Four ways the HOPE Act continues to hurt Kansas children and families

Emily Fetsch
Nov. 28, 2018

Despite the departure of Gov. Sam Brownback and the recent election, the damaging effects of the Brownback-era HOPE Act continue to negatively affect children and families. In 2015, HOPE Act legislation codified changes begun in 2011 to create barriers for families accessing anti-poverty programs. The legislation:

  1. Shortened the amount of time a family can remain eligible for cash assistance. Federal law allows for five years of eligibility within a lifetime. Kansas reduced that to three years.
  2. Increased work requirements for pregnant women and mothers of infants. Federal law allows a new mother 12 months to care for her infant before she must return to work; the HOPE Act cuts that period for new Kansas mothers to two months.
  3. Codified into law cross-program “sanctions,” revoking an entire family’s eligibility for multiple assistance programs after failure to follow administrative regulations and requirements.

As a result, Kansas has seen a continued decline of children and families accessing anti-poverty programs. Here are four examples of how the state continues to see the negative effects of the HOPE Act and why working to repeal these restrictions is vital to child health and development.

SNAP benefits continue to decline

SNAP helps ensure that struggling families have enough to eat and has long been one of the nation’s most effective poverty-reduction programs. Creating barriers to nutrition access through work requirements or other restrictions hurts Kansas children. In 2017, 17 percent of Kansas children were living in households where, in the previous 12 months, there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household  members.[1] When parents lose SNAP, they have more difficulty feeding their children. Suspending parents’ SNAP benefits reduces a family’s overall food budget and puts children at greater risk of food insecurity and inadequate nutrition. It also affects child development. Children who participate in SNAP experience improved health and economic self-sufficiency over a lifetime.[2]

Reduced child care assistance makes it harder for Kansas parents to work

Research shows that families receiving child care assistance are more likely to have stable employment.[3] Child care assistance is important, particularly for low-income children. Low-income children disproportionately benefit from high-quality early learning opportunities, and child care assistance makes high-quality early learning programs more affordable. [4], [5] High-quality early learning improves test scores, reduces behavior problems, lowers rates of grade repetition, and improves employment opportunities and earnings for children.[6]

However, Kansas has seen a marked decline in families using child care assistance, which can be attributed to the restrictive components of the HOPE Act. Since the law’s implementation in 2015, there’s been a roughly 20 percent reduction in the average monthly enrollment of children in the Kansas Child Care Assistance Program.

Policymakers have opportunities to pass legislation and craft regulations making it easier for families to find, afford, and benefit from early learning opportunities. Continuing burdensome restrictions makes it harder for parents to work and support their families.

Kansas has some of the most severe TANF limits of any state

The graphic below shows how TANF benefits have become less accessible to Kansas families trying to make ends meet. In 2016, for every 100 Kansas families in poverty, only 10 received cash assistance from TANF. This is a dramatic decline from when TANF was first enacted in 1996, when 52 Kansas families per 100 in poverty received assistance.

Research examining data on the employment and earnings of Kansas parents leaving TANF cash assistance between October 2011 and March 2015 indicates:

“The vast majority of these families worked before and after exiting TANF, but most found it difficult to find steady work and secure family-sustaining earnings. For those exiting due to work-related sanctions and time limits, TANF policies left these families with children without access to cash assistance that they could draw upon when they hit hard times.”[7]

Families use TANF to cope with major life changes, including:

  • Losing a job,
  • Giving birth,
  • Fleeing domestic violence, or
  • Experiencing a serious medical issue.[8]

Restricting TANF benefits hurts families’ economic stability, ability to plan for the future, and capacity to deal with unexpected events.

Recent study shows connection between restrictions and increase in foster care

Restrictions that deprived families from cash assistance have implications beyond economic stability. A study from the University of Kansas shows a troubling link between access to anti-poverty support for children, TANF, and foster care placement. The research demonstrates that as restrictions increase for anti-poverty programs, more Kansas children enter the foster care system. According to Donna Ginther, one of the two authors:

“It’s remarkable. There is a mirror image…As the Kansas TANF caseloads drop, the number of reports of abuse and neglect go up. And you see a similar relationship for foster care placements.”[9]

Right now, more Kansas children are in foster care than receiving TANF benefits. Recent news reports and a class-action lawsuit have raised serious concerns about the Kansas foster care system. We must do more to ensure that children are not entering a damaged foster care system simply because their parents were denied cash assistance.

While the decrease in support has harmed our neighbors, Kansas can reverse these negative trends. Policymakers can repeal the restrictions outlined in the HOPE Act and do more to strengthen anti-poverty programs. Strengthening these programs helps ensure every child has the chance to succeed and improves health, child welfare, and education outcomes for Kansas children.


[1] Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Children living in households that were food insecure at some point during the year.” KIDS Count Data Center. https://datacenter.kidscount.org/

[2] Hilary W. Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Douglas Almond, “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2012, http://www.nber.org/papers/w18535

[3] Elizabeth E. Davis, Deana Grobe, and Roberta B. Weber, Rural-Urban Differences In Child Care Subsidy Use And Employment Stability, Applied Economics Perspectives and Policies 32, no. 1 (2010): 135-153.

[4] Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds., From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000.

[5] Anna D. Johnson, Rebecca M. Ryan, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Child-Care Subsidies: Do They Impact the Quality of Care Children Experience? Child Development 83, no. 4 (2012).

[6] “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success,” The Annie E. Casey Foundation, November 2013, http://www.aecf. org/resources/the-first-eight-years-giving-kids-a-foundation-for-lifetime-success/

[7] Mitchell, Tazra, Ladonna Pavetti, and Yixuan Huang. “Life After TANF in Kansas: For Most, Unsteady Work and Earnings Below Half the Poverty Line.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. February 20, 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/life-after-tanf-in-kansas-for-most-unsteady-work-and-earnings-below

[8] Mitchell, Tazra. “TANF at 22: Cash Income Is Vital to Families Living on the Edge.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. August 20, 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/tanf-at-22-cash-income-is-vital-to-families-living-on-the-edge

[9] Fox, Madeline. “KU Study Indicates Link Between Kansas Welfare Restrictions, Foster Care Case Increase.” KCUR. December 15, 2017. http://www.kcur.org/post/ku-study-indicates-link-between-kansas-welfare-restrictions-foster-care-case-increase#stream/0

 

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