RESTORE THE SAFETY NET
In 2015, Kansas became a model for welfare reform that harms children and families. The “HOPE” Act shortened cash assistance eligibility, increased work requirements for mothers of infants, and placed unnecessary restrictions on where families can spend their much-needed cash assistance.
The legislation kicked thousands of Kansans off welfare rolls, including families with children.
The number of Kansas children living in families with incomes that fall below the federal poverty level continues to linger far above pre-recession levels.
The state safety net is reaching fewer families in need of assistance. And fewer Kansas kids are participating in the Child Care Assistance Program.
If things don't change, policymakers will have increased the likelihood that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.
Welfare Reform Hurts Kansas Kids
Unfortunately, the notion that Kansans receiving help from the government do not work hard has become a common but untrue stereotype, and this stigma has grown dangerous in recent years.
Governor Sam Brownback’s administration has championed some of the most punitive and problematic welfare policies in the country. His most alarming reforms hurt a critical program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Kansas not only ranked 49th in job creation in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. The restrictions Gov. Brownback put on the Safety Net don’t create jobs or raise wages.
The cuts to the Safety Net limit a family’s ability to keep their heads above water as they’re drowning under bills.
The HOPE Act is not what it seems
Recent state policy changes prevent safety net programs from reaching the families they are intended to help. In 2015, Kansas created additional barriers to accessing safety net programs.
The HOPE Act shortened cash assistance eligibility for families to three years in their lifetime. Cutting off a family’s cash assistance before they find work means children live in households that cannot afford necessities like food, diapers, clothing, or rent.
The HOPE Act increased work requirements for mothers of infants. A newborn child’s first year of life is a critical period for healthy brain development. Kansas should do everything possible to ensure the youngest, poorest children live in households with the resources to meet infants’ needs.
The HOPE Act codified cross-program “sanctions” into law, which can jeopardize a family’s well-being by ending eligibility for assistance following a minor infraction of administrative policy. Research shows that sanctioned families in the cash assistance program are more likely to experience hunger, eviction, homelessness, utility shutoff, or an inability to receive medical care due to cost.
The HOPE Act restricted Kansas families from spending cash assistance across state lines, or from withdrawing cash assistance from ATMs more than once per day. This may prohibit prudent practices like comparison shopping, and may especially harm families trying to relocate during a crisis. Unnecessary limits on spending cash assistance weaken the program’s ability to ensure families can meet their basic needs.
The Kansas Safety Net
Safety net programs benefit kids and Kansas as a whole. Investing in the state’s youngest, poorest citizens sets the stage for them to flourish as adults. Research shows that children’s early years play a significant role in shaping their life trajectory.
Income supports, like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, serve as a critical hand up for families. It provides a small amount of cash to Kansas’ most desperately impoverished moms and dads so they can put dinner on the table, to pay an overdue water bill so their kids can bathe, or buy diapers for their baby.
In the long run, safety net program participation leads to better outcomes for children and families. Kids perform better in school and experience better health. As adults, they work more hours and are less likely to use safety net supports.
In short, ensuring Kansas families who need assistance can get it is good for kids and good for Kansas.
Data shows that a little extra cash can make a long-term difference for families in deep poverty.
Children who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) experience improved health and economic self-sufficiency over a lifetime.
Children insured by Medicaid are much more likely to graduate from high school and complete college, become healthy adults, and achieve economic success.
Child Care Assistance helps families afford high-quality early education that leads to higher test scores, reduces behavioral problems, lowers rates of grade repetition, and improves employment opportunities and earnings for children.
Kansas Should Change Course
Repeal policies preventing families who earn very little money, and Kansans who struggle to find work, from qualifying for programs designed to help people make ends meet. Struggling families should lose access to the cash assistance program if they need assistance for more than 36 months in their lifetime.
Ensure cash assistance serves the youngest Kansans by repealing work requirements that discourage pregnant mothers and mothers with infants from participating in the program. The high cost of infant child care and the unpredictability of scheduling for low-wage jobs makes stringent work requirements especially difficult for parents of infants. Kansas should lengthen the amount of time new mothers are exempt from the work requirement after giving birth to 12 months.
Lift unnecessary barriers to spending cash assistance that prevent Kansans from making out-of-state purchases with cash assistance or from withdrawing cash assistance from an ATM more than once per day.
Focus federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families on the core functions of the program—cash assistance, child care assistance, and employment services—so program participants can successfully obtain jobs that will lift their families out of poverty.
A Better Way
Kansas needs a strong safety net to meet the needs of children and families.
The safety net should respond to increasing need in the state so children grow up in households with food on the table, a roof over their heads, clothing to wear, and money to pay the heating bill.
Modifying recent policies to expand safety net access will empower Kansans to meet their basic needs and give children the chance to succeed in life