Diminishing HOPE for Kansas Families with Children

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO

For struggling Kansans, state-administered safety net programs are an essential lifeline to help families meet basic needs. When the HOPE Act is fully implemented, fewer families with children will have access to pathways out of poverty in Kansas.

An already minimal benefit will become more limited.

Cash assistance for Kansas families living in deep poverty is already very minimal (a family of three can receive a maximum benefit of just $429 per month). Hundreds of families with children will be cut off from assistance in January when a 36-month lifetime limit goes into effect. This policy change will penalize the most vulnerable families who are unable to climb out of assistance within the time limit, or those who experience a setback after leaving the program once. Kansas policymakers should reconsider the policy, which has prompted the Department of Children and families to create a plan to warn food pantries and homeless shelters that more families will be in need of help once they reach their lifetime limit of assistance.

Already struggling families will face new, unnecessary burdens.

Other new regulations unnecessarily burden families who are already piecing together work, child care, and transportation. Beginning July 1, Kansans will not be able to use cash assistance to make purchases outside of the state, even if the nearest or cheapest grocery store or gas station is just across a state border. A $25 per day limit on ATM withdrawals will expose poor families to additional fees and add yet another hassle to their day-to-day lives – all without any known policy benefit. Supporters of the restrictions say this is about promoting self-reliance, but it’s really about penalizing families for being poor. Most TANF recipients are hard working, they’re not spending TANF funds on things that are unnecessary. This law mischaracterizes the majority of TANF beneficiaries.

More poor children will not have access to economic support.

New legislation codifies existing administrative changes that caused a sharp decline in the number of children in families receiving cash assistance. This decline is particularly troubling because enrollment in other safety net programs, like food assistance, KanCare, and free and reduced price lunch, has increased during this time period. That means that even though more children are growing up in poor families, fewer are able to access vital economic support.

While policymakers may be well intended in their desire to promote self-sufficiency among poor Kansas families, the policy changes included in the legislation are not supported by evidence that demonstrates they will achieve the goal’s the administration’s has stated. What is certain are the enormous consequences the most economically fragile Kansas families with children will face as a result of the HOPE Act. Short-term, the legislation may further reduce the number of families with children that access safety net programs, but long-term policymakers have increased the likelihood that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.

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