Editorials

Lift welfare ATM cap

The state’s new limit on welfare cash withdrawals may violate federal law – potentially endangering $102 million in federal funding.
The state’s new limit on welfare cash withdrawals may violate federal law – potentially endangering $102 million in federal funding.

Not only are many of the state’s new welfare regulations condescending, the limit on cash withdrawals may violate federal law – potentially endangering $102 million in federal funding.

That’s what can happen when lawmakers ram through legislation without proper vetting, and based on ugly stereotypes.

In addition to limiting how Kansans can spend money through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – no cruises, no lingerie, no swimming pool admission, etc. – the new state law limits cash withdrawals to $25 a day. The thinking, apparently, was that poor people are irresponsible and would better manage the money if their access to it were restricted.

Late-night comedians mocked this rule for its cluelessness: Good luck finding an ATM that gives cash in $5 increments. But it created a serious problem.

The Social Security Act requires states to ensure that TANF recipients “have adequate access to their cash assistance” and can withdraw money “with minimal fees or charges.” Violating this law could result in Kansas losing its TANF block grants.

Gov. Sam Brownback said that he is aware of the problem and his administration is working to fix it. Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, who championed the welfare reform bill but opposed the $25 cap, is also working on a bill to raise the limit to $60 a day (though that still might violate federal statute).

The $25 restriction – which was added as an amendment on the Senate floor and never went through a committee – should never have been part of the bill.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, warned lawmakers of the practical problems with the withdrawal limit. In order to get enough cash to pay rent, for example, a Kansas TANF recipient might have to make daily withdrawals for more than two weeks, incurring banking fees for each transaction.

O’Donnell also raised concerns that the $25 limit might conflict with federal regulations. But the Senate approved it anyway.

House leadership then pushed the bill through that chamber without allowing any amendments. Brownback signed it with considerable fanfare and self-congratulations.

The reform law’s new spending restrictions are patronizing: Are welfare recipients going on cruises? And its new 36-month lifetime cap on TANF benefits means that hundreds of Kansans – mostly women and children – will be denied available federal assistance.

The best course is to revoke the entire law. But at the minimum, lawmakers and Brownback must lift or raise the ATM limit so that Kansas still qualifies for federal aid.

What was a late-night punch line must not become a knockout blow for struggling families.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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