The Legislature, which has a lot on its plate, devoted a great deal of time to a bill that will make life harder for low-income families receiving safety-net assistance.
Some of the provisions seek to make Gov. Sam Brownback’s harsh executive policies regarding work requirements a permanent part of Kansas law. Future governors would not be able to roll back his rules.
Republican lawmakers threw in some creative touches of their own.
For instance, people who receive cash from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program could withdraw no more than $25 a day from ATM machines. This would necessitate daily trips to the ATM to accumulate enough money for things like rent. Presumably, parents with young children can fit that in while spending 20 to 30 hours a week working or hustling to job interviews.
The bill’s provisions include a long list of purchases that can’t be made with cash assistance. In case you were wondering, people in Kansas would be barred from using welfare money to get a tattoo or consult a fortune-teller.
Kansas lawmakers have not yet figured out how they are going to balance next year’s budget, which spends much more money than the state is expected to receive in revenues. Part of the answer undoubtedly involves more plundering of the highway fund and other irresponsible behavior.
But they can rest easily, knowing they’ve imposed a modicum of personal responsibility on the poor.
Over in Missouri, the General Assembly is close to passing its own version of a bill that would make it harder for people to obtain welfare benefits and food-stamp assistance.
What is prompting this activity? The poor, as Jesus noted, have always been with us. But lawmakers in these parts seem intent on doing something about them before the legislative sessions wind up.
Some of the push is from right-wing groups that influence state legislatures.
The Heartland Institute, a group known for its skepticism of climate change, recently released a well-publicized “report card” assessing “the effectiveness of (states’) efforts to help those in poverty.” Or rather, the effectiveness of states’ efforts to remove people from assistance programs.
Despite Brownback’s work rules, which have cut the number of TANF recipients in the state by 60 percent since 2011, Kansas scored a lousy D-plus.
Missouri scored an F, lowest of the 50 states. But researchers at the Heartland Institute are encouraged by the bills moving this year, and they traveled to Jefferson City to appear with Missouri legislators at a news conference.
Not all of the provisions in the Kansas and Missouri bills are awful. The Missouri proposal would free up more money to help low-income people find jobs and keep them. The Kansas bill allows some flexibility for people in especially desperate circumstances
And few would argue that helping people attain self-sufficiency is a good thing.
But the time the legislatures are devoting to reducing welfare rolls is way out of proportion to the actual problems confronting the states.
Missouri lawmakers are incapable of addressing the many tax credits that annually suck millions of dollars from the state’s treasury.
Kansas legislators are much more eager to take benefits from the poor than to roll back their disastrous tax cuts.
Personal responsibility is a good thing. Now, how about some responsible governing?
Barbara Shelly is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.