BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Making ends meet on the low benefits that states provide to families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is hard enough. Kansas policymakers just made it even harder.
The state’s legislature last week passed a bill, which Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to sign, that imposes some of the country’s most severe — and short-sighted — limits on TANF benefit use. Among its new rules, TANF recipients will be limited to withdrawing only $25 a day from an ATM. Like most states, Kansas provides TANF cash assistance through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that families use to access benefits at an ATM machine or use for a store purchase.
Limiting withdrawals to $25 a day will make it harder for many recipients to make their rent and utility payments, as they often use cash to pay their bills and now could have to visit an ATM multiple times just to pull the funds together. Worse still, it will actually take money out of their pockets, because each transaction costs money — $1 per transaction plus any additional fees that the ATM may charge (which averaged almost $3.00 last year). That amounts to almost a 20 percent tax on every transaction. Kansas is the first state to impose this type of restriction.
The bill also prohibits out-of-state Electronic Benefit Transactions of TANF benefits, even though the nearest or cheapest places to shop may be across the state line, such as in Kansas City, Missouri. Only one other state — Minnesota — limits the use of TANF benefits out of state, and that law explicitly allows use in neighboring states.
The bill also codifies a number of harmful TANF changes that the Brownback Administration made over the last few years that have cut the state’s TANF caseload in half. And it makes new changes that will likely reduce the number of participants in Kansas even further without necessarily connecting them to work; for example, it shortens time limits to 36 months, with limited extensions, and no extensions for any reason beyond 48 months.
The Kansas bill is yet another example of the risk that comes with further expanding states’ already considerable responsibility for assisting the poor, such as by block-granting programs like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) as the budget plan that the House recently approved would do. For TANF recipients in Kansas, this risk comes with no reward.