Last week, Kansas was thrust into the national spotlight with the signing of what is now known as the “ATM rule”. The legislation was created and puts into place a withdrawal limit on welfare accounts to the tune of $25 a day. This was a follow up to another piece of recent legislation that prevents purchases at liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment businesses. All this comes as a response by lawmakers to establish more stringent controls to prevent misuse of allocated welfare funds.
Currently, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the Food Stamp program, currently known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) sees about 1% fraud. While they admit that it is slightly more difficult to determine the level of fraud in the TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), there is no research that suggests that the level of fraud is high. In fact, the idea that fraud exists to a level that requires further restrictions on welfare spending is anecdotal at best.
The new legislation basically prevents welfare recipients from executing cash withdrawals in excess of $25 a day. With the current state of banking and the minimum $1 fee being charged for every single ATM transaction (in addition to whatever the bank itself charges), if a mother wanted to buy $100 dollars worth of food, she would need to make 4 ATM withdrawals at a minimum over the course of 4 days. What’s worse is that since most ATMs are only stocked with $20 bills, that number would only get higher from there.
The bill itself also includes a list of restrictions that do not seem draconian and unreasonable. The benefit money, according to the law, would not be eligible for utilization at specific locations such as massage parlors, and from purchasing forbidden items such as cigarettes. This was in the wake of another senate bill HB2258, which decreased the amount of time a family could be eligible for benefits from 48 months to 36 months. According to DCF estimates, this change would eliminate 350 parents and 700 children from the program. Thanks, Kansas.
The stupidity regarding this legislation doesn’t end there. This week, lawmakers including Governor Sam Brownback who signed the law with as much publicity he could draw, probably to toot his horn about cracking down on “all the welfare fraud” that barely exists, spoke to reporters to point out that this legislation did not “come from his office.” Okay, but you signed it into law. So what does that say?
The icing on the cake is that this legislation was spearheaded by the Department for Children and Families (DCF). On the left, is a picture of Governor Brownback congratulating DCF secretary Phyllis Gilmore after signing the bill into law. Silly side note, Phyllis doesn’t look like she’s ever skipped a meal in her life. Clearly, neither of these two know what it is like to be limited to $20 bucks a day at fees that start at 5% and shoot who knows how high based on each bank’s individual fee structure.
The backpedaling marathon was in full swing with the announcement that these new changes could cost the state $102 million in federal block grant money, which stipulates that welfare recipients must have “adequate access” to their benefits with “minimal fees and charges”. If you were paying attention up until now, you’ll know this is exactly the opposite of what Kansas has done with this new legislation. The marathoners included the bill’s sponsor state senator Michael O’Donnell of Wichita who said he didn’t “like” the $25 limit, which he was quick to point out was proposed by senator Caryn Tyson of Parker, a limit which he said he “thought would be changed later in the legislative process.” So basically, the bill’s champions on the state senate floor all didn’t like the bill in its final form, but they had no problems pushing it onto the Governor’s desk for approval who in turn, signed it into law.
Regardless of what happens in Kansas and in other states that see fit to reduce welfare benefits or make access more difficult, this is a disturbing trend we are seeing and it seems to be picking up more and more steam. While I will not sit here and say that we should not be fighting abuse of the assistance programs that have already been established, but I will not use that as justification to support legislation that targets those who don’t have the means or resources to fight back.