Kansas Wants To Ban Welfare Recipients From Going To The Movies, Critics Say Law Punishes The Poor

Kansas wants to ban welfare recipients from going to the movies and swimming pools or getting tattoos with their benefit money, a move critics say only serves to punish the poor.

The controversial House Bill 2258 was passed this week and sent to Gov. Sam Brownback, forbidding families receiving government assistance to use the money on things like trips to the movies or the casino.

Proponents of the new welfare law said that Kansas wants welfare recipients to spend more responsibly.

“We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” said State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Republican from Witchita. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

Those in favor of the law say that it limits spending only on things never meant to be under the scope of welfare, like body piercings, spas and nail salons, tobacco, lingerie, cruise ships and trips to psychics.

But even within Kansas, the restrictions on welfare recipients is drawing criticism. Some Democrats in the state Assembly see the measure as a way to punish the poor, a group that doesn’t have the political clout to stand up against such measures.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said the law is a way for the state’s conservatives to feel better about themselves without actually doing anything to help welfare recipients.

“We pat ourselves on the back that our TANF rolls have gone down exponentially and we say it’s because all those people are now working,” Kelly said. “We don’t know that and I’m guessing its not the truth.”

Others are speaking out against the new Kansas welfare law, saying it unfairly targets the poor when there are many other ways the state can limit spending first.

The restriction on how Kansas welfare recipients can withdraw money is drawing the most attention. The law would allow them to withdraw just $25 once each day.

“This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent,” Liz Schott of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told The Huffington Post in an email. “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.”

The left-leaning Think Progress said the law would severely limit the money available for other necessities

Bryce Covert wrote,

“While one of the backers of the bill asserted that recipients could take out more at a bank counter, the cards can’t be used at counters and many poor people lack access to bank accounts given the need to maintain balances and pay fees. Seventeen million Americans are unbanked, going without formal financial products. Meanwhile, during debate over the bill state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D) pointed out that many recipients need to withdraw hundreds of dollars some days in order to be able to pay rent.”

If Gov. Brownback signs the law, the measures restricting Kansas welfare recipients will go into effect on July 1.

[Image via ColorLines]