Biblical Philosophy Cited In Kansas Welfare Reform Debate


By John Celock

Holy Week took center stage during final discussion on a bill to overhaul Kansas’ welfare system Thursday.

Several senators used explanations of their votes Thursday to quote the Bible and cite what they felt was God’s views on helping the poor. The bill, which passed 30-10, would put in statute several of the changes Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has placed into the welfare system, including work requirements. The Senate voted during a six hour debate Wednesday to limit welfare recipients to withdrawing $25 a day from an ATM using a benefits card, a cut from a House limit of $60 a day. The bill would also place a three year lifetime limit for benefits, with an optional fourth year for hardship circumstances. Supporters said that the bill would fulfill a biblical calling for people to help people, while opponents questioned whether Holy Week was the time to pass a bill that they say hurts people.

“Ironically the passage of this measure, designed to make it more difficult to get temporary need for needy Kansas families. It falls during what many of the Christian faith call Holy Week,” Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) said during the debate. “Many who sit in the Christian choice of their choice will think about the teachings of Christ. They talk about that we should love our neighbors as ourselves that we should do on to others what they do on to you. That we should help the less fortunate and the weak. There by for the grace of God go I. The hypocrisy this week by this chamber is galling.”

Haley had tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to amend the bill to remove a provision that would prohibit adults from receiving welfare in a household where at least one adult had been convicted of welfare fraud. The bill does allow for an adult outside the outside to appointed as a custodian in order for minors in the household to receive those funds. Haley and Democrats had argued that the bill was unfairly penalizing the adults, while Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita), who was carrying the bill, said that it was preventing adults from colluding with one another on fraud. He stressed that children would be protected.

O’Donnell, the son of a pastor, took to the floor Thursday to explain to his colleagues that the bill was in line with God’s vision and the Bible. He said that the God wants people to help people and was not expecting government to help people.

“Jesus called us to reach out to those people who need assistance. God didn’t say call the government to help them. The moral impetus is for us help each other,” O’Donnell said Thursday. “The government can’t love us like people can. The government cannot fulfill our emotional needs when we need someone to talk to. All government can do is provide temporary assistance. The Lord would want us to do that and to abdicate that responsible doesn’t do that justice.”

O’Donnell said the bill will help the emotional and spiritual needs of Kansans. He also said that he found himself “still insulted” by the comments made by Democrats during Wednesday’s debate, regarding that supporters of the bill did not want to help Kansans.

During the Wednesday debate, O’Donnell had cited his family’s work in helping the less fortunate in Wichita. He noted that his mother dedicated many hours to her work as both an educator and as a pastor’s wife, where he said she focused on helping the needy. He said his parents had help children and families in the church and community receive benefits if needed and to help get back on their feet.

Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) told the Senate that she was in agreement with O’Donnell that the Jesus waned people to help each other. She also stressed that she felt the legislation “provides a safety net.”

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) told the Senate Thursday that she found Wednesday’s debate the most “emotionally and physically draining” of her 13 years in the Senate and that she only slept three hours. She said she found the biggest issues with the $25 withdrawal limit, noting that most ATMs limit withdrawals to $20 a piece. She said she visited several ATMs Wednesday night to see if any offered a $25 choice.

“My uncle used to say that we have to help the needy not the greedy,” she said. “I agree there are bad apples who abuse the system. We should not hurt those who are not.”

Opponents had argued Wednesday that the $25 limit would make it hard for those on welfare to pay their rent, saying that they would have to make multiple ATM visits to withdraw the funds to obtain the money order to pay the average $600 monthly rent. They noted that many on benefits do not have cars and would need to use the bus to travel to an ATM. Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who sponsored the $60 daily withdrawal limit in the House, told The Celock Report last month that the benefit cards could still be used to obtain money order for rent and utility bills instead of making ATM withdrawals to obtain the funds.

O’Donnell also said that he had trouble sleeping but said he felt good because he was working to help people. He said that he called his grandfather after the debate to discuss how his grandfather dropped out of school after the eighth grade to go to work in order to make sure his mother did not go on welfare.

O’Donnell reiterated that he felt people should help people.

“It is sad for people to go home at night and expect the government to help them,” O’Donnell said. “It is up to people to do that.”