RH REALITY CHECK: Kansas Governor Takes ‘Punitive’ Action Against State Welfare Recipients

By Teddy Wilson
April 17, 2015

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill into law Thursday that will severely limit how low-income people can spend state welfare benefits.

HB 2258, sponsored by Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker), codifies restrictions that had been imposed by the Brownback administration during the past four years.

The new law prohibits recipients from spending government benefits outside the state and on an assortment of activities such as visits to swimming pools, movie theaters, casinos, and liquor stores.

The law limits welfare recipients to just $25 per day from an ATM. Kansas is the first state in the nation to implement a cash cap of $25 per day. The national average for ATM fees is $4.35, reports Al Jazeera. The new law includes no language exempting these fees from the $25-per-day cap.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), told Al Jazeera that the law is “disconnected” from the reality of low-income people’s lives. “The single biggest expense that people have is rent,” said Lower-Basch. “They’re just going to have to go every day to get their rent money.”

The new welfare law also bans using any federal or state funds for television, radio, or billboard advertisements that are designed to promote food assistance benefits and enrollment.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that this will prevent low-income people from learning that they may be eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamp) benefits and other types of assistance.

“This harmful legislation does much more than just restrict how TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] recipients can spend their cash—it also means families may never know they’re eligible for SNAP to help feed their children,” Cotsoradis said.

Brownback said during the signing ceremony that the legislation is meant to reform state welfare programs that he says too often lead to low-income people depending on government assistance.

“Too often, while well-intentioned, our poverty programs fail the poor,” said Brownback, reports the Topeka Capital-Journal. “They fail them by keeping them in cycles of dependency. This legislation helps break that destructive cycle.”

The new law reduces the lifetime limit someone can of receive TANF benefits from 48 months to 36 months. The federal lifetime limit is 60 months.

The $25-per-day cap is a measure Republicans claim is intended to prevent fraud. “Every dollar that is used fraudulently is a dollar that is not going to an American who is struggling,” state Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita) told the Associated Press.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families recovered $199,000 in cash assistance from 81 fraud cases from July through February, reports the AP. The state provided $14 million in cash assistance to low-income residents during that same period.

Critics of the law say that it punishes low-income families who rely on the TANF program. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said the welfare crackdown is punishing low-income Kansans who have already been adversely affected by Brownback’s economic policies.

“Gov. Brownback’s reckless economic experiment has significantly increased taxes on low-income Kansans,” Hensley told the Topeka Capital Journal. “And, now, the governor has signed a punitive and highly judgmental piece of legislation that imposes illogical reforms that make it harder for Kansans in need to break the cycle and climb out of poverty.”

Brownback, since taking office in 2011, has pushed an assortment of right-wing economic policies. In 2012 the governor signed into law one of the largest tax cuts in state history, which critics said would cost the state more than $2 billion over five years.

Brownback’s tax cuts have resulted in an 8 percent revenue loss that has had a devastating effect on the state’s ability to meet basic funding levels for public education and has busted the state’s economy, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

The analysis concluded that the tax cuts disproportionately benefited wealthy households.

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