- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican state legislators advanced tighter rules Wednesday for social services in Kansas that include a $25-a-day limit on ATM withdrawals with cash assistance cards, changes Democrats decried as an attack on the needy.

The GOP-dominated Senate gave first-round approval to a bill that rewrites state laws to enshrine policies enacted since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in January 2011. The policies include a requirement that able-bodied adult recipients of cash assistance to work 20 hours a week or be seeking a job or job training.

The measure also includes new rules such as the limit on ATM withdrawals, which is intended to combat fraud and prevent recipients from using their benefits to buy tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs. The bill imposes a lifetime ban on benefits for anyone convicted of a second drug felony and prohibits using cash assistance to buy sexually oriented materials, entertainment tickets or luxury items, including tattoos and body piercings.

Brownback has said his goal is to help people move from social services programs into well-paying jobs. Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said such policies are important enough to be decided by elected legislators.

Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook said policies that encourage social services recipients to work promote their independence and their build self-esteem.

“It’s a bill that promotes human dignity,” said Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican.

The Department for Children and Families contends the policies already are working to move needy Kansans into jobs and self-sufficiency.

The department says that the number of people covered by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cash assistance program has dropped by 60 percent since June 2011, from a monthly average of nearly 39,000 to a monthly average of about 15,500.

The number of food stamp recipients peaked during the state fiscal year ending in June 2013 at an average of about 316,000 a month and has dropped about 11 percent since, to a monthly average of about 280,000.

But critics of the bill argued during a nearly six-hour debate that Brownback’s policies are working as intended - to keep people from receiving help. They said the limit on ATM withdrawals would hurt and humiliate poor Kansans who use cash assistance to pay rent or utility bills, particularly if they don’t have their own transportation.

“I have found this to be one of the most mean-spirited bills that I have come across,” said Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, chided Republicans for considering the measure in the days leading up to Easter.

“How can we say that we love a God whom we have not seen but disparage and belittle and implement policies that shame and demean our brother and our sister, whom we have seen?” Haley said.

But Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican and the son of a Baptist minister, called such comments “shameful.” He recalled how his grandfather dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work, so that he wouldn’t have to rely on public assistance.

“We want Kansans to have a better quality of life than they currently do,” O’Donnell said.



Bill on social services rules: https://bit.ly/1GNyUlM .


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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