Politics & Government

Kansas legislators working to change limit on ATM withdrawals by welfare recipients

The Kansas Statehouse (Jan. 22, 2014)
The Kansas Statehouse (Jan. 22, 2014) File photo

Gov. Sam Brownback met with lawmakers Tuesday to work on legislation that will prevent the state from possibly losing millions of dollars in federal aid due to its recent changes to welfare.

The Eagle and McClatchy’s Washington Bureau reported earlier this month that a daily $25 ATM withdrawal limit for welfare recipients, which the Legislature passed in March, could prevent the state from receiving federal dollars for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly referred to as welfare.

“The last thing we want is the feds to take away the $100 million … it’s too much money to play games with,” said Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita.

The federal Social Securities Act requires TANF beneficiaries “have adequate access to their cash assistance” and can withdraw money “with minimal fees or charges.”

The $25 withdrawal limit means that welfare beneficiaries would have to pay ATM fees four times to withdraw a total of $80 as opposed to withdrawing it all at once and only paying the fees once.

O’Donnell said the state hasn’t “heard definitively that the $25 will not work” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, but that policymakers “have an inclination that it won’t work based on the requirements that it must be accessible and not a high burden.”

That’s why policymakers are looking for a fix before the session ends.

O’Donnell said he and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the Public Health chair, met Tuesday with the governor on the issue.

O’Donnell said that the Senate would likely vote on a bill this week that would give the secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families the power to unilaterally raise or lower the limit if informed that it doesn’t meet federal requirements.

“The governor’s frustrated that we’re losing the message on the bulk of the reforms because of the $25 (limit), because that’s the criticism that he’s receiving and the Legislature’s receiving,” O’Donnell said. “The rest of the reforms are being overshadowed by that and those were the important things.”

The legislation was originally developed by DCF as a way to continue work-for-welfare requirements that the agency ushered in under Brownback to future administrations.

The $25 limit was attached to the bill on the Senate floor after being offered by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker. It won broad support among Republicans who argued that limiting the amount of cash welfare recipients could withdraw at one time would help ensure the money isn’t abused.

Democrats called the measure mean-spirited and raised practical concerns about beneficiaries who need to withdraw money to pay rent and other expenses.

“The basis for suggesting that people can’t manage their own money is insulting,” said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City. He called the limit “beyond mean-spirited and short-sighted.”

O’Donnell said that lawmakers could raise the limit to a higher number that falls somewhere between $25 and $160, which he said was the average withdrawal for TANF recipients. He said the language is ready, but lawmakers are still working to decide an amount.

O’Donnell said one issue facing lawmakers trying to fix the issue quickly was a dearth of “shell bills” – bills that have already passed the House that could be emptied to include new legislation.

There’s also opposition on the House side to introducing a new bill this week, O’Donnell said, because the legislation could be amended to include Medicaid expansion.

“There are members of influence in the House that don’t want a clean bill that could be amendable and germane for an issue like Medicaid expansion, for example, because it would just be a free-for-all,” O’Donnell said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.