By The Capital-Journal Editorial Board
July 17, 2016
After he signed a batch of new welfare restrictions into law in May, Gov. Sam Brownback touted his administration’s continuing effort to reduce government dependency: “It’s been very positive in its results. It’s helped people get out of poverty, it’s helped people have more income, and in some cases it’s helping people get back their dignity.”
One of the ways Brownback aims to help Kansans “get back their dignity” is the Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) mentoring program.
The program was established in January to link volunteer mentors with Kansans who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The mentors are expected to provide TANF recipients with career advice, information about educational opportunities, a “constructive example,” personal reinforcement and other forms of support.
Although the Brownback administration hopes for the participation of 1,100 mentors, 115 have signed up. And there are still almost nine times more mentors than mentees — only 13 TANF recipients have agreed to take part in the program since it was launched six months ago.
This disappointing level of involvement prompted the Department of Children and Families (which administers the HOPE mentoring program) to suggest making it mandatory for welfare recipients. While Brownback is right to prefer “incentivizing the mentoring programs rather than mandating them,” he should reconsider whether this program and his other welfare initiatives are effective substitutes for cash assistance to impoverished Kansas families.
Since Brownback took office, the lifetime limit on TANF benefits has been steadily eroded — from five years in 2011 to two years in 2016 (a 12-month extension is available to families in extreme circumstances). Since 2011, the average number of families receiving assistance has dropped from 15,077 to 5,391.
However, the percentage of Kansas children in poverty has remained roughly the same since 2011 and less than 10 percent of the people who leave cash assistance programs do so to take jobs. This is why Brownback can’t keep pointing to the number of people who no longer receive TANF benefits as a victory in and of itself. His policies have ensured that there will be less people on the welfare rolls regardless of their reasons for leaving.
When Brownback signed the welfare cuts in May, he said his administration wanted to do more than simply get Kansans off public assistance — he said the objective was “to get people out of poverty.” Brownback’s welfare policies have failed to do this, and it’s time to try something new.