By Jason Probst
May 18, 2016
This week, Gov. Sam Brownback, surrounded by a handful of public figures, celebrated the signing of a piece of legislation that further limits poor Kansas families’ access to a federal assistance program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
It hardly seems like the sort of thing worthy of laughter, smiles and celebration. Even though the legislation aligns with the conservative Brownback’s gospel of work for the poor, the change really will do nothing more than add to the already heavy burden of a life in poverty.
The change reduces from 36 months to 24 months the time a family can receive cash assistance from the federal program. This is atop a variety of punitive measures put in place last year for the state’s poorest families seeking assistance.
All of this has been under the auspices of helping the poor break the cycle of poverty, of giving them the dignity of work and making them productive members of Kansas who pay taxes and contribute to the economy. In fact, reducing childhood poverty has been part of the foundation of Brownback’s platform as a candidate and as governor.
Yet the facts show something different is happening. Of those who have left the welfare rolls, only 8.4 have cited employment as the reason. According to Kansas Action for Children, less than 10 percent of closed cash assistance cases in Kansas was because participants found employment. And those who left assistance and found employment made an average salary of $1,107 a month.
Kansas has seen a 20 percent increase in childhood poverty under Brownback’s watch, and a record number of children are in foster care. Family and child advocates point to the drastic reduction in families with children on welfare – from 24,567 in 2011 to 11,867 in 2014 – as a primary culprit.
So when Brownback and others sit around and joyfully sign a piece of legislation that literally will take food from the mouths of children, one must wonder what, precisely, it is they are so happy about.
Is it that more children will struggle throughout their lives to find security, to grow up in an environment of scarcity, shame and chaos? Is it that there’s a greater likelihood that those children will fail in school or end up breaking the law or end up in the state’s overstressed foster care system?
Or is it that a group of people who most likely have not once ever had to wonder or question where their next meal would come from have found a way to apply their worldview into policy that will influence the lives of people they’ll never have to meet?
In the discussion about what should or shouldn’t be done about poverty, many omissions and presumptions bear noting. Why, for instance, are these officials so quick to condemn people who need assistance yet equally as eager to throw incentives, cash and tax cuts to companies that are hugely profitable? Why, when it’s people, do we call it welfare and call the people takers, but when it’s a company we call it economic development and progress?
And while there’s little shortage of those who want to slash the assistance side of the poverty equation, there seems to be little interest in talking about the realities of life as a minimum-wage, or part-time, worker.
Poverty is a scourge that affects every community and forever alters the mind of every child raised in it. We need to address the underlying causes of poverty – not just to help those in need but to create a society in which more people have more money, pay more taxes and through their prosperity enrich their community, state and country.
Despite the jolliness surrounding the cuts to assistance for the poor, starvation into health and prosperity doesn’t work.