New Orleans Governor Brownback of Kansas signed into law the most oppressive and restrictive legislation dealing with welfare families in the United States. Really? Is that something to be proud of in Kansas now?
The headlines have focused on the stigmatization of these families with children on TANF – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Nail parlors, liquor stores, casinos, baseball parks, and swimming pools are now off limit and won’t be able to process the TANF debit card. Welfare moms can also forget about using their welfare dollars on cruise ships and in tattoo parlors as well, much less a trip to the spa or buying themselves a nice new bauble at the jewelry store. Furthermore they are limited to a cap of $25 per day in using their welfare card at ATMs, so how far could they get. And, before this good life corrupts a welfare recipient’s character, for good measure the lawmakers reduced lifetime benefits to 3 years from the 4 years they enjoyed before the new law.
Were the legislators outraged that welfare families were living high on the hog? If you look at the actual benefits, you would have to say no. Maximum benefits for a family of two in Kansas are $352 per month, family of three $429, and family of four $497 per month and so on, and that’s in the high cost high population counties. In a rural county, a family can get by according to Kansas on $40 per month less. I can only guess because they have access to eating more dirt. On $500 or so per month with a family of four after paying rent, taking the bus to mandatory job searches, paying for school supplies, trying to keep the utilities and phone working, I would have loved to meet the master home economist who could have afforded a sea cruise.
Was this step necessary because the ranks of welfare recipients has been exploding at some obscene, crazy, out-of-control level? Nope. Not that either. Even throughout the recession when nationally the ranks of TANF recipients rose by more than one-third, the numbers have gone down in Kansas by almost 50%. Last year, in fact, Kansas just about led the nation in losing welfare recipients.
Must have been money then, right? We’ve all read about the ill-fated Brownback tax cuts that almost bankrupted Kansas for lack of revenue, the lawsuits and court orders to fund schools, and the general horror of state funding. Well, no, it’s not that either. The federal government pays about $110 million for TANF in Kansas and the state pitches in about $60 million. And, in what may be the height of absurdity, as they squeeze every penny from a welfare mother’s clinched fist, Brownback has set aside $40 million in a special TANF reserve according to reports. TANF may be a money loser for the recipients, but Brownback is making it into a cash-cow for the state.
Oh, and a couple of drug convictions and a little prison time and you are barred from life, so forget about rehabilitation. And, probably forget about a lot more as well, since the good politicians of Kansas think you can make your future some other way without any welfare. I guess through crime, but I’m not sure any of them have thought that part of their new policies out any better than any other piece of it.
We’ve run out of rational explanations, I’m afraid. It just seems to come down to pure and simple meanness. The inability to openhandedly provide even the bare minimum of income support for low income families without adding hate and stigma to their lives seems past the elected leaders in Kansas now. There’s no yellow brick road there anymore. And, it turns out it was not the Tin Man who lacked a heart but Brownback and his buddies in the legislature.
“Welfare Music” – The Bottle Rockets