Politics & Government

Kansas Republicans accuse Kelly of breaking welfare law. Agency says that’s not true.

Kansas Republicans say Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is breaking state law with plans to let some people stay on welfare longer than allowed.

Kelly officials reject that claim and promise to extend the amount of time adults without jobs and children can get help paying for food.

Kansas tightened access to welfare under Gov. Sam Brownback. Lawmakers then wrote the changes into law in 2015, preventing future governors from reversing course.

Kelly and Republicans disagree over how far the law goes.

Under federal law, able-bodied adults without children can’t receive food assistance for more than three months every three years if they don’t work at least 20 hours a week. However, the U.S. government provides exemptions that states can use to waive the work requirements for some recipients.

On May 17, the Department for Children and Families directed employees to allow people who haven’t followed the work requirements to receive more than three months of assistance. The agency plans to use 58,000 exemptions the state has accumulated.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said Tuesday that state law prohibits use of the exemptions to keep people without jobs on food assistance.

“I simply cannot remain silent while her administration’s latest directive is implemented in clear violation of Kansas law,” Hawkins said of Kelly in a statement.

In a letter to Kelly, he said DCF appeared intent on minimizing the work requirement’s effectiveness.

DCF said state law prohibits the agency from requesting waivers or programs that run counter to federal welfare rules and that the exemptions are neither. The agency said it plans to continue its policy, which will provide recipients without jobs and children an additional three months of assistance later this year.

“The exemption would benefit youth aging out of foster care and homeless individuals and at a time of low unemployment and with consideration to the economy and trade mitigation benefits, DCF felt this was a prudent policy change. The program is 100 percent federally funded,” a DCF statement said.

The Kansas Republican Party sought to raise money in wake of the dispute.

“It is essential that the Kansas Republican Party can tell as many Kansas voters about this illegal policy as soon as possible,” an email from the party said Tuesday.

Kansas has significantly curtailed welfare eligibility over the past several years.

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 cut to three years from four.

Over time, enrollment in welfare programs declined. Supporters of the restrictions said they prompted people to seek jobs but critics said the changes mainly just kicked people off assistance.