KSN: Legislators vote to make changes to Kansas’ welfare system

By Chris Arnold and Gordon Bassham
June 7, 2015

TOPEKA, Kansas – Sunday was day 108 of the Kansas legislature’s special 2015 session, and lawmakers still cannot agree on a bill to balance the state’s budget. But, they did accomplish something: They voted to make sweeping changes to Kansas’ welfare system.

One of the changes approved by legislators Saturday changes the cap on ATM withdrawals for people getting government assistance.

Republican Wichita Senator Les Donovan said the legislature spent time working Sunday to raise the $25 limit on how much cash those on state assistance can withdraw from an ATM.

“I understand the fix that was put in allows the Director of Children and Family Services to make such provisions to keep that from happening,” Donovan said.

Phyllis Gilmore, the Secretary of DCF would be in charge of deciding whether to raise or waive the restriction, on a case by case basis.

This change would keep the state from losing out on the $102 million it received a year in federal money to fund government assistance.

Organizations providing the funding to those needy families say the fix stops short of addressing the bigger issues behind the Hope Act.

President and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, Shannon Cotsoradis released this statement on the organizations website.

“It’s a relief to see lawmakers exercise some common sense and take steps necessary to prevent Kansas from losing millions in federal funding. Unfortunately, this legislation stops far short of helping children and families. The unnecessary ATM withdrawal limit, whether it’s $25 or $60, was never about promoting self-reliance. It has always been a misguided measure to penalize Kansas families for being poor,” said Cotsoradis.

Lawmakers on the other side of the isle agree.

Democratic Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita says with a couple hundred thousand people getting these benefits, it would be nearly impossible for the head of DCF to look at each case.

“I don’t see it humanly possible she could address each one and I actually called her myself and see, okay can you get through to her and it was difficult for me to get through to her,” said Faust-Goudeau.

Kansas lawmakers also spent time during the special session on Sunday to work on a bill that also puts restrictions on where the state money can be spent. For instance, it prohibits welfare recipients from spending cash on lottery tickets, alcohol and cigarettes among other things. It also bans spending at video arcades and movie theaters.

Sunday marked the 108th day of the legislative session. And, while it’s a record number of days, they say it will still be several days at best, before they get a deal done.

The state is still in debt by roughly $400 million dollars, and the tax committee today is looking at filling that massive hole with new taxes. Under one plan, the state’s sales tax would go up, and there are some other taxes on the way.

But, many in the House of Representatives say they want some of the tax breaks from 2012 removed to help bring in more revenue for the state.

However, there is not enough agreement on the tax breaks in the Senate, so the two sides remain far from a deal.

Some say, it’s time to get it done and go home.

One of them is Senator Les Donovan of Wichita who said, “there comes a time when enough is enough. We need to go. The public wants us out of here. We want out of here and we need to get this fixed.”

The House of Representatives took the day off without pay Sunday to re-group.

The House and Senate both meet Monday to try to find a budget proposal they can both agree on.

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