxes, Ferrara explains, because they want people to have the freedom to spend their money how they want.
"As Republicans, we care deeply about the poor," Ferrara says in the recording. "And we understand that the people that are the most vulnerable in our community lack disposable income."
Steven Hsieh contributed reporting.