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New Kansas Law Limits Spending of Welfare Benefits on Concerts, Pools, Lingerie

TOPEKA, Kan. — A new Kansas law tells poor families that they can't use cash assistance from the state to attend concerts, go swimming, get tattoos, see a psychic or buy lingerie. The list of don'ts runs to several dozen items.

More than 20 other states have such lists. But the one included by the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature in a bill signed Thursday by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback appears to be the most exhaustive, according to state Department for Children and Families officials.

It's inspired national criticism and mockery from "The Daily Show." Host Jon Stewart suggested that in accepting federal funds, Kansas should be forced to give up items like roads "paved with luxurious asphalt."

Many of the spending restrictions in the law already existed in state policy. Brownback said the list, which is a part of a broader welfare law taking affect July 1, is aimed at moving poor families from social services into jobs.

"I think it is important that every chance we get we encourage people to get back into the marketplace, get back into the job market," he said.

In a statement after the signing, Senate Minority Leader Democrat Anthony Hensley called the law "a punitive and highly judgmental piece of legislation" that would make it harder for Kansans to escape poverty.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, said the list has attracted national attention because "it feels mean-spirited."

"It really seems to make a statement about how we feel about the poor," she said.

A 2012 federal law requires states to prevent benefit-card use at liquor stores, gambling establishments or adult-entertainment businesses.

At least 23 states have their own restrictions on how cards can be used, mostly for alcohol, tobacco, gambling and adult-oriented businesses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A few states — not Kansas — prohibit buying guns, according to the NCSL, and a few ban tattoos or body piercings. Massachusetts prohibits spending on jewelry, bail bonds, or "vacation services." A 2014 Louisiana law bars card use on cruise ships, which is also on the Kansas list.

Kansas Department for Children and Families officials said that it's difficult to track how often cash assistance is used for items on the state's new list because recipients can use their benefits cards to obtain cash. The law will limit ATM withdrawals of cash assistance to $25 a day.

The department said it reclaimed $199,000 in cash assistance from 81 fraud cases from July through February, but said most involved questions about eligibility. The state provided $14 million in cash assistance during the same period.

— The Associated Press