TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: State compliance with federal rules to dictate future of $42 million in aid

By Tim Carpenter
August 31, 2015

The state of Kansas could be compelled to modify more provisions of a controversial welfare reform law to comply with federal guidelines attached to funding of child care programs, a Topeka advocate for child services said Thursday.

States accepting Child Care Development Block Grants, which provide a total of $79 million to early-childhood education initiatives as well as support to employed, low-income families unable to afford child care in Kansas, must submit compliance plans by March. In Kansas, the program is fueled by $42 million in federal aid and supported with $16 million from the state.

Under a draft of proposed federal requirements, Kansas might have to repeal regulations folded into the Hope Act by the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback.

Kansas’ Hope Act makes families ineligible for child care subsidies for three-, six- or 12-month periods if guilty of infractions defined as “noncooperation.” The law requires parents receiving a child care subsidy in Kansas to work 20 hours each week. The law creates a lifetime limit on the amount of school attendance a parent can count as an acceptable alternative.

Conflict could exist if regulations enforced by officials at the Kansas Department for Children and Families don’t comply with the federal rule that each state provide subsidies for a 12-month period to every eligible child.

“There are potential conflicts with the Hope Act,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children. “I feel fairly comfortable in saying there will have to be some changes.”

Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the Department for Children and Families, said HHS hadn’t informed the state that amendment of the Hope Act would be necessary.

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

The state’s welfare reform statute was adopted in April and modified in June.

It was portrayed by supporters as a way to instill dignity to people in safety-net programs, but critics said the law was punitive and designed to deter participation. The number of Kansas children covered by child care subsidies is projected to decline by about 400 to 12,385, Cotsoradis said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services previously delved into the Hope Act by challenging a $25-a-day limit on ATM withdrawals from cash assistance accounts provided poor families in Kansas. Under federal pressure, state regulators dropped the cap.

On Monday, Kansas Action for Children plans to host a meeting at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library to delve into pending changes to the grant system. The Department of Children and Families declined to take part, Cotsoradis said.

She said there was anxiety among organizations devoted to child care that state officials hadn’t shared information about plans to comply with revised block grant guidelines.

“There’s been very limited transparency in terms of what the agency has under way,” she said. “There hasn’t been any opportunity for stakeholder engagement up to this point.”

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