Kansas Wants To Stigmatize Welfare Recipients

A controversial piece of legislation in Kansas has arrived at the desk of Gov. Sam Brownback that would essentially ban those on Kansas state welfare from recreational activities. If signed into law by Brownback, who is expected to do so this week, House Bill 2258 will place restrictions on how the poor spend the money they get from governmental assistance programs.

The bill was passed last week with support from the Republican-controlled House and Senate, CNN reported. Among the activities that those receiving welfare are restricted from are swimming, watching movies, visiting spas or psychics, buying lingerie or tobacco, acquiring body piercings or tattoos, and going on cruise vacations. Wichita Republican Sen. Michael O’Donnell, who led the charge pushing for the bill, said it was designed to encourage responsible spending of public assistance and to mold the state's social support system into one that pushed individuals into employment.

We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended. This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.

But the bill is cruel in many ways. Democrat Rep. Carolyn Bridges opposed the bill, and said during the House debate that it sent a disheartening message to Kansas' poor that their personal choices were subject to state restrictions simply because they needed the government's help:

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."
Chris Graythen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Being on welfare is no walk in the park, and the restrictions will surely make life even tougher for those already struggling to get by. House Bill 2258 also perpetuates the erroneous belief that poor people are spending their money on luxury goods instead of looking for jobs, further tainting an already stigmatized group. Liz Schott, of the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities, told The Daily Beast:

This is not about a real problem, this is not a public policy decision. This is all about politics and creating a wrong impression that public welfare recipients can’t spend their money wisely.
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The legislation also limits Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients from withdrawing more than $25 a day from ATMs. According to The Daily Beast, many, if not most TANF recipients do not have a bank account, and the $25 limit — $20, actually, if one takes into consideration that most ATMs don't give out $5 bills, not to mention the 85 cents service fee TANF attaches — renders it pretty much impossible for them to pay rent or bills. Schott told the media website:

This is not based on any understanding of the daily reality of making ends meet on these inadequate benefits.

If signed by Brownback, the law will go into effect on July 1.

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