Politicians Accuse the Poor of Dropping Welfare Dimes on Movies

Lawmakers are humiliating the poor to win political points.
(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Apr 7, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jamilah King is a TakePart staff writer covering the intersection of race/ethnicity, poverty, gender, and sexuality.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback may sign a bill this week that would block welfare recipients from using state funds to lead ordinary, entertainment-filled lives. The bill, H.R. 2258, would block recipients from using their benefits to go to the movies, visit swimming pools, go gambling, and get tattoos, despite little to no evidence that any of these are actually happening.

“We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” state Sen. Michael O’Donnell told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

As it’s written, the bill would limit the amount that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients would be able to withdraw from ATMs with their state-issued debit cards to $25 each day and would prevent recipients from spending money at any

…theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or sexually oriented business or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment, or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.

It’s not the first time that Kansas has doubled down on making life harder for welfare recipients. In 2013, the state joined Oklahoma and pushed childless adults off the welfare rolls if they failed to find a part-time job or enroll in a job training program. Now this latest effort is trying to further determine how welfare recipients get to spend their money.

Some Kansas lawmakers are opposed. “I just think we are simply saying to people, ‘If you are asking for assistance in this state, you’re sort of less than other people and we’re going to tell you how and where to spend your money,’ ” Rep. Carolyn Bridges, a Wichita Democrat, said during the House debate, according to The Associated Press.

It’s not the first time that states have aggressively tried to control the way their residents use their government assistance.

In 2013, Tennessee lawmakers considered a bill that would have penalized working families whose children didn’t perform well in school by reducing their welfare assistance. State representative Stacey Campfield withdrew the law after he couldn’t even muster the support of his own party, whose members called it “troublesome.”

More recently, Colorado Sen. Vicki Marble, a Republican, voiced concern over the idea that welfare recipients were lining up to buy marijuana, which is now legal in the state and which she worried would attract unwarranted federal intervention. She told The New York Times that the state could lose out if it failed to prevent tax dollars from going to marijuana sales. Colorado state Rep. Jared Wright, also a Republican, told Fox and Friends that allowing welfare recipients to purchase medical marijuana was flat-out bad for them: “As a lower-middle-class American myself, I think it’s unfair to be encouraging a lot of these folks who are coming off of addictions. We should be encouraging folks to come off of their addictions that brought them down to the level that they’re at in the first place. It’s just not commonsense policy.” A local Fox affiliate did an investigation this year that found that some welfare money was used to purchase marijuana in the state, much to the ire of state politicians.

Just this week, Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin introduced a bill that would restrict residents in his state from using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to buy "cookies, chips, energy drinks, seafood, or steak."

"The intention of the bill is to get the food stamp program back to its original intent, which is nutrition assistance," Brattin told The Washington Post.

Because, apparently, politicians know best.