Welfare recipients in Kansas who are planning on taking that Caribbean cruise had better get it scheduled quickly, before a bill passed by the state legislature becomes law.
Under the new legislation, recently approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature and sent to the desk of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, welfare recipients will be unable to spend their benefits on a variety of things. According to the Huffington Post, Kansas residents who receive benefits through the state’s Successful Families Program, which is the Kansas version of the federal Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, or TANF program, cannot spend those benefits at certain businesses, including liquor stores, cruise ships, swimming pools and fortune tellers. The Kansas bill is similar to one in neighboring Missouri, that proposes banning welfare recipients from buying steak and seafood.
According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the bill’s main sponsor, Senator Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican, says:
We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended. This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.
It’s not clear what kind of great life O’Donnell thinks Kansas welfare recipients have, or will have, with his bill’s spending restrictions, but it’s pretty definite that Kansas welfare recipients are not booking any cruises at the current time.
The maximum monthly welfare benefit for a family of three in Kansas is $429, according to the Huffington Post. Kansas is one of a number of states that issues welfare benefits on ATM cards. Another provision in the bill limits the cash withdrawals using those cards to $25 a day. Plus, there is an 85 cent fee attached to each transaction after the first one in a month. KCUR reports that the $25 daily cash limit came as an amendment from Republican Caryn Tyson. The original proposal was to allow withdrawals of up to $60 per day. O’Donnell was soft-hearted enough to propose that the limit be set to $40 per day, since many ATMs dispense cash in $20 bills. But, Tyson held firm, and in the end, O’Donnell voted for her amendment.
The $25 daily cash limit is unique to Kansas. Liz Schott, from the Center For Budget and Policy Priorities, observes:
This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent. Moreover, it actually takes money from the pockets of poor families since they will need to pay 85 cents for each additional withdrawal after the first one in a month, and often more with ATM transaction fees.
Kansas Democrats are powerless to stop the changes.
Kansas Democrats, who have basically zero power in the state legislature, due to Republican super majorities in both houses, tried to mitigate the worst of the bill with a series of amendments. But, each amendment they offered was voted down by Republicans.
Wichita Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau says that the new regulations amount to more burden on the working poor.
We in this body think that people who are receiving welfare benefits are low-life people sitting home doing nothing. The majority of those individuals are the working poor. They go to work every day, but they still qualify for those little benefits they receive.
The number of TANF recipients in Kansas has declined by over half between 2011 and 2014, from 38,900 to 17,600. Supporters of Governor Brownback claim that Republican anti-poverty measures are the reason. But, Democrats say that the reduction in numbers is due largely to strict eligibility requirements that have merely purged people from the welfare rolls. The Kansas Health Institute says that Democrats are correct, as the state’s poverty rate has not fallen.
Kansas has become a wreck under the leadership of Brownback and his scorched earth Republican colleagues. But, instead of reversing policies that are making it tougher for Kansans to get by, Brownback and his allies seem determined to turn Kansas into something more resembling a third world country than a part of the United States.
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