Brownback administration officials have pushed back at critics of new welfare legislation by touting the great work they’re doing to assist the poor.
But some little-noticed language in the much-discussed bill reflects the growing disdain in Topeka and Washington, D.C., for letting the needy know help is even available.
“No federal or state funds shall be used for television, radio or billboard advertisements that are designed to promote food assistance benefits and enrollment,” the Kansas bill says. Bizarrely, the next sentence bars the use of federal or state funds “for any agreements with foreign governments designed to promote food assistance.”
The advertising ban in the Kansas bill mirrors Congress’ 2014 farm bill, which similarly curbed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s outreach on food stamps and went further by nixing use of federal money for all “recruitment” activities “designed to persuade an individual to apply for” food stamps. It turns out the part about “agreements with foreign governments” in the farm bill targeted Bush- and Obama-era efforts to use Mexican consulates in the U.S. to “educate eligible populations about available nutrition assistance,” as then-Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said in 2004. Why Kansas would need such a ban is hard to imagine.
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Part of the motivation for the advertising bans is the misguided belief that food-stamp usage by Americans has soared in recent years not out of genuine need related to the brutal recession but because government assistance is too easy to get – and to keep getting for too long.
If the TV, radio and billboard advertising ban in the Kansas bill was rooted in congressional action, it fits a pattern and philosophy of the Brownback administration’s Department for Children and Families.
In 2013 DCF rejected federal dollars intended to help identify and enroll people eligible for food stamps – a day before the grants were to be renewed.
DCF’s spokeswoman explained then that “we simply do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to recruit people to be on welfare.”
Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258, which Gov. Sam Brownback plans to sign into law Thursday morning, furthers that attitude. The bill also restricts Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to 36 months in a lifetime, limits ATM withdrawals using welfare benefit cards to $25 a day (which means $20 minus fees, because how many ATMs let people withdraw $5 anymore?), and – in its most famous features – bars welfare dollars from being spent on everything from cruises to tattoos.
On Tuesday’s Opinion page, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore proudly wrote that the administration’s “effective policies have helped drastically reduce welfare rolls.” But the administration hasn’t proved that most of the people no longer on welfare in Kansas found good-paying jobs and rose out of poverty.
And when it comes to promoting the state’s programs for the poor to those Kansans who could use the help – and are eligible for it – the official strategy now amounts to “Shhhhhh.”
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman