Kansas Legislature planning to ease controversial welfare restriction

? Kansas lawmakers are expected to vote soon on a bill that would ease one of the restrictions they enacted last month on how welfare recipients can spend their benefits.

A conference committee bill coming before both chambers would raise the limit on how much cash people on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families could get each day from an ATM machine. The current limit of $25 would be increased to $60.

Some critics of the law pointed out that most ATM’s don’t dispense money in $5 increments, and therefore the current law effectively limited welfare recipients to only $20 a day. Others are concerned the restriction may violate federal law, which says TANF recipients must have reasonable access to their benefits.

TANF is a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which distributes money to states in the form of block grants. States have some discretion in establishing eligibility guidelines for the program. Kansas receives about $100 million a year through its block grant, state officials said.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who serves on the conference committee, said if the state doesn’t raise the cash withdrawal limit, it risks losing that $100 million annual block grant, which would effectively end the TANF program in Kansas.

Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Children and Families, said the agency has not been told specifically that the $25 limit would put the state out of compliance with federal law. But she said the agency has been in conversations with HHS about it.

Kansas drew national attention when lawmakers passed the bill because it also restricts how TANF recipients can spend their money. It bars them from using the cards for dozens of purposes such as buying concert tickets, paying for entrance into a swimming pool, seeing a psychic or buying lingerie.