Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation on Thursday banning welfare recipients from spending their public assistance money on cruises, tattoo parlors, lingerie stores, movie theaters and a long list of other businesses. House Bill 2258, also known as the HOPE Act, will go into effect on Jul. 1, and contains other measures designed encourage “more responsibility” by toughening regulations on how families spend government assistance dollars.
“We know that the most charitable act is not handing someone a check but helping that person get a job that sustains them and their families for generations to come,” said Gov. Brownback on Thursday. “Our focus is on helping people develop the skills to find and keep a job. Instead of focusing on a war against poverty, we will focus on fighting for the poor among us by offering them hope and opportunity.”
Currently the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides recipients with EBT cards, which they can use as debit cards to make purchases. With imminent restrictions, some more controversial than others, TANF beneficiaries will soon be unable to withdraw more than $25 per day in cash. However, they will still able to obtain money orders to pay for necessities such as rent.
The bill has come under fire from numerous organizations and people who claim that it stigmatizes low-income people and places achieving self-sufficiency even more out of reach for them.
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"By signing this bill into law, Gov. Brownback has added to the burden that the poorest Kansans already carry," said Kansas Action for Children in a statement. "It's always been hard to be poor in Kansas. Now, it's going to be a lot harder."
The bill has others simply scratching their heads.
“People on public assistance shouldn’t be spending what little money they have on things like cruises,” said Miriam Krehbiel, the chief executive of the United Way chapter, to KCUR. “But what I don’t get is how we think that someone on public assistance – as little as it is – would ever be able to save up enough money to be on a cruise ship?”
At least 23 other states have passed laws that restrict how public benefits such as TANF can be used, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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In Alabama, recipients cannot use their cards on body piercings or psychics.
Kansans will also not be able to use their EBT cards for dog and horse racing facilities, spas, and alcohol, but will still be able to spend welfare dollars in gun stores, CNN noted.
The amount of Kansans receiving TANF benefits has declined from 38,900 per month in 2011 to 15,000 in 2015 under Brownback’s governance. However, the amount of food stamp recipients in Kansas increased by about 5,000 to 300,000 during the same time, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
While the number of TANF beneficiaries have gone down, many Democrats warn that legislators should not take this as a sign that the anti-poverty measures are working, just that more families are falling through the cracks. According to Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, many former welfare recipients fill jobs that pay poverty wages and that 25 percent of working Kansans needing some sort of public assistance.
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