Last week, the Kansas legislature passed a welfare reform bill to limit access to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), a program that helps clothe and shelter children living in poverty. For one thing, the legislature put a lifetime limit of 36 months on TANF, when the federal limit is 60 months. What was really remarkable, though, was the fantastical list of items that TANF recipients—the majority of whom are children or single parents—are not allowed to buy with their aid money. Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports:
No TANF cash aid could be spent out-of-state or anywhere for expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility or sexually oriented retail business.
It’s unclear why TANF recipients aren’t also barred from buying magical swords or vacations to the moon, since they’re about as likely to buy those with their big TANF bucks as they are to buy a cruise or a theme-park package. And if you’re the sort of person who loses sleep at night thinking of an impoverished child spending a couple of fun hours at a movie theater, don’t worry: The average TANF benefit for a single mother with two children in Kansas is $430 a month, which is down a whopping 33 percent in real dollars from the 1996 average. Not much money left over for the movies once you’re done covering basic bills.
The punitive, controlling, and condescending aspects of this bill aren’t limited to a ridiculously specific list of forbidden pleasures. An amendment to the bill limits the amount of money a TANF recipient may withdraw from an ATM to $25 a day. “Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, argued against that amendment, noting that some people used TANF aid to pay rent and utility bills,” Carpenter writes. It’s a pointless and humiliating tacked-on hassle, seemingly devised to punish people for being poor.
Most TANF beneficiaries are adult women who are the heads of their households, or children whose money is obviously controlled by their parents or guardians—most of whom are women. Since this is the same legislature that has spent the past few years passing laws limiting women’s reproductive health care access, I’m wondering if it might be simpler and more affordable to pass a law mandating a state-appointed guardian for every woman in Kansas.