Chris Hayes skewers Kansas State Senator over welfare shaming bill

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is set to sign a bill into law that would restrict recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal aid program, from spending that money in places the state considers too decadent for welfare recipients to frequent.

On the list of welfare no-nos:

No TANF cash assistance would be available to be used to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco products, lottery tickets, concert tickets, professional or collegiate sporting event tickets, tickets for other entertainment events intended for the general public, or sexually oriented adult materials. No TANF cash assistance would be allowed for use in a liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or an adult sexually oriented retail business or entertainment establishment.

Apparently Kansas’ pro-growth Republicans in are willing to take a significant chunk of money out of the state’s burgeoning cruise industry if it means sticking it to poor people.

Last night, Kansas State Senator Michael O’Donnell went on All In with Chris Hayes to defend the bill. He should have known better:

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It’s a rough couple of minutes for Senator O’Donnell, who admitted that the amount of Kansas TANF money being spent at all of these locations was negligible, and that some of the locations (like cruise ships) may not have received any TANF money at all.

However, the two best questions Hayes asked weren’t about the restrictions in the bill; they were about the restrictions not in the bill.

First, as Hayes noted, the bill does not prohibit Kansan TANF recipients from buying guns with their aid money. O’Donnell responded that “we do not restrict everything you can and can’t buy.”

But only a minute earlier, he had said that the only reason for adding cruises to the list was for “structural” reasons. That ban is only there to cover their bases in case a particularly decadent welfare recipient wanted to sail on the government’s dime. That cruises — along with nail salons, body piercings, casinos and other decidedly un-Kansan lifestyle choices — were banned ahead of guns shows that the bill has little to do with encouraging productivity from aid recipients and everything to do with shaming people who Republicans in Kansas think are too irresponsible to buy gas and groceries.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Second, in his last question, Hayes pointed out that Kansas receives has received $16 billion in federal farm subsidies since 1995 and 2012, or $888 million per year. He didn’t mention, but it’s worth noting, that Kansas received $174 million in TANF funds — 1/5 of their annual farm subsidy — in 2013. So, when will Kansas pass similar restrictions for recipients of those federal dollars?

To this, O’Donnell could only say that “I believe that…they’re abiding by the rules set in place by the federal government,” before attempting to sing a love song to his federal representatives who have made damn sure that Kansas keeps raking in their corn money. Kansas doesn’t need to place restrictions on federal dollars when those dollars are for farmers. Apparently, farmers don’t gamble. Or go to movies. Or have tattoos. Or go on cruises. And they definitely don’t buy cigarettes or liquor. Ever.

This welfare-shaming bill is being billed as a way to create jobs in Kansas, but even the most basic questions about what is and isn’t included in the list of what TANF recipients can’t spend their money on shows that it has nothing to do with that. Republicans just want to make it harder to be poor.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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34 Responses to “Chris Hayes skewers Kansas State Senator over welfare shaming bill”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    Stop lying. learn to read. RIF.

    ForclosuresObama Administration Withholds Home Foreclosure Aid to Hardest Hit – Obama cries crocodile tears about what the Republicans in Congress won’t let him do. But he allowed more than $7 billion in TARP money set aside for worst hit victims of the housing crisis to sit, unspent, in Treasury Department accounts, for two years. “No wonder most people think TARP is only concerned with bailing out the banks. The Obama administration has treated it that way.”

    Racism and Bill Clintons gutting of welfare How Bill Clinton’s Welfare “Reform” Created a System Rife With Racial Biases”

  2. kevinbenett says:

    you can’t just makeup shit you idiot.

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  4. Buford says:

    The fundamental failure in their logic is that they want to portray these people as lazily living extravagant lifestyles on your taxpayer dollars. The truth is that these people are not exactly living large with that money… and even spending it in nail salons, liquor stores, or movie theatres helps to stimulate the local economy.

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  6. Nicholas A Kocal says:

    Another reason that people do not apply for assistance is that the mountain of paperwork that is required is generally hard to understand and most requests are rejected automatically. It is only on appeal or after applying a dozen times that the assistance becomes available.

  7. Guest says:

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  8. rmthunter says:

    What makes you think it doesn’t? And I don’t mean that in a good way.

  9. MoonDragon says:

    They are often stymied by a system of fees and balance minimums that make regular checking accounts a luxury they can’t afford. Without an account, no ATM for you, Mr. Poor.

  10. DGT says:

    This bill reminds me of the other Red State legislation outlawing sharia law. There’s no reason for it, except to reinforce Fox News stereotypes and fear-mongering.

    They are afraid of Oklahoma becoming a Muslim caliphate, so they need an anti-sharia law. They just know that the welfare queens are using their food stamps on lottery tickets, manicures, and luxury cruises, so they need to outlaw that. (And, of course, there’s also legislation that tells them what kind of food they can and can’t buy, so no lobster or steak, because the Foxians just know that food stamps are being used for gourmet meals.)

    And, of course, there is the shaming aspect. Poor folks need to suffer, and if every aspect of their lives isn’t made as miserable as possible, they’ll just go on being poor. Right-wing media will actually complain that poor people have refrigerators and “color TVs” (is there any other kind of TV?). If they had their way, poor people would receive a meager allowance of gruel and tap water.

  11. DoverBill says:

    Is there any way to stop these obviously nefarious hoi polloi wannabees from simply drawing out cash from the friendly neighborhood ATM and spending it on whatever evils that may tempt ’em at any given moment?

    Didn’t think so… so this bill accomplishes exactly what?

  12. Butch1 says:


  13. The_Fixer says:

    That is something that I just can hardly believe. But, I do believe it because life seems to get more bizarre every day.

    And I don’t mean that in a good way.

  14. The_Fixer says:

    Ping, Ping, Ping!

  15. Butch1 says:

    I saw just the end of that segment and O’Donnell was just dripping with so much sugar that I felt I needed to go take some insulin afterwards. Did anyone else’s gaydar go off when he was on? I wish I should have tuned in sooner to catch his whole time speaking.

  16. nicho says:

    Oh, come on. Give conservatives a break. If you take away meanness and cruelty, they’ve got nothing left.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    Too bad we didn’t have this debate when Bill Clinton gutted welfare or when Obama refused to use monies to help people in foreclosure.

  18. caphillprof says:

    Kansas is not big on corn. Rodgers and Hammerstein notwithstanding.

  19. Naja pallida says:

    Statistics already show that the vast majority of people who need the assistance, and would benefit from it, already don’t apply for it. For whatever reason. Simply not knowing what is available is a big part of it. Shaming is another.

  20. pliny says:

    With most ATMs, the “transaction fees” are counted as part of the withdrawal. If the limit had been set to $20, the cards would become functionally useless.

  21. JaneE says:

    But of course, it is ok to spend your benefits at convenience stores and pay exorbitant prices, reducing the amount of goods you get for your money.

    I get that poor people may not be the best money managers, but most all of them can figure out how much toilet paper and soap they would get for the price of a manicure. Unfortunately, the less money you have, the fewer ways you have to maximize your money. However mean-spirited this law is, – very, very, few of TANF recipients will ever be anywhere close to violating its provisions.

  22. Naja pallida says:

    First, good luck finding an ATM that dispenses 5 dollar bills… so really, it’s a 20 dollar limit. :)

  23. Houndentenor says:

    I learned last night (on the Nightly Show) that about 3/4 of the people who are eligible for aid programs do not apply. No reason was given.

    I found the arguments stupid and I suspect that in the handful of incidents that the law is citing, there is a reasonable explanation. I’m currently in grad school and my income from music gigs is decent but sporadic. the only time I buy a steak is when it’s in the markdown bin. “ooh look he bought a steak. Yes, for cheaper than I could have eaten at Jack in the Box. I don’t think people on food stamps are going on a lot of cruises nor eating a lot of steak and lobster. But god forbid someone splurge every now and then on something that isn’t ramen noodles. How big an asshole do people have to be for crap like this. maybe they should volunteer at a food bank and learn how many people in their own communities are in desperate financial situations and they’d also learn from the other volunteers how to help people without making them feel worse than they already do.

  24. BeccaM says:

    “Accountability for thee, but not for me” is their credo.

    These proposals are never anything but crass attempts to shame the poor into not applying for assistance, and hopefully to become even more disenfranchised and invisible than they already are.

    A couple generations ago in America, we had this ideal of giving people a hand up to a better life. The radical conservatives have since changed that to a stomping boot-heel.

  25. bejammin075 says:

    I don’t like the caricature portraits. It seems petty and juvenile. I can’t quite express what it is I don’t like about it. I feel like it would be better to simply have an actual photo of the Senator. It would be more useful to know better what Brownback looks like. The caricatures bring the site down to a lower level, like when Republicans leave out the “-ic” on Democratic.

  26. BobInSD says:

    So what he’s (Brownback) saying is that you poor people stay out of the public eye because we don’t want to look at you or think about you. How dare you people have any kind of a life so crawl back into your little hole.

  27. pliny says:

    If only we lived in an alternative universe where the Federal government would take an interest in how much TANF money the $25 withdrawal ceiling is going to give away to banks in $2.50 per withdrawal fees….

  28. 2karmanot says:

    Well, I’m just shocked that Kansas didn’t ban thongs specifically.

  29. seeeteee says:

    I think someone has a crush on Chris Hayes.

  30. Houndentenor says:

    Yes, healthy people pay in and sick people get health care (they don’t actually get the money). That’s what insurance is. I pay in and other people get a payout when their house burns down. I’d rather be the healthy person who paid in than the sick person receiving the benefits and I think anyone who isn’t an idiot can see that. Unfortunately there are a lot of idiots in this country and a good portion of them watch Fox “News”.

  31. Houndentenor says:

    As a contractor between singing gigs I mostly worked for banks (occasionally law firms). The banks required drug testing for anyone who worked there for over two weeks. (I realize that not all states allow this but NY is not one of them.) I once joked that until I worked at one particular investment bank I’d never understood why anyone wanted to get high. Of course the executives were not tested (and most would have failed if they had. Cocaine use above top level executives is an open secret in the banking world and one of the reasons so many are so reckless in their behavior.) In addition it was a violation of medical privacy of the employees. That information was kept private? Please. I worked for those assholes. I know better.

    All that to say this: I think it’s a boondoggle to drug test everyone on welfare or other assistance. It’s expensive and there just aren’t that many who fail the test. After all, how on earth are people that poor going to afford drugs? it’s a policy based on prejudice and mean-spirted assholery. BUT, if we are going to do this then EVERY state employee and contractor for the state and all their employees (including contract labor) need to be drug tested too. That includes the governor, the members or the legislature and all their staff? Do they still think that’s a good idea? I want someone to propose that to watch them back-pedal because there’s a lot more drug use among that level of society than among the poor. In fact I’m often surprised at how many people I know who regularly use illegal substances. If it’s fair for some receiving taxpayer money, it’s fair for everyone?

  32. gratuitous says:

    I keep flashing back to Sen. King of Maine on one of those execrable Fox talking chucklehead shows. The hosts were doing the usual “piss-on-the-poor (and by “poor” we mean anyone who doesn’t pull down mid-six figures every year)” song and dance, and Sen. King wasn’t having it. He finally asked them how they could be so cruel, and you’d have thought he had just slapped each and every one of them across their smug, insipid faces. “Cruel”? Us? We’re not cruel! Their collective gast was totally flabbered.

    Ooh, found the You Tube video (who says I’m hopelessly inept, besides me):

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