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Op-Ed: Kansas limits ATM withdrawals to $25 for welfare recipients

Earlier this year legislation was passed to raise the limit, or do away with it entirely. Then came a revised version of the Kansas welfare plan that doesn’t allow withdrawals that are larger than $25 per transaction per day. Purchases made out of state also won’t be permitted, The Wichita Eagle reports.

A $1 fee will also be collected for each transaction. This doesn’t include additional bank ATM fees.

There is a loophole in Kansas’ plan that was publicly released earlier this week. There are no limits on cash-back money received when a purchase is made at a store. People on welfare are allowed two free cash-back transactions per month, but they will be charged a 40-cent fee for each additional transaction.

In order to receive welfare block grants from the federal government, states must make certain that recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), will receive “adequate access to cash assistance” with “minimal fees or charges” as required by the Social Security Act.

Currently, the state receives $102 million in annual grant funds from the federal government, however, if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines that the state’s $25 ATM limit is in violation of the Social Security Act, those funds could be in trouble.

When McClatchy reported on the possible conflict, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, signed a “fix-it” bill in June that allows the secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families to raise or eliminate the $25 limit in order to be compliant with federal law.

However, state department spokeswoman Theresa Freed said on Friday that $25 cash limit reflects what was passed and signed into law.

“The legislative fix does not give the secretary unilateral authority to change the limit,” she said.

The language in the fix-it bill only allows for the limit to be changed with “guidance” from the federal government, Freed said.

“There have been conversations,” she said, “but we’ve received no guidance.”

A copy of the new plan is currently being reviewed by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, and was received from Kansas on July 30, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a spokesman for the agency, The Wichita Eagle reports.

Now it’s up to HHS to determine if the plan meets the requirements of federal law, he said.

“We will work with the state to resolve any issues that require clarification.”

For the time being, Kansas welfare recipients won’t be subject to the $25 withdrawal limit. The changes are expected to take at least six to 12 months before they are implemented, Freed said. The public will be informed when the limit goes into effect.

In April, Al Jazeera reported that the limits on ATM use were to keep the poor from spending tax dollars on luxuries, according to state officials.

Called the HOPE Act by supporters, the measure “provides an opportunity for success,” Brownback said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “It’s about the dignity of work and helping families move from reliance on a government pittance to becoming self-sufficient by developing the skills to find a well-paying job and build a career.”

Excuse me, but how is tying an indigent person to that $25 a day limit helping them develop the skills to find a decent job, especially when applying for said jobs usually entails spending money? If you’re heading for a job interview, you’ve got to be all tricked-out in the proper clothes, and if you’re poor, chances are the clothes you already own aren’t going to cut it. It’s pretty difficult to “build a career” when you don’t have the building supplies. To travel to that job, you need money for the bus, at least, but I’m betting that poor people with children will barely be able to manage that and feed their kids three meals a day. The few quarters it takes for the bus doesn’t sound like much, but when you are already barely surviving, it is.

Senator Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican who’s advocated for the bill said the legislation is an attempt to pressure those receiving TANF to spend “more responsibly.”

“We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” said O’Donnell, vice chair of the state senate’s standing committee on public health and welfare. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

Which is really little more than Republican malarkey. It’s really just saying “we don’t care about the poor.” Believe me, poor people are not “having a great life” and would rather be anything other than poor. Many are trying to climb their way out of the lower class, and yes, while some are goof-offs, a great majority don’t know how, or lack the tools to do so.

Poor people won’t be able to spend money on body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, etc., and that’s no biggie, but then the bill says they won’t be able to spend their money on cruise ships. What?

Are Republicans insane? When has a poor person ever been able to afford being on a cruise ship?

And this new limit will be significantly harmful to welfare recipients’ spending patterns, said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), an organization that advocates for low-income people.

“It’s really disconnected from the reality of people’s lives,” she said. “The single biggest expense that people have is rent.” A $25 limit will likely mean multiple trips to the ATM until the total amount of rent money is withdrawn, she added.

“They’re just going to have to go every day to get their rent money.”

Not only that:

“No ATM gives you a $25 bill, so the real limit is $20,” she said. “It’s a mess.”

The $25 withdrawal limit is part of a strict welfare overhaul bill that also prevents welfare recipients from having a slight break from their toughened lives, like say, going to movie theaters and swimming pools for instance, and it has also shortened the amount of time that Kansas recipients can receive assistance, The Wichita Eagle reports.

Because we can’t have poor people feeling a little comfortable.

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