The United States is one of the most effective reverse-Robin Hood economies in human history. But you may wonder: Could its redistribution of wealth from the impoverished to the rich be more efficient? Of course it can, with inspiration from that incubator of all great American innovations, Kansas.

Last month, Gawker introduced you to a new omnibus screw-the-po’ bill wending its way through the halls of power in Kansas, the state that Sam Brownback built out of rubble from the state that Sam Brownback recently leveled. The plan was to ensure that poor Kansans suckling at Auntie Topeka’s teat didn’t use their $497 monthly public dole on frivolities such as concerts, swimming pools, or nail jobs. But that bill left a little room for dignity and financial independence, so it needed amendments.

Specifically, before it became law last month, the Kansas bill was amended to limit how much cash welfare recipients could access—and how they could access it. The Washington Post explains:

The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.

Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money...

Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas...

Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month...

In addition to hefty ATM fees to banks, the state of Kansas takes a buck from a welfare recipient every time he or she makes a cash withdrawal from a pre-loaded benefits debit card. Needy families can always use the debit card directly to make purchases, of course. Then the state only takes an extra 40 cents for each transaction.

The original Kansas bill would have limited ATM transactions to $60, but Sen. Caryn Tyson—who most recently championed bills to legalize concealed carry of a gun without a license and to arrest teachers for exposing minors to “harmful” messages, like sex-ed curriculums and Toni Morrison novels—introduced the $25 limit to ensure poors didn’t have it too easy.

Tyson, whose campaign website extols her work “at the KSU Meat Lab where she was exposed to world-class agricultural research,” has said “recipients could withdraw more from a bank” if they can’t afford the ATM fees, apparently oblivious to the possibility that such welfare beneficiaries might lack outside resources. “In order to open up a bank account, you’ve got to have some money to put in it,” one Democratic opponent of the bill noted. She was voted down.

There’s still a chance the ATM limits could be repealed. That’s because they may run afoul of federal rules for distribution of welfare, which require states to guarantee recipients “adequate access” to cash benefits. If the feds determine that’s the case, they could withhold Kansas’ $102 million-a-year welfare grants. Brownback, the beleaguered governor, has insisted that he’ll do whatever’s necessary to maintain the federal funding.

In unrelated news, Kansas lawmakers tabled a bill that would double the limits on campaign contributions to “bolster the speech of candidates and parties.” Good news, Kansas welfare recipients: You’re not barred from making campaign donations with your $25. Enjoy that free speech; it’s your inalienable right.

[Photo credit: Shutterstock/Joseph Sohm]

Contact the author at
Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: FD97 D50A DE57 3943 4534 1A49 FA8B 74B4 A7A0 07BE