Eagle editorial: Policies tough on poor

01/10/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:14 AM

There’s a disconnect between Gov. Sam Brownback’s expressed concern for the poor and his administration’s policies that make life tougher for struggling families.

Brownback says that reducing childhood poverty is a top priority, and his wife is helping lead a task force to combat poverty. Yet, as was reported in the Sunday Eagle, his administration has been curbing benefits and raising roadblocks to those in need.

Some 384,000 Kansans, or 13.8 percent of the state’s population, live at or below the poverty line, which is $23,050 a year for a family of four. That’s up by nearly 80,000 people (34,000 children) since 2008.

But while poverty has increased, the number of Kansans receiving welfare and child-care assistance has dropped dramatically.

When Brownback took office, 39,000 severely poor Kansans (those earning less than about $6,500 a year for a family of four) received TANF benefits, Temporary Aid to Needy Families. Since October 2011, that total has dropped by 38 percent – or almost 15,000 people (9,000 children).

The main reasons for the declines are new restrictions imposed by the Brownback administration. For example, it reduced the lifetime cap for TANF benefits from 60 to 48 months. It increased job-hunting requirements and cut off welfare payments for the entire family if any child, no matter how wayward, didn’t attend school. It also increased the work requirement to qualify for child-care subsidies – and is considering raising it again.

The administration also changed how it calculates benefits for U.S. children with a parent who is not a citizen. As a result, more than 2,000 Kansas children lost food-stamp benefits – a federal program that doesn’t cost the state a dime.

The tax cuts that Brownback approved last year eliminated tax breaks for child- and dependent-care expenses and food sales taxes.

Brownback also has yet to decide whether he will allow an expansion of Medicaid, which the federal government will fully pay for the first three years and then nearly fully pay for after that. The expansion would enable more than 120,000 low-income Kansans to get health insurance.

Meanwhile, groups that work with the poor are afraid to challenge the administration. “There is a sense that retaliation is possible,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children.

Brownback contends that his administration’s policies aren’t aimed at punishing the poor. Rather, they encourage people to get a job.

“The best way to get out of poverty is a job,” he said Monday.

That’s true. But his administration doesn’t have data showing that the people kicked off assistance programs were, in fact, able to find jobs.

Though Brownback and other officials portray the policies as “tough love,” they look more like coldhearted attempts to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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