TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Kansas Republicans unveil new welfare proposal

By Jonathan Shorman
January 21, 2016

Legislative Republicans on Thursday said they want to cross-check lottery winners and welfare recipients, verify the identity of all adults receiving assistance and monitor excessive benefit card replacements.

The proposal represents a sequel to the Hope Act, a major welfare bill lawmakers enacted in 2015. Yet, the policy changes laid out by Republicans are less sweeping than that bill, in some cases making technical changes.

Under the new bill, which lawmakers said likely would be introduced within a few days, the state would be required to verify the identity of all adults receiving cash, food and child care assistance in a household receiving assistance. Currently, the adult applying for assistance for the household is verified.

The Department for Children and Families would also cross-check lottery contestants who win $10,000 or more against a list of lottery recipients. Winners would be required to verify their income and resources.

Kansas had 266 winning tickets of $10,000 or more in 2015, said Sally Lunsford, a lottery spokeswoman.

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, argued the changes will help fight welfare abuse.

“It is important for us to make sure we are strengthening the system, that we are making sure that system is going to those that deserve it,” O’Donnell said.

“And these changes we have today, the changes we enacted last year, they changed the nation in the sense of other states are looking at what we’re doing,” he said. “They’re following it and they’re making sure hard-working Kansans, hard-working Americans, all of their tax dollars are going to programs that they’re designed for and that we’re eliminating fraud.”

But Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, questioned whether the true purpose of the bill is to help people move off of welfare or to simply cut down on social services spending.

“They have a poor appreciation of what it’s like to live in Kansas on a limited income,” Carmichael said. “This is just a continuation of the draconian policies and bill we saw last year.”

DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed indicated much of what Republicans are proposing would be new to the agency, not simply codifying existing practices.

Republican lawmakers spent much of a news conference where they outlined the proposal touting what they see as the success of the original Hope Act.

The original Hope Act cuts off child care subsidies for various lengths of time if families are found guilty of infractions, called “noncooperation.” Parents receiving child care subsidies are required to work 20 hours a week.

The law also created a lifetime limit on the amount of school attendance a parent can count as an acceptable alternative.

Most controversially, the law also capped cash withdrawals at $25 a day. In effect, however, because most ATMs dispense only $20 at a minimum and charge fees, recipients could withdraw only $20 a day. The cap was later waived after worries it conflicted with federal regulations.

The Republicans said the law, along with the policy changes it codified, has resulted in lower caseloads, a lower payment error rate and higher incomes for recipients after they leave assistance.

“The welfare reform act gives many welfare recipients on food stamps a hand up, not a handout,” said Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs.

Kansas Action for Children said data is scarce on what has happened to families since the Hope Act went into effect.

“Simply because a family is no longer receiving assistance doesn’t mean they suddenly have the means to put food on the table, pay for childcare or put gas in the car to get to work,” KAC President and CEO Shannon Cotsoradis said in a statement. “All we know for sure is that the state’s most economically fragile families no longer have a safety net that keeps them from falling deeper into poverty, ensuring that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.”

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.

Comments are closed.