Topeka — Some legislators said Wednesday they plan to review a new state policy that has reduced or cut off food stamp benefits to hundreds of U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants in Kansas.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers acknowledged that they're sympathetic to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration trying to ensure that families with illegal immigrants aren't being treated more generously than families whose members are all legal residents. The administration said the change simply means all Kansas families are treated the same.
But the lawmakers worry that the effect will be most felt by children whose families were eligible for food stamps under the old standard but have since lost the benefits. The lawmakers said the state is punishing children rather than cracking down on illegal immigration.
Brownback has asked SRS officials for updates on the new policy but he's not looking to modify it, his spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said. Some lawmakers said the Republican-controlled Legislature could consider revising the policy.
"It has the effect of denying food to children, which is something I could never support," said Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and a member of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee. "We need to get further explanation from SRS."
The new policy from the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services took effect Oct. 1 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously known as the food stamp program.
The policy changes how household incomes are calculated for determining eligibility. SRS said the change means all families now are being treated the same, whether some members are illegal immigrants or not.
Since the policy took effect, 1,042 households with 2,066 children have lost their SNAP benefits though it's unclear how many of the affected households had illegal immigrants, SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said. The state is providing SNAP benefits to about 137,000 households, meaning the change potentially affected fewer than 1 percent, she said.
Before the new policy took effect, SRS had for a decade calculated a lower household income if some family members couldn't show they were living in the U.S. legally. For example, if a household had two working parents who couldn't show they were in the U.S. legally and two U.S.-born children, SRS counted half of the parents' income.
As a result, families with illegal immigrants could qualify more easily for SNAP benefits than families with no illegal immigrants, de Rocha said. Also, some families received benefits when their incomes would have disqualified them if all members had been legal U.S. residents, she said.
"We're just computing everybody's income the same way," de Rocha said. "Kansas citizens have a right to expect that their government treats them at least as well as people in this country illegally. That's why we changed the policy."
But some legislators argue that the change still affects poor children. Under current federal guidelines a family of four can't qualify for the benefits unless its household income is less than $2,422 a month. Even then, SRS does another calculation that examines a family's expenses, such as housing.
"We need to make sure that the kids aren't unfairly getting less food than they need," said Rep. Jerry Henry, of Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Social Services Budget Committee. "You have to look at what's happened to the kids."