By Hilary Gee
Director of Health Policy
Work supports like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Care Assistance are proven to help lift families out of poverty. With 1 in 5 Kansas kids living in poverty, we should improve access to support programs, not limit them.
Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature is moving quickly on bills that will severely limit access to programs like TANF. House Bill 2381 and Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258 (previously Senate Bill 256) weaken programs designed and proven to help families get out of poverty.
TANF provides small amounts of cash assistance for extremely poor families with children. To qualify, a family of three would have to have income lower than $527 a month – many families participating in this program have no income at all. The help received is not excessive – about $400 a month to help with necessities like housing, food and child care.
The program is limited. Federal rules stipulate that a family is eligible for 60 months, or five years, over a lifetime. TANF also already has strict work requirements – able-bodied adults must be working, looking for work, or pursuing education to maintain eligibility. The average Kansas family in the program receives help for 14 to 18 months at a time. However, many families need that short-term help more than once. The Kansas Department of Children and Families has already shortened lifetime eligibility to just 48 months and participation dropped by 950 cases each month. The Legislature is now considering cutting lifetime eligibility to just 36 months.
Legislation moving through the Statehouse also limits access to food and child care assistance, and seeks to further stigmatize families who participate in these programs. It prohibits beneficiaries from spending TANF benefits outside of Kansas, so families that live in border areas may have to travel further or pay more. Additionally, a proposed amendment to the bill would require a photo of the recipient on the benefits card used for SNAP, TANF and child care subsidies. This is presented as a way to prevent fraudulent use of the programs, particularly SNAP. However, SNAP has a very low level of fraud (around 1 percent). And adding photos to cards could cost the state millions to implement. Currently, one card is issued per household, and multiple family members may be authorized to use it. If a photo were required, the state may need to issue cards for each family member.
Kansas Action for Children opposes these changes and testified against House Bill 2381 and Senate Bill 256, the original versions of the bills, and opposes the passage of Senate Substitute of House Bill 2258. With the state facing a budget shortage, the Legislature should focus on cost-effective solutions that lift families out of poverty, which benefits all Kansans and our economy.