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Michael Hiltzik

Brownback signs spectacularly punitive Kansas welfare bill

No surprise, but Kansas Gov. Brownback signed that incredibly punitive welfare rights bill

Brownback did it.

Not satisfied with cratering his state's economy, cutting education budgets and rescinding long-established job protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday signed a punitive, intrusive and counterproductive measure placing wholly unnecessary restrictions on how Kansas relief recipients can spend their benefits.

We earlier reported on the bill, which was passed by the Legislature in early April, and on the long discreditable history of poor-bashing. The measure bars spending relief funds on movies, at swimming pools, or on "cruise ships," as well as at any "jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor ... psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade ... or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state."

It also places a $25 daily limit on ATM withdrawals using the debit cards issued to recipients under the state/federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which is what's left of America's welfare program. That renders the cards useless for major spending, such as paying the rent, but it does mean that users will pile up ATM fees at $1 per withdrawal, plus bank fees. 

In other words, the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Brownback think it's scandalous that the state's poor would use TANF funds at a swimming pool, but it's OK with them if their funds are shamelessly drained by banks. There's also no ban on the poor buying guns.

What evidence is there that mothers with children are clamoring to spend their government assistance on cruise ships and at tattoo parlors? No evidence. About 85% of adult recipients of TANF are women, the vast majority of whom are single mothers with children in the household. Two-thirds are minorities. These are the people Kansas political leaders can't resist demeaning. 

Brownback and Phyllis Gilmore, his Department for Children and Families secretary, who should be especially ashamed of herself, doubled down on the bill's hypocrisy at the signing.

"The primary focus of the bill is to get people back to work," Brownback said, according to the Kansas City Star. "Because that’s where the real benefit is getting people off public assistance and back into the marketplace with the dignity and far more income there than the pittance that government gives them."

What makes this a sick joke is that Brownback's policies have made jobs in Kansas even harder to come by, in comparison to the country as a whole. Federal figures released in January showed that Kansas job growth was 1.3% in 2014, a period encompassing draconian tax cuts that Brownback promised would turn Kansas into a turbocharged jobs machine. The national average was 2.3%. Neighboring Missouri, which didn't slash taxes, was up 1.6%. 

Throughout Brownback's first term, which started in January 2011, Kansas trailed 33 other states and the District of Columbia in private sector job growth. 

If you're wondering why Brownback and his GOP-dominated Legislature have taken to bashing the poor, those figures tell the story. 

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