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Divorced from reality

The latest “triumph” being trumpeted by Republican legislators in Topeka is a welfare reform law that, among other things, will prevent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance from being spent on, of all things, cruise ship vacations.

Good thing they put a stop to that — I’ve been so worried that the three-person families in Marion County who receive the maximum $386 monthly benefit have been stockpiling their cash to spend on cruises to the Bahamas by living out of their cars for three months to afford the airfare to Miami and cheap cruise tickets.

Poor kids won’t be wasting taxpayer money at the Marion Sports and Aquatics Center, the Hillsboro Family Aquatic Center, or the Peabody Municipal Swimming Pool this summer getting good exercise and having fun with their more affluent friends — cash assistance can’t be spent on swimming pools anymore.

Poor ladies can’t spend cash assistance on frilly undergarments from lingerie shops, either. They’ll have to make do with what they can find at regular department stores, though I suspect these enlightened legislators would prefer they make do with used thrift shop undies.

Kansas is now the most restrictive state in the nation for cash assistance, limiting people to three years of benefits in their entire lifetime. Yes, you read that right — lifetime. Federal law since TANF was passed in 1996 caps lifetime assistance at five years, so Kansas is now 40 percent more stingy than most of the rest of the nation. Subtract from that the fact that TANF benefits today buy a third less than they did in 1996.

And, so these irresponsible cash assistance recipients don’t blow their money all at once, Kansas will now only let them get $25 a day. No other state has a daily cash withdrawal limit.

We wouldn’t want welfare recipients to waste their allotment by making a $300 rent payment on the first of the month, would we? It’s surely better to take 12 days to withdraw that $300 and make them pay a late fee, which of course will take at least another day and another withdrawal to cover. All the while hoping there’s nothing else for which they need cash.

Kansas gets over $100 million a year from the federal government for TANF, but only $23 million goes to cash assistance. About $60 million goes to employment support and child care subsidies, money those cheating, irresponsible welfare folk can’t spend on cruises or swimming. Palm readers and movies are off limits, too.

Kansas has slashed the number of cash benefit recipients by 60 percent since 2011 through a combination of tougher program standards and people hitting the maximum years of benefits limit. There are not fewer poor people in Kansas, just a lot fewer who are getting assistance.

In the “make of it what you will” category, the bill many advocates for the poor are calling “mean-spirited” was brought to the Senate floor by a Wichita legislator who is the son of a Baptist minister.

Count me among the critical advocates. For the better part of 25 years I worked with low-income families, and rarely encountered any deadbeats. Instead, I found people doing all they could to stretch their dollars. Most were working or in school, but didn’t make enough money to escape poverty. They cared more about their kids having decent clothes, roofs over their heads, and good educations than about frivolous expenses.

To get at the relatively few instances of fraud that do exist, those of limited means have been smacked across their faces with demeaning restrictions driven by outdated stereotypes that make little sense in reality.

Divorced from reality is a recurring theme with this governor and legislature. They boast of increased spending for education, when in reality schools are getting less. They tout the “success” of tax cuts that have Kansas staring at a projected budget deficit of nearly $1 billion this year and next, while our economy lags behind that of other states.

Poor folks do better jobs of managing their money than that. Maybe the best reform for the welfare of the state would be to put them in charge for a while, and let the Topeka bureaucrats try to get by on $25 a day. I’ll bet the poor folks even would let them go swimming.

— david colburn

Last modified April 8, 2015

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