WashPost Reporter Criticizes ‘Mean Spirited’ Kansas Welfare Law

On Saturday, MSNBC’s Alex Witt hosted Washington Post reporter Elahe Izadi to blast a new Kansas law that would limit what items welfare recipients could purchase using their taxpayer benefits.  

Speaking to Witt, the Washington Post reporter asserted many call the law “mean spirited” and then touted how “some advocates feel like lawmakers are basically saying the poor can't be trusted to manage their own money." Unfortunately for Izadi, she failed to mention that “their own money” is in fact taxpayer money that the government has every right to ensure it is being spent appropriately and is not an indictment on anyone's ability to "manage their own money." 

The Washington Post reporter continued to play up the law's opponents and noted how even "Jon Stewart lampooned” the law before she said argued that it was essentially unenforceable:

But one thing to note in Kansas people can use their benefits in gun stores unlike many other states. But the other thing is its kind of unclear how this will even be enforced. Even state officials are saying that's -- it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to keep people from using their money at these places because they pull the money out of the ATM and they can just use it just like regular money.

As the segment wrapped up, Alex Witt ridiculously claimed that welfare recipients should spend taxpayer dollars on things like the movies even though her guest had just said that many think the poor cannot manage their financial resources efficiently:

Things like not being able to go to the movies, I mean movies are a -- by comparison relatively inexpensive way to, you know, get out from the burdens of perhaps living on welfare if you're having challenges and take your kids out for something that can be deemed pretty special?

See relevant transcript below.

MSNBC’s Weekends with Alex Witt

April 18, 2015

ALEX WITT: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a welfare bill that critics are calling the most restrictive in the country. The wide ranging law limits ATM withdraws to $25 a day and goes so far as banning recipients from using their welfare cards at places like the movies, swimming pools, concerts and even to buy lingerie. Governor Brownback is defending the law against those who are calling it mean spirited.

SAM BROWNBACK: The primary focus of the bill is to get people back to work because that's where the real benefit is. It's getting people off of public assistance and back into the marketplace and gaining the dignity and far more income there than the pittance that the government gives them.

WITT: Joining me now is Elahe Izadi a reporter for the Washington Post. She’s been following this story. Elahe with a welcome to you, Kansas is now number one of at least 23 states that restrict the welfare cards and their use and it's not just Republican-led states we should note. Why do you think there was so much outrage over Kansas' bill when the house and senate passed it earlier this month?

ELAHE IZADI: Well, as you mentioned, there's a whole laundry list of items that benefit recipients are barred from using their TANF dollars on and they get very, very specific, nail salons, cruise ships, that sort of thing, and a lot of people feel like this law is mean spirited. Additionally, as you mentioned, the $25 ATM limit a day, makes some advocates feel like lawmakers are basically saying the poor can't be trusted to manage their own money.

WITT: How much of a problem is this? Recipients using government money on concerts and cruises.

IZADI: Well, it's unclear. Kansas says that between July and February they recovered about $200,000 in benefits fraud but a lot of that had to do with ineligibility claims. There was a report last year, a federal report, looking at eight states, and found about 1% of all of the benefits were used on casinos and strip clubs and that sort of thing. The short answer is its kind of unclear but other states that shows that they're not -- people aren't using their benefits all that often on these sorts of things.

WITT: So Elahe, you're talking 1% of people going to casinos and the like. Is there a sense that this law, it's just too much? They've gone too far?

IZADI: I mean, that's definitely what critics are saying and it's gained national attention. Jon Stewart lampooned it. But one thing to note in Kansas people can use their benefits in gun stores unlike many other states. But the other thing is its kind of unclear how this will even be enforced. Even state officials are saying that's -- it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to keep people from using their money at these places because they pull the money out of the ATM and they can just use it just like regular money.

WITT: Yeah. I mean, things like not being able to go to the movies, I mean movies are a -- by comparison relatively inexpensive way to, you know, get out from the burdens of perhaps living on welfare if you're having challenges and take your kids out for something that can be deemed pretty special?

IZADI: Well, yeah and I guess there are people who are really pushing for this law and had a lot of Republican support in Kansas feel like taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for things like that and TANF dollars are really intended to help kind of get people through paying their bills, child care, that sort of thing. And, you know, even if people end up spending their money on these items it won't constitute benefit fraud, it will be a policy violation, and it's not clear what the penalty for that would be.

WITT: You know, we saw how the anti-poverty measures, income inequality become political issues. Do you think new laws like this could become the focus again for 2016?

IZADI:  Perhaps. You have other states who have laws like this, Kansas, and Kansas has garnered a lot of attention but Kansas is a deeply red state. Democrats were kind of backing an independent candidate there and hope excited that perhaps even a Democrat could beat the Republican governor and this last election cycle but it wasn't the case. I mean both candidates, the Republican senator incumbent and governor, won resoundingly. So I don't know if that's going to really play all that strongly in Kansas, but perhaps nationwide

 

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