Welfare reform was needed to fix system

By Paige Brier

After many years of abuse, the Kansas welfare system is getting a makeover in the form of the “Hope Act.”

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a law on Oct. 22 that will make it illegal for welfare recipients to spend public assistance dollars for luxury items.

Such as movie theaters, tattoo parlors, lingerie stores and other places that are selling things other than need-based items.

It will also limit cash withdrawals to $25 per day.

The new law would be considered the strictest in the country.

According to an article by the Kansas Health Institute, $537 million in Kansas tax money is spent on the welfare program each year.

This includes cash assistance, food stamps and child care benefits.

These benefits are to be used to pay for rent, utilities, food, baby formula and other necessities.

But these benefits are also being used for frivolous items.

In 2014, a federal fraud unit in Kansas investigated 2,714 cases and won 240 civil cases against beneficiaries for the return of $941,000 in wrongly obtained welfare benefits.

The goal is to bring back the true meaning of public assistance.

It was originally a temporary reprieve to help families and individuals get back on their feet.

But some people are using it as a permanent income and a reason to not work.

There are those who oppose the new law.

Critics of the policy say the legislation mischaracterizes the people receiving the help.

Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group in Kansas, said that the law would make it harder for poor families to access other support programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, or food stamps.

“By signing this bill into law, Gov. Brownback has added to the burden that the poorest Kansans already carry,” the KAC statement said.

“It’s always been hard to be poor in Kansas. Now, it’s going to be a lot harder.”

Kaaryn Gustafson, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, said Kansas “is going in the opposite direction other states are going.”

She said Ohio and California are known for their tough enforcement and have recently reduced their welfare fraud units because they weren’t cost effective.

California lawmakers came to the realization that they were spending $60 million annually to go after $20 million in fraud, Gustafson said.

Either way, changes are coming to Kansas. Brownback’s hopes for this change are understandable; due to the fact that people have been proven to abuse the welfare system that was in use.

If the money is used strictly for needs instead of wants, those who believe that it’s an easy income may try a different route.

They will find jobs and experience the satisfaction employment can bring, instead of expecting everything to be handed to them.

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