Kansas Wants the Very Poor to Crawl, Often, For the Means of Survival

Former WaMo Weekend Blogger Max Ehrenfreund has an important if maddening piece up at WaPo’s Wonkblog today about the latest indignity towards the poor inflicted by those good Christian GOP lawmakers in Kansas.

A dollar bill is a special kind of thing. You can keep it as long as you like. You can pay for things with it. No one will ever charge you a fee. No one will ask any questions about your credit history. And other people won’t try to tell you that they know how to spend that dollar better than you do.

For these reasons, cash is one of the most valuable resources a poor person in the United States can possess. Yet legislators in Kansas, not trusting the poor to use their money wisely, have voted to limit how much cash that welfare beneficiaries can receive, effectively reducing their overall benefits, as well.

The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.

Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.

Why is this happening? Apparently because Republican legislators heard anecdotes about “the welfare” accessing ATMs at baseball games, liquor stores, casinos, etc. It’s just like the stuff Ronald Reagan once said about food stamp beneficiaries using their change to buy vodka. So for their own good, the solons decided to force them to make more and much smaller withdrawals, even if their cash benefits are used, as they typically are, for relatively large payments like rent.

While some politicians and news organizations have found occasional examples of the poor misusing their public assistance, there’s no clear evidence that it’s a systemic problem or that limiting the recipients’ access to cash would force them to use their money differently.

In other words, the legislators were just being punitive for the hell of it. After all, it’s mostly those people we’re talking about. Why shouldn’t they have to crawl?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.