In the first month after Kansas changed how it figures household eligibility for food stamps, 2,066 children dropped off the rolls. If Gov. Sam Brownback is surprised that people think he’s balancing the state budget by letting poor kids go hungry, he shouldn’t be.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services used to calculate eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by counting only a portion of the household income if one or more members failed to provide proof of legal U.S. residency. For example, if a family of five earned $2,000 a month, and two of the parents weren’t U.S. citizens but the three children were, SRS divided the income among the family members. Under this method – which most all states use – SRS treated the children as a family of three earning $1,200 a month.
SRS argues that this method gives immigrant families an advantage over families in which all members are citizens. But instead of fixing this by putting a cap on benefits, SRS now counts all the household income but calculates eligibility as if only the citizen children live there.
So in the household of two undocumented parents and three citizen children, SRS now treats the three children as if they earn $2,000 a month, which makes them no longer eligible for benefits.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the Kansas City Star: “It is about properly calculating household income and treating all citizens equally.”
But the move – announced in September among welfare changes aimed at saving the state $10 million to $15 million – is denying benefits to U.S.-born children. And that’s not right.
As state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, told Associated Press: “We need to make sure that the kids aren’t unfairly getting less food than they need. You have to look at what’s happened to the kids.”
Kansas is only the fourth state to adopt such an eligibility policy, which doesn’t require either legislative or federal approval. The change has sent parents to food pantries, churches and social services looking for answers and help.
It’s especially startling coming from the administration of someone who was a leader in the U.S. Senate in arguing that a nation of immigrants should be understanding and pragmatic in dealing with undocumented immigrants, who came here seeking the American dream.
“The greatness of a society can be measured by the compassion it shows to its least fortunate,” Brownback once wrote in an Eagle commentary on immigration.
In that spirit, Brownback needs to do more than review the food-stamp policy, as he said he’d do Tuesday. He needs to fix it.