ASSOCIATED PRESS: Advocacy group’s CEO sees new issues with Kansas welfare law

By John Hanna
August 27, 2015

Parts of Kansas’ new welfare law appear to conflict with federal rules for state child care programs, potentially jeopardizing more than $40 million a year in federal funds, an advocacy group’s leader said Thursday.

But the state Department for Children and Families said it “has received no guidance” from federal officials that the state law needs to be revised.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, raised additional issues about the welfare law only weeks after sharp questions from federal officials forced the state to abandon a $25-per-day limit on ATM withdrawals with cash assistance cards. The law took effect in July.

Cotsoradis said the state law’s work requirements and provisions penalizing parents for failing to follow state and federal rules for social services appear to run afoul of policies tied to Congress’ reauthorization last year of the federal grants to states for their child care programs.

She acknowledged that states haven’t received final guidance from the federal officials, but she said she’s “80 percent” sure state policies will be in conflict. Kansas Action for Children opposed the new state law, arguing that it will prevent some poor families from obtaining needed benefits.

“Chances are good we’re going to have some other conflicts with federal requirements that haven’t come to light yet,” Cotsoradis added during a briefing for reporters.

Kansas Action for Children plans to convene a meeting of interested parties Monday at Topeka’s public library to discuss federal child care policies, what might be required of Kansas and how the state could strengthen the child care system.

The Department for Children and Families plans to have its own meeting in September to discuss a state plan for administering child care programs required under the federal reauthorization of grants. Agency spokeswoman Theresa Freed said Cotsoradis is welcome to attend that event.

“If Ms. Cotsoradis would like to address her concerns to our agency, we would be happy to discuss those with her,” Freed said in an emailed statement.

The department supported much of the new state law. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislators who supported it have argued that it ensures social services go to poor families who need them, for necessities, not luxuries. Also, they argued, the law helps move families from social services to full-time jobs.

The law drew national attention over the limit on ATM withdrawals and a list of items for which cash assistance can’t be used. The list remains in place and includes alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sexually oriented materials, as well as entertainment. Cash assistance also can’t be used in nail salons or spas, on cruise ships or at tattoo or body-piercing parlors.

Cotsoradis said federal policies require that once children are deemed eligible for child care subsidies, they remain continuously eligible a full year. The Kansas law says families who don’t follow state or federal laws can have their subsidies suspended for at least three months.

Also, Cotsoradis questioned whether a requirement in Kansas law that parents who receive child care subsidies work at least 20 hours a week conflicts with a federal policy keeping parents who lose their jobs eligible for subsidies for three months while they seek new work.

An average of nearly 12,800 children a month were covered by child care subsidies during the fiscal year that ended June 30, and the federal dollars at issue present more than half the state’s total child care funds.

Read more from the Associated Press.

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