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Kansas bill would tighten rules on how needy use government aid

None of us wants to be poor and being on welfare is certainly not fun, despite what many people may think. Now Kansas is joining the ranks of states looking to limit what recipients of state funds may spend the money on.

If TANF House bill 2258 is signed by the governor, recipients will discover that they can only withdraw $25 at a time from an ATM machine and will not be able to use their funds to pay at liquor stores, jewelry stores, tattoo parlors, spas, nail salons, movies or swimming pools, to name a few.

Kansas State Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita) has advocated for the bill, saying the legislation is designed to strengthen Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rules so that recipients “spend those funds more wisely.” But the TANF bill sets the stage for even more restrictions on families.

Kansas Successful Families Program
The Kansas Successful Families Program is designed for low-income residents who may be unemployed or between jobs, or caring for a child or relative. Under TANF regulations, Kansas allows $497 a month to a family of four living in a high-rent district.

In general, TANF Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT cards can be used at retail stores that accept debit cards or can be used to withdraw funds at an ATM. In 2012, the federal government banned the use of EBT cards for gambling, adult entertainment, and liquor. Since that time, about 23 states have passed laws extending EBT bans on guns, tobacco products and lottery tickets.

The legislation also puts into law a number of policies the Republican governor imposed, making it that much harder to change later. One of the policies that will become law is a requirement that able-bodied adults receiving temporary cash assistance be required to work, be looking for a job, or enroll in job training.

The one additional restriction that is sure to hurt many TANF recipients is the limit the legislation will place on withdrawals from ATMs. Under House bill 2285, a recipient can only withdraw $25 a day from an ATM. McDonnell says, “This is about prosperity,” adding, “This is about having a great life.”

Wichita Democrat Representative Carolyn Bridges, says the bill sends a different message to low-income families. “I just think we are simply saying to people, ‘If you are asking for assistance in this state, you’re sort of less than other people and we’re going to tell you how and where to spend your money,” she told the Associated Press.

The legislation has had broad support among the Republican-dominated state legislature. The House passed the bill on an 87-35 vote on Thursday, one day after the Senate approved it, 30-10. Governor Brownback is expected to sign the legislation, and if he does, it will become effective on July 1, 2015.

“This is serious, good policy for the state of Kansas,” said Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, a Palco Republican. “There’s nothing better to get these people back on their feet than getting them a job and getting them back to work.”

The Kansas Department for Children and Families says the figures show that the state is addressing the needs of lower income families. The number of Food Stamp recipients has dropped by 11 percent over the past two years, and the number of people requesting TANF assistance has dropped 60 percent since 2011, to just 15,500 requests a month.

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