A woman Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has repeatedly pointed to as an example of the effectiveness of the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ welfare reforms is employed by that agency.
Valerie Cahill, a Kansas City resident, was Brownback’s guest at his State of the State address, where he pointed to her as an example of someone who got off public assistance and became self-reliant.
She also joined Brownback and DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore at Thursday’s signing ceremony for House Bill 2258. The bill enshrines in law changes the agency adopted during Brownback’s first term and adds new restrictions on the use of welfare money.
It sets a lifetime limit of 36 months to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, more commonly known as welfare, and requires able-bodied adults to participate in a job training program or work 20 hours a week in order to qualify for benefits.
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Cahill went through a job training program for welfare beneficiaries, which the state is set to expand.
“As is in the circle of life, we can’t carry our children forever. We eventually need to put them down and move freely,” Cahill said in a speech at the bill’s signing ceremony. “That’s what the work programs are for, they are to help us get on our feet, so we can move and do something better for ourselves.”
At Gilmore’s prompting, Cahill also told a story about how with the money from her paycheck she was able to buy her son a cello.
Neither Cahill nor Gilmore offered details about Cahill’s job, and after the ceremony Cahill refused to say what she does. She did say she began working in late November after 11 months on public assistance and that her current position was “state-related.”
The state employees database lists Cahill as an employee of DCF, the agency that has crafted the welfare reforms and administers the job training program.
Asked why neither Cahill nor Gilmore specified her status as an employee of DCF at Thursday’s ceremony, Theresa Freed, the agency’s spokeswoman, said the information was not a secret. She said Cahill works as a full-time temporary employee for the Kansas Low Income Energy Assistance Program, a federally funded program administered by DCF.
“Yes, she works in our lieap program in KC. Not a secret. … She may have been caught off guard, not sure. I think she was working 2 jobs at once and is now full-time temp for lieap,” Freed said in an e-mail.
Cahill also testified before the House and Senate committees that held hearings on the legislation.
Another success story featured at the signing ceremony was Sarah Bloxsom, who after going through the job training program became a job trainer herself.
“Neither speaker was in any way forced to speak or support the legislation,” Freed said in response to a question about whether the two women are the best examples of the job training program, which the governor has said pushes people back into the job marketplace.
“They have both been vocal advocates of welfare to work policies and are great examples of why work programs are effective. We are proud to have them on staff,” Freed said. “They are not the only advocates. Several non-employees who went through our work programs also testified in committee.”
DCF has said that the job requirement policies, which were in effect before the signing, have resulted in more than 6,000 people finding jobs. Freed said the agency does not track which of these jobs are private sector or public sector jobs.