For struggling Kansans, state-administered safety net programs are an essential lifeline to help families meet basic needs. When the Kansas Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone Act (HOPE) is fully implemented, fewer families with children will have access to pathways out of poverty in Kansas.
Cash assistance for Kansas families living in deep poverty is already very minimal (a family of three can receive a maximum benefit of just $429 per month). Hundreds of families with children will be cut off from assistance in January when a 36-month lifetime limit goes into effect. This policy change will penalize the most vulnerable families who are unable to climb out of assistance within the time limit, or those who experience a setback after leaving the program once.
Kansas policymakers should reconsider the policy, which has prompted the Kansas Department for Children and Families to create a plan to warn food pantries and homeless shelters that more families will be in need of help.
Other new regulations unnecessarily burden families who are already piecing together work, child care and transportation. Beginning this month, Kansans are not able to use cash assistance to make purchases outside of the state, even if the nearest or cheapest grocery store or gas station is just across a state border. A $25-per-day limit on ATM withdrawals will expose poor families to additional fees and add yet another hassle to their day-to-day lives.
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Supporters of the restrictions say this is about promoting self-reliance, but it’s really about penalizing families for being poor. Most recipients of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are hardworking; they’re not spending TANF funds on things that are unnecessary.
New legislation also codifies existing administrative changes that caused a sharp decline in the number of children in families receiving cash assistance. This decline is particularly troubling because enrollment in other safety net programs – such as food assistance, KanCare, and free and reduced-price lunch – has increased during this time period. That means that even though more children are growing up in poor families, fewer are able to access vital economic support.
Though policymakers may be well-intended in their desire to promote self-sufficiency among poor Kansas families, the policy changes included in the legislation are not supported by evidence that demonstrates they will achieve the goals the administration has stated. What is certain are the enormous consequences the most economically fragile Kansas families with children will face as a result of the HOPE Act.
Short term, the legislation may further reduce the number of families with children that access safety net programs. But long term, policymakers have increased the likelihood that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.
Shannon Cotsoradis is president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka.