By John Celock
The Kansas Senate voted Wednesday to place further limits on how much a welfare recipient can withdraw from an ATM.
The Senate voted 23-14 to pass an amendment from Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) to a welfare reform bill that would limit welfare recipients to a $25 daily withdrawal from an ATM of their benefits. The state House had placed a daily withdrawal limit of $60 in the bill last month. Supporters say this would limit liquidation of funds for other purposes while opponents say it will hinder those on welfare. The amendment is part of a larger welfare bill that passed the Senate following lengthy debate Wednesday.
“The $25 would be for cash advance from the ATM,” Tyson told the Senate.
Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita) said on the floor that it would be likely the state would need to seek permission from the federal government on the limit. He also said that with ATM machines providing funds in $20 increments the limit would likely need to be raised to $40 a day. Tyson agreed but said it would be likely that the limit could be raised to $40 in a conference committee.
The amendment came at the beginning of a lengthy debate on the welfare reform bill, which would place in statute several of the welfare changes already put in place by Gov. Sam Brownback (R). The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee put the $60 limit in place following an amendment from Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina).
Claeys told The Celock Report at the time that he wanted to prevent recipients from using the money for luxury items. The full bill includes a ban on using a benefit card for such items as tattoos, body piercings, lingerie stores, tobacco, horse racing, cruises and movies.
Claeys stressed at the time though that recipients would still be able to use a benefit card to obtain money orders to pay rent or bills.
Senate Democrats disagreed with the rent and utility bill payment plan, which was also stressed in the debate by Tyson and O’Donnell. Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) told the Senate that the limits would require a recipient to obtain cash from an ATM to pay for the money orders. She said that with a $25 limit they would have to go an ATM 24 times to pay for the average $600 monthly rent.
“With all due respect her amendment would have them going to the ATM 24 times to pay their $600 rent,” Faust-Goudeau said. “It is ludicrous, outrageous to have them going that many times to pay their rent.”
Faust-Goudeau’s comments were echoed by other Senate Democrats who also expressed concern about the time needed to travel to an ATM. They said that many welfare recipients do not have cars and need to travel by bus to get to an ATM and then to pay their rent.
“Everyone has agreed this is a benefit they should have. The money exists not in a way they can easily transfer it,” Sen. Marci Francisco (D-Lawrence) said in the debate. “Not everyone has a bank close to them. If you have to take a bus to get there it will add time.”
Democrats noted in addition that a $30 bus pass would also eat up part of the costs. Faust-Goudeau said that most of those who are withdrawing money are not carrying the money around would not be victims of theft or would not spend it in other areas. She said the withdrawn cash is used quickly to pay the bills.
Francisco said that with welfare recipients in the state being required to work or look for work, the travel time to an ATM would eat into these activities as well, along with paying for the bus passes required for the travel.
During the debate, Foust-Goudeau told the Senate that those on welfare are not “low life people doing nothing” but rather are job seekers or the working poor who are employed in low wage positions.
Foust-Goudeau said that senators should think of their constituents.
“I really think it is a sad day. I think each of the senators in this chamber I know we all have constituents who receive these benefits,” she said. “I suggest that we ask them how they pay their bills and how they make these transactions. I rode along one day to see how this happens. Some of these individuals they take a taxi or take a bus to get to the location to withdraw the money to get the money order and then mail the bill. It is a two-hour trip and it’s not Gilligan’s Island just to get there. It’s 2 hours home so it’s 4 hours home. The bus ticket is $30 and they won’t be able to buy their bus ticket with this amendment. Therefore it would be a fee to make this $25 withdrawal. It is sad. The majority of these people are going to work everyday.”