Kansas Bill to Limit Welfare Recipients’ Leisure Spending Criticised

If governor Sam Brownback signs a new social services bill this week, Kansas will have some of the US’s most severe measures to block welfare recipients from spending the state funds at swimming pools, nail salons and movie theaters.

The core of the bill turns already existing administration policies into law, but lawmakers have tacked on prohibitions for Kansas residents receiving cash assistance that will limit where they can spend money and how much they can withdraw each day.

“Broadly, this is about taking pot shots against the poor,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director of income and work supports at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

She called the most extreme part of the bill a restriction that limits ATM withdrawals with assistance cards to $25 per day. This is uniquely restrictive for several reasons, Lower-Basch said, because most ATMs don’t dispense $5 bills, meaning people are limited to taking out $20 a day, and that recipients will be charged fees, except for the first withdrawal of each month.

“We have not seen another state do this,” Lower-Basch said. “I think that’s really impractical; I don’t know how people are going to pay their rent.”

The bill easily passed in the Republican-controlled house and senate and is now waiting for Brownback’s signature to become law. It would take effect on 1 July.

If it does, people using government assistance would not be allowed to spend the money on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sexually oriented materials, movie theaters, swimming pools, nail salons or spas, cruise ships, tattoo or body-piercing parlors, psychics or fortune tellers.

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

Last month, two bills passed in the Missouri house that would similarly limit how people can spend food stamps. The legislation seeks to prevent people from using food stamps to buy soda, cookies, chips, seafood, steak and porn.

In 2012, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick cut down the state legislature’s proposed list of what welfare recipients would be prohibited from spending their funds on. The shortened list included blocking spending at liquor stores, cruise ships and adult entertainment venues, but not for individual items. This led Fox News to run the headline: “Massachusetts governor’s welfare card restrictions would still allow purchases at nail salons and jewelry stores”.

Jeanine Grant Lister, a writer who receives government assistance, said in the Washington Post that this type of legislation shows an anger towards people living below the poverty line.

“It’s as if middle-class and wealthy Americans think poor people live under the poverty line by choice, as if a sensible person would choose to subsist on so little.” Lister wrote. “We’re barely getting by. Don’t tell us what to buy at the grocery store.”

Source URL: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/07/kansas-welfare-spending-law-criticised