State announces welfare reforms

09/17/2011 12:00 AM

09/17/2011 7:30 AM

TOPEKA — Kansas is undertaking a series of welfare reforms, including one measure that would remove a financial advantage for unmarried couples on the welfare rolls.

State social services Secretary Rob Siedlecki announced the reforms late Friday, saying they're intended to level the playing field in several programs that serve tens of thousands of people.

The reforms will affect Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, child care assistance and food stamps. The proposed changes include:

* A "soft," four-year lifetime limit will be imposed on welfare benefits in the needy family program. The current time limit is five years. Seven other states, including Missouri, have a 4-year cap on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

* The income of an unmarried, live-in boyfriend or girlfriend will be included in determining the amount the household gets in welfare assistance.

* Recipients of child care assistance will be required to work a minimum of 20 hours a week.

* Welfare recipients will be required to provide proof of school enrollment for all the children in the family in order to qualify for assistance.

* Applicants seeking benefits in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program will be required to be looking for a job.

* People will no longer be able to use Vision Cards — the electronic form of food stamps — to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

* The entire income of anyone not in the country legally will now be counted in assessing how much welfare assistance goes to a household. Currently, the income of someone not living here legally is pro-rated in calculating welfare assistance, officials said

An SRS spokesperson said using the income of the unmarried boyfriend/girlfriend to calculate welfare assistance isn't related to encouraging marriage.

She said there is a built-in inequality in that a partner could have an unlimited amount of income while the other is able to qualify for certain benefits for themselves and any children living in the household.

"If one member of a married couple has an income, and the other doesn't, neither qualifies for certain benefits," the spokeswoman said.

"And this is the case regardless of the presence of children in the household. This change is a simple matter of equity and fairness," she said.

As for preventing Vision Card money from being spent on alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets, SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said the state doesn't track how much money has been used for such purchases. But she said that it is "widespread."

"We would have to stand in every convenience store in Kansas to figure out how much," she said.

These reforms will be implemented over the next three months, and should all be fully in place by Jan. 1, 2012, officials said. Siedlecki said the reforms could save between $10 million and $15 million.

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