Kansas has one of lowest food stamps participation rates

Relatively few Kansans apply for SNAP benefits.

Just 69 percent of Kansans considered eligible for food stamps are signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

State officials can’t say why that is, but it is clear that Kansas has not been as free with SNAP benefits as have most other states. Kansas SNAP recipients collect an average of $125.11 in monthly benefits, compared to $133.41 nationally.

The basic rules, set by federal officials: Benefits, based on family size, range from $16 to $1,202 for a family of eight. To qualify, most households must earn less than $2,498 a month for a family of four – which is 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline – and have less than $2,000 in assets.

States must generally abide by those rules, but they can exercise “options” that can cut down on paperwork, loosen eligibility standards and increase benefits – one of the major issues in the ongoing congressional debate.

Most states use a “broad-based categorical eligibility” rule under which SNAP applicants can be automatically approved if they get benefits under another low-income assistance program, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Kansas and Missouri are among only 10 states that do not exercise that option.

As many in Congress have argued, such options are costing millions more in food stamp benefits. In a report last year, congressional auditors found that in 2010, $460 million in SNAP benefits nationwide went just to people who qualified simply because they were on another poverty program.

Whether they really needed help is not clear.

“Kansas and Missouri are among the fairest administrators of SNAP,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said in a statement. “But other states game the system to sign up more beneficiaries who may not qualify under the same guidelines in states like Kansas and Missouri.”

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