Republicans in Kansas want their citizens who rely on government assistance to know just how much they hate them with a new law designed to make their lives even more difficult than they already are. Before the Kansas Senate went on Easter break they approved a draconian welfare bill, HB 2258, and sent it to Governor Sam Brownback (R) to be signed into law.
The bill limits the amount of money a person on government assistance can withdraw from an ATM to $25. The limit applies to people who receive cash assistance and withdraw the money with a debit card, called the Vision card, to pay their bills. When the bill was originally introduced it set the daily limit to $60, but Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson thought that didn’t hurt the poor enough and introduced an amendment to limit it to $25.
Democrats have objected to the bill, saying it creates unnecessary hardships on people who use their benefits to pay their bills. Limiting the amount of money a person can withdraw means that every single day they would be charged an ATM fee. In Kansas the maximum amount of money a family of three can receive is $429 a month in cash assistance. If this bill is signed into law, it would take a recipient 18 ATM transactions to get all of their money. An ATM fee is typically $3, that means they will lose $54 a month to ATM fees; that’s $54 that could go towards rent or utilities.
Let’s do some math: there are roughly 17,600 people on cash assistance in Kansas. Let’s say half of those people (8,800) receive the maximum amount of $429 a month. They will each be paying $54 in ATM fees a month; that’s $475,200 a month or $24,710,400 a year in fees to banks. What a great deal for the banks collecting the fees! Unfortunately, it cripples the working poor who need every dollar to pay their rent.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bill also bans recipients from spending their money on things like swimming pools, movies and other forms of entertainment. You know, because being on welfare isn’t miserable enough, Republicans have to kick the working poor while they are down. Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau is disgusted with her Republican colleagues and said they are displaying their ignorance with the bill:
We in this body think that people who are receiving welfare benefits are low-life people sitting home doing nothing. The majority of those individuals are the working poor. They go to work every day, but they still qualify for those little benefits they receive.
The Kansas GOP says this isn’t about being malicious and punishing the poor; they just want people to have a good life:
We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” Senator Michael O’Donnell said. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”
Prosperity? A great life? Really?
This is the same party that refuses to touch HB 2012, a bill introduced in Kansas that is languishing in committee, that would raise the minimum wage in the state and help alleviate the 14% poverty rate. Republicans haven’t touched it. Gov. Brownback idly dismissed Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage and said it was a “big government idea.” Telling people how to spend their money is apparently the Republican idea of “small government.”
Make no mistake, this welfare bill is intended to punish the poor for being poor. Republicans do not care about the working poor; the only thing the GOP does is kick these people while they are down. They only care about putting more money into the pockets of the corporations and CEOs who put them into office. Everyone else if of no concern to them because if you can’t make them richer, they do not care about you. The irony is painful: Kansas Republicans stigmatize the poor for receiving help from the government while ignoring the fact that their farms enjoy millions in subsidies from Washington. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.
Attacking people who are stuck in poverty is the Republican party’s favorite sport. It is one of the many reasons we need to vote these people out of office at every level of government. Until they are gone we will continue to see these bills introduced and the people who really need help, will not receive it.
Colin Taylor is the managing editor of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.