Editorial: Slow to act

Kansas has scrapped its limit on ATM withdrawals for cash assistance recipients but not before drawing embarrassing attention to the state and its policies.

It has taken too long, but it’s good to see that a controversial $25 ATM withdrawal limit on cash assistance cards issued to Kansas families is officially off the books.

The Kansas Legislature gave the state Department of Children and Families authority back in June to dump or increase the ATM cap if that action was needed to prevent a loss of federal funds for the assistance program. Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began asking questions about the policy soon after it was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback last April, DCF officials still allowed the cap to go into effect as scheduled on July 1. The cap apparently was never enforced, but DCF officials said they couldn’t change the policy until they received guidance from federal officials.

That guidance apparently was deemed sufficient this week when a regional HHS official sent an email to DCF with a list of questions about the policy and a statement that the $25 limit appeared to violate federal law that requires that people receiving assistance have adequate access to their funds. The email was sent on Monday; DCF announced on Tuesday that the cap would be eliminated.

The ATM cap was part of a broader bill supposedly aimed at trying to reduce fraud in a state assistance program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The bill also included a long list of things that state assistance money couldn’t be used for, including swimming pool admission, lottery tickets or vacation cruises. The list, which drew national attention was not only insulting but virtually unenforceable because there would be no way to trace cash expenditures on such items.

The main effect of the $25 ATM cap would have been to cause additional inconvenience and probably additional bank fees for the limited number of Kansans who still can qualify for TANF. Figures provided this week indicate about 15,000 Kansans receive TANF assistance; almost 74 percent of those are children.

Although much attention has been focused on the ATM cap, the part of the bill that probably will have a far greater impact for recipients was a reduction in the lifetime limit for TANF benefits. That limit previously had been 48 months, but was reduced to 36 months. That’s well below the federal ceiling of 60 months.

Dropping the punitive and probably illegal cap on ATM withdrawals was the right thing to do, but it’s too bad Kansas officials couldn’t reach that conclusion before being backed into a corner by federal funders.