By JIM MCLEAN
Bills that would further tighten eligibility for public assistance programs will be among the first that Kansas lawmakers consider this week when they return to the Capitol from a short mid-session break.
The bills — House Bill 2381 — and Senate Bill 256 — would write into state law several controversial administrative changes made in recent years as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to move people from welfare to work.
The bills would codify and in some cases expand limits on eligibility for programs that provide cash assistance and child-care subsidies. They also would prohibit spending public money to increase participation in the food stamp program.
Officials at the Kansas Department for Children and Families didn’t immediately respond to requests for information about the measures, which face opposition from several social service organizations.
Christie Appelhanz, vice president of public affairs for Kansas Action for Children, said the bills expand policies that already have reduced the number of children eligible for assistance.
“Poor Kansas children cannot afford to wait for basic necessities,” Appelhanz said in testimony pre-filed with the committee.
Brownback has defended the changes in welfare policy, saying they’re aimed at pushing non-disabled Kansans off the welfare rolls into jobs. He touted the strategy in a commercial during his re-election campaign.
The claim in the commercial referred to a reduction in the number of Kansans enrolled in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. At the time, DCF officials said that TANF enrollment had fallen by 54 percent, dropping from 38,963 in the 2011 budget year to 17,681 in the 2014 budget year.
The number of low-income parents — single mothers, mostly — receiving monthly child care subsidy payments dropped by 27 percent during the same four-year period, according to the agency.
“We’re seeing individuals moving out of poverty through employment,” Theresa Freed, a DCF spokesperson, said at the time.
Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, took issue with the commercial, saying that cutting the number of Kansans on public assistance wasn’t the same as reducing poverty.
Cotsoradis cited the increasing percentage of Kansas children receiving free or reduced-price lunches at school as evidence that Brownback’s policies were taking a toll on poor families.
“So here we have more kids relying on free and reduced school meals, and at the same time we’re seeing significant declines in the numbers of families that are accessing TANF and child care subsidies,” Cotsoradis said. “I don’t see how that’s good news. It means fewer poor people are receiving services that are meant to lift them out of poverty.”
Brownback administration policies also have raised the eligibility bar for participation in the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
One of those changes took place in 2013, when DCF dropped its participation in a federal grant program designed to help poor families apply for food stamps.
“We simply do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to recruit people to be on welfare,” Freed said at the time.
The bills under consideration this week would expand that policy by prohibiting the spending of any state or federal money on SNAP outreach.
Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.