What will you do this weekend with your government check? In Kansas, it won’t be getting a gel manicure or trying your luck at a casino beginning in July.

But until recently those were options for spending welfare or food stamp benefits.

New legislation aims to ensure that welfare aid recipients are using benefits on needs and not just luxuries or recreational activities. Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed a measure into law this week that places restrictions on the activities, goods, and services that recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF a.k.a. food stamps) can consume using their benefits.

Called the HOPE Act by supporters, the law is meant to focus aid on temporary, basic needs and services –scaling back what some might consider lifestyle expenditures by those who are poor. By removing what may seem like perks of being on TANF, it should encourage able-bodied aid recipients to seek out permanent opportunities. This law underscores that temporary aid is meant to be just that, temporary – not a perpetual funding source to live a full life on.

There go the trips to the spa or massages. No more taking in movies with the kids or going swimming in the summer on the state’s dime. Forget that new piercing or tattoo. And don’t bother with the strip club or horse races any more. I automatically thought “duh” of course these are activities tax dollars shouldn’t be used for, but not everyone agrees.

Opponents say this bill is “mean-spirited” because it prevents the poor from doing things that others may take for granted.

The Washington Post reports:

The measure — called the HOPE Act by supporters — “provides an opportunity for success,” Brownback said in a statement after signing the bill. “It’s about the dignity of work and helping families move from reliance on a government pittance to becoming self-sufficient by developing the skills to find a well-paying job and build a career.”

That, according to the legislation, means limiting spending on body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships or visits to psychics. The measure — which limits TANF recipients from withdrawing more than $25 per day from ATMs — also forbids recipients from spending money at a:

…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.

“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,'” state Rep. Carolyn Bridges, a Wichita Democrat, said during a House debate, according to the Associated Press.

“The list has attracted attention because it feels mean-spirited,” Shannon Cotsoradis, head of advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, told AP. “It really seems to make a statement about how we feel about the poor.”

The United Way of Greater Topeka had also come out against the measure, calling it “an extremely harmful piece of legislation that makes it more difficult for low-income families to achieve self-sufficiency.”

Perhaps the best part of this story are comments from Governor Brownback, who added, “We know that the most charitable act is not handing someone a check but helping that person get a job that sustains them and their families for generations to come. Our focus is on helping people develop the skills to find and keep a job. Instead of focusing on a war against poverty, we will focus on fighting for the poor among us by offering them hope and opportunity.”

This is not just reframing the issue from the negative “War on Poverty” to more positive empowerment messaging. It’s a substantive tightening of expansion of benefits usage and reminds recipients and society what public assistance is meant to be.

It comes at the right time. Our economy has shown improvement slow since the end of the recession. While unemployment is high and millions of workers have dropped out of the job market, work is returning.

Able-bodied aid recipients ought to be thinking about what skills jobs in their areas and industries demand and how they can secure those skills to make them hirable. Not planning their time getting bikini waxes and nail art on their toe nails.

There’s also a larger discussion about what being poor in this country looks like. I suspect that many hardworking middle-class families wish they could enjoy some of the services that their tax money was supporting.

More states need to follow Kansas’s lead and return TANF to a temporary, basic needs status and not allow it to become a way of life.