By Max Ehrenfeund
A dollar bill is a special kind of thing. You can keep it as long as you like. You can pay for things with it. No one will ever charge you a fee. No one will ask any questions about your credit history. And other people won’t try to tell you that they know how to spend that dollar better than you do.
For these reasons, cash is one of the most valuable resources a poor person in the United States can possess. Yet legislators in Kansas, not trusting the poor to use their money wisely, have voted to limit how much cash that welfare beneficiaries can receive, effectively reducing their overall benefits, as well.
The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.
Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this action. Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas.
“The complexity of functioning in that cash economy as a very poor family is just not a reality that most of us experience day to day,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, the president of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka. “I pay my bills online.”
Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.