Bill tightening rules for Kansans on welfare sent to Gov. Brownback

A bill that cuts a second year off Kansans’ welfare eligibility and puts new limits on how residents can access and spend public aid passed the Kansas House and was sent to the governor on Thursday.

The House debate was much shorter than the Senate’s all-day marathon on the bill Wednesday. The procedure didn’t allow House members to offer and debate amendments, which was what took up most of the Senate’s time.

The bill, which passed 87-35, reduces the length of time that Kansans can draw welfare in a lifetime from four years to three years.

The federal lifetime limit is five years.

Recipients can get an extra year if the secretary of the Department for Children and Families certifies they have an extreme hardship.

One of the controversial parts of the bill would make it more difficult for recipients to access funds, allowing them to draw a maximum of $25 a day from ATMs.

To get more than that, welfare recipients would have to either buy a money order or take cash back on a grocery purchase.

The bill specifies that funds from welfare, also known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, could not be spent on a long list of products and services, including alcohol and tobacco, strippers, concerts and theme park tickets and swimming pool admission.

At present, recipients are barred from using their welfare debit cards at sexually oriented businesses and establishments where minors under 18 aren’t allowed.

The new bill also prohibits the state from advertising about benefits and eligibility for the program.

Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, said the bill codifies many practices that are already required by administrative policies.

“The sky has not been falling because of these policies that have been in place,” he said.

Rep. Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park, linked the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback’s election promise to reduce childhood poverty.

She said restrictions on TANF have actually reduced the number of children getting benefits by 28 percent, while child poverty has risen 22 percent.

She also noted that funding for the program is provided by the federal government and can’t be swept into the general fund to close the state’s budget gap.

But, she said, “This is money we can use to reduce poverty in our state.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, attempted to delay the bill and send it back to a conference committee for more work, saying the House needed to have more input and a chance to offer amendments.

He said the way it’s written now, the bill would especially hurt workers displaced from the aviation industry in Wichita.

His motion to send the bill for more study died 81-38.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle