Politics & Government

Kobach plan requires people on welfare to work more hours, get drug tested

Republican Kris Kobach unveils a plan Wednesday to require welfare recipients to work more hours.
Republican Kris Kobach unveils a plan Wednesday to require welfare recipients to work more hours. The Wichita Eagle

Republican Kris Kobach unveiled a welfare plan Wednesday that builds on restrictions made by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

The proposal echoed previous changes that critics say kick people off of welfare but do little to get them out poverty. His Democratic opponent, Sen. Laura Kelly, blasted Kobach’s plan as repeating “Brownback’s failed policies.”

Able-bodied Medicaid participants would have to begin working 30 hours a week, under his plan. Individuals who receive food and cash would have to begin working 30 hours as well, up from the current minimum of 20 hours a week.

Kobach would also require individuals on Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income elderly individuals and those with disabilities, and individuals receiving food assistance to undergo drug testing. His plan would require Kansas to verify that recipients are in the country legally.

Kobach said his plan would require a combination of regulations and changes to state law to achieve.

“To address the very real labor shortages that we have in Kansas, we absolutely must encourage people to get off of welfare and to get into those many open jobs that are all over the state of Kansas right now,” Kobach said.

The unemployment rate in Kansas stands at 3.3 percent and the state has thousands of vacant jobs.

“There’s no excuse for an able-bodied adult to be collecting welfare on the back of hardworking Kansans when there are multiple open jobs that the able-bodied adult could be working in,” Kobach said.

Kobach’s plan would continue a string of welfare restrictions implemented during Brownback’s time in office. The state reduced the number of months someone can be in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to 24 months from 36 months. The lifetime limit for the program was also reduced from four years to three years.

Kobach offered his proposal during a news conference in Topeka, where he contrasted his position with Kelly. He said Kelly had voted against previous restrictions to welfare and that the two were “180 degrees” apart on the issue.

Kobach said Wednesday he believed welfare reform has not received enough attention during the governor’s race. His plan comes in the final weeks of a close election against Kelly. Public polls have showed the two candidates effectively tied, with independent Greg Orman a distant third.

“This is yet another example of Kris Kobach repeating Sam Brownback’s failed policies,” Kelly said in a statement.

Brownback’s welfare restrictions ruined families, increased instances of child abuse and maltreatment and increased the number of Kansas children in foster care, she said.

“Just look at the crisis it’s caused - the foster care system is so overburdened that it can’t protect the children of Kansas, resulting in deaths, missing kids, kids sleeping in offices. And clearly Kris Kobach wants to make that crisis worse,” Kelly said.

Federal data released in October 2017 indicated in a single year only 9.2 percent of Kansas recipients are getting off assistance because they’re employed. Nationwide the rate is 19.7 percent.

At the same time, 21.8 percent of Kansas recipients lost benefits for not complying with work requirements, the data showed. The U.S. average is 5.7 percent.

Asked about the data in January, Kansas Department for Children and Families pointed to a Foundation for Government Accountability study that said that in Kansas TANF recipients who left saw an average income increase of 104 percent within a year, and nearly 250 percent within four years.

The report also said that between 2000 and 2011, the workforce participation rate of Kansas adults on TANF averaged 19.2 percent, but that the rate rose after that to 36.4 percent.

However, researchers at the University of Kansas have also found a link between the state’s welfare changes and an increase in the number of children in foster care; DCF has disputed the link.

Beyond requiring welfare recipients to work additional hours, Kobach’s plan to drug test Medicaid recipients could prove an ambitious undertaking. More than 400,000 Kansans are enrolled in Medicaid.

Primarily, those served by Medicaid (called KanCare in Kansas) include children, seniors and people with disabilities, said Sean Gatewood, co-director of the KanCare Advocates Network.

“Are you going to get grandma out to go have her take the test? I just think there’s a misunderstanding of who’s served by the program,” Gatewood said.

And individuals who test positive for drugs probably should be in Medicaid, he said. Otherwise they will have difficulty accessing treatment.