People are outraged about a Kansas law critics call a ‘tax on the poor’

By Colin Campbell 

Kansas is taking a storm of criticism over its new policy strictly limiting ATM withdrawals for welfare recipients. 

The controversial limit was signed into law in April by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) as part of a broader reform bill. However, the change was placed in stark reality by a Thursday article in The Washington Post titled, “Kansas has found the ultimate way to punish the poor.” 

The law was meant to limit extravagant or unnecessary spending of taxpayer resources, and the legislation also barred the use of welfare funds at recreational locations like movie theaters, cruise ships, and swimming pools, according to McClatchy DC News.

However, the negative consequences for the state’s welfare recipients seem quite clear.

As The Post notes, it would “force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits. Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.”

Al Jazeera interviewed Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a director at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), who said the law amounts to a “tax on the poor.”

“It’s a tax on the poor, basically, because they are charged every time they withdraw funds from the ATM. Welfare benefits are not very high in the first place, so this just takes money out of poor people’s pockets,” Lower-Basch said.

Additionally, most ATMs do not carry $5 bills. This fact effectively changes the policy to a $20 limit and would potentially result in poor Kansans paying even more withdrawal fees to get the same amount of money.

Experts have suggested the welfare policy change could result in a $100 million cut in money Kansas receives from the federal government. According to McClatchy, the Social Security Act requires requires welfare recipients to “have adequate access to their cash assistance” while facing “minimal fees or charges.” 

Though Brownback and legislative leaders are quickly backpedaling in the face of the potential loss of federal funds, various observers have widely expressed outrage about the ATM limit. People who read The Post article reacted with comments like “disturbing,” “amazing,” and various expletives.

Some of the state’s leading editorial boards have also previously blasted the ATM limit.  

“Not only are many of the state’s new welfare regulations condescending, the limit on cash withdrawals may violate federal law – potentially endangering $102 million in federal funding. That’s what can happen when lawmakers ram through legislation without proper vetting, and based on ugly stereotypes,” The Wichita Eagle opined Wednesday. “The best course is to revoke the entire law.”

The Kansas City Star further slammed the legislation on Monday as an “embarrassment” to the state.

“If nothing else, Brownback’s staff should have observed that ATMs generally don’t allow withdrawals in $5 increments. The state law effectively imposes a $20 limit,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “That rushed process, the sign of amateurs at work, has been happening a lot lately in Topeka. And — voila! — the result is bad legislation.”

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