Kansas Law Won't Let You Spend Welfare On Swimming, Movies

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
When finances are tight, sometimes it’s the little things — like hitting the pool on a hot summer day — that make it possible to maintain an optimistic attitude. But, a proposed law in Kansas aims to restrict families that receive government assistance from spending funds on recreation, including everything from movie tickets to swim passes.

The bill is aimed at making the poor more “self-sufficient," Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, said in a statement. Critics say it reinforces the idea of welfare recipients as lazy slackers, living large off government money. The measure "vilifies and mischaracterizes the typical [aid-receiving] family," Shannon Cotsoradis, head of Kansas Action for Children, told CNN.

Kansas' House Bill 2258 bans spending at certain types of establishments for people receiving TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), including nail salons, tattoo or piercing parlors, lingerie stores, tobacco shops, bail bond companies, movie theaters, theme parks, strip clubs, and psychics — as well as arcades, swimming pools, and movie theaters. 

The bill would also cap the lifetime limit on TANF benefits to 36 months (down from 48), and create a special photo ID card for food-stamp beneficiaries. As Cotsoradis tells CNN, the average Kansas welfare recipient is a single parent with two children who receives around $400 a month

Republican Senator Michael O’Donnell of Wichita, who wrote the bill, says there is evidence of improper usage of welfare money, but acknowledges happens in a "very, very small amount" of cases. While many might support a ban on psychics, it's not clear how the other categories will be determined. (How, for example, will the state of Kansas determine the difference between "lingerie" and "underwear"?)

"I just think we are simply saying to people, 'If you are asking for assistance in this state, you're sort of less than other people, and we're going to tell you how and where to spend your money,'" State Legislator Carolyn Bridges, a Democrat, told AP.

O’Donnell, the bill's introducer, claims that the new spending parameters — which, if passed, would go into effect July 1 — are meant to encourage welfare recipients to spend their financial assistance in a more responsible manner. “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” he told The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas is not alone in introducing such a law: A Missouri bill introduced in March would ban food-stamp recipients from spending them on energy drinks, cookies, and seafood.
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