Kansas tightens eligibility for food stamp program

A federal waiver that allowed about 20,000 unemployed Kansas residents to receive food assistance will be allowed to expire at the end of the month, state officials announced Wednesday, saying they wanted to encourage work over welfare dependency.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families said able-bodied adults with no dependents would need to work no less than 20 hours per week to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.

“We know that employment is the most effective way to escape poverty,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said in a news release. “As long as federal work requirements are met, no one will lose food assistance; the law only affects those individuals who are capable of working and have no dependent children.”

The work requirement to receive food stamps was first implemented in 1996 as part of welfare reform. But the 2009 stimulus bill allowed all states to waive the work requirements for able-bodied adults who had no children. Since then, states have been allowed to keep using the waiver as long as they meet certain criteria.

Kansas no longer meets the criteria because of its low unemployment rate, but the state was offered the chance to use an earlier higher unemployment rate in order to continue the waiver if it wanted to do so. Kansas rejected that offer, opting instead to let the waiver expire on Sept. 30.

That means that come Oct. 1, adults now getting benefits will have three months to either find work or enroll in a federally approved job training program in order to keep getting food stamps. Adults who lose their jobs after that date will be covered by the 1996 law, which makes them eligible for food stamps for three months out of every three years.

The state said Oklahoma and Wisconsin also plan to let their waivers expire this month.

Louis Goseland, a community organizer with Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, said the state was “shamelessly” doing away with a needed benefit.

“It is absurd that once again our state is choosing to promote this right-wing kind of anti-poor, anti-working class ideology in a way that turns down resources that benefit Kansans and cost no extra expense to the state,” said Goseland, who works with low-income residents on issues including wage disputes, voting rights and immigration.

“We see the same is true with health care. I don’t know why our state would opt to turn down federal resources that are available to assist Kansans to promote an extreme political ideology,” he said.

The Kansas Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit that works on state policy issues, noted that the state’s decision will also affect adults who lose their jobs in the future, no matter how high the unemployment rate climbs. The group noted that the state’s unemployment rate has increased throughout this year, and that one in seven Kansas households struggles against hunger because they can’t meet their basic food needs.

“Thousands of Kansans are struggling to find a way back into the workforce,” the group said in a statement. “Cutting off supports such as SNAP only makes it more difficult for them to get back on their feet at a time when the jobs outlook does not support a policy shift such as this.”

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