Politics & Government

Kansas lawmakers pass bill allowing ATM limit to be changed for welfare recipients

The Senate voted 28-11 Saturday for a bill that would allow the secretary of the Department for Children and Families to raise the limit – or eliminate it if necessary – to comply with conditions of the federal grants that fund the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The Senate voted 28-11 Saturday for a bill that would allow the secretary of the Department for Children and Families to raise the limit – or eliminate it if necessary – to comply with conditions of the federal grants that fund the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. File photo

TOPEKA – A $25 limit on welfare recipients’ ATM withdrawals that drew national attention to Kansas may be on its way out.

Lawmakers passed a bill Saturday that would allow the secretary of the Department for Children and Families to raise the limit – or eliminate it if necessary – to comply with conditions of the federal grants that fund the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have told McClatchy Newspapers that the ATM limit was under review to see whether it complied with federal regulations requiring that welfare recipients have adequate access to their benefits without having to pay excessive fees.

The benefits are issued on an ATM debit card. Each transaction costs the recipient $1 plus potentially larger private ATM fees.

The state receives about $102 million a year for the program.

Benefits for a family of four top out at about $500 a month.

The $25 withdrawal limit became national news in conjunction with other limits the Legislature put on welfare recipients.

The bill also banned recipients from spending TANF money on a long list of goods and services deemed by lawmakers as too luxurious or frivolous.

The banned activities ranged from strip clubs and cruise ships to swimming pools, sports events, movies and theme parks.

Democratic senators argued against the bill, saying they wanted a full repeal of the ATM restriction and cuts in the list of banned activities.

Rep. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said having to be on welfare is already embarrassing and the restrictions in the bill “further belittle those who find themselves in situations where they need assistance.”

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said the welfare restriction “gives a black eye to Kansans” and makes the state look mean and petty.

Haley, who is black, told his predominantly white colleagues that the face of poverty in the state “looks more like you than me.”

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, who carried the original bill on the floor, said he found Haley’s rhetoric “a little bombastic.”

“If that was political or racial, I’m not sure,” he said.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the restrictions are designed to get welfare recipients working and improve their self-esteem.

“This was not done to save money, quite the contrary,” she said. “Everyone here in this body wants to do the right thing. … To insinuate otherwise is degrading.”

The money for welfare is “taken” from other Kansans, and the Legislature has a duty to see it spent responsibly, said Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth.

He called opposition to the restrictions “political theater masquerading as concern.”

The Senate passed the bill 28-11 Saturday. The House later approved it 63-41 after putting the vote on hold to round up some of its 25 missing members when the count fell just short of the number needed.

Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group for poor families, said the fix-it bill stops short of helping children or families.

“The unnecessary ATM withdrawal limit – whether it’s $25 or $60 – was never about promoting self-reliance,” the group’s president, Shannon Cotsoradis, said in a statement. “It has always been a misguided measure to penalize Kansas families for being poor.”

In addition to the ATM language, the bill also includes an increase in “privilege fees,” a tax on managed-care organizations, also known as health maintenance organizations.

The bill would raise the privilege fee from 1 percent of total premiums to 3.31 percent. The fee would generate an estimated $48 million toward closing the $400 million budget gap.

Much of the extra income would be federal funding, since the biggest managed-care organizations in the state are the three that manage the state’s KanCare Medicaid program.

The managed-care organization tax was not thought to be controversial.

It was the result of lengthy negotiations with the companies. “We have agreements with all the HMOs affected,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, who carried the bill on the floor.

The managed-care organization fee increase has been automatically included in every proposal to balance the budget.

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

Spending no-nos

“No TANF cash assistance would be available to be used to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco products, lottery tickets, concert tickets, professional or collegiate sporting event tickets, tickets for other entertainment events intended for the general public, or sexually oriented adult materials. No TANF cash assistance would be allowed for use in a liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or an adult sexually oriented retail business or entertainment establishment.”

Source: Kansas Department of Legislative Research

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