Report blasts condition of state’s safety net

? The government “safety net” to help the poorest Kansans is much harder to access under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, according to a report by a community group.

The report released Tuesday focuses on a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which provides assistance to low income families. Kansas receives about $102 million annually from the federal government for TANF, which is administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

“The state has the money, but fewer Kansas families are receiving TANF than before the recession, despite the growth in poverty numbers,” according to the report by United Community Services of Johnson County.

UCS is a non-profit agency that helps collaborate social service resources.

The study says that numerous rules and policy changes adopted by DCF under Brownback’s tenure make it more difficult for families to receive TANF benefits.

And the report criticized the use of TANF funds for other functions, citing Brownback’s recent proposal to spend $12 million in TANF funds for a reading program for grade-school students.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore has said using TANF funds for the reading program is appropriate because young women who read at grade level are less likely to have out-of-wedlock pregnancies and fall into poverty.

DCF also was criticized for building up $48.7 million in TANF reserves while needs were going unmet.

To qualify for TANF, a family must have at least one child under 18 and a maximum monthly earning of no more than $519 a month for a family of three. A family cannot have savings of more than $2,000.

Nationally, for every 100 poor families, 25.9 percent receive TANF benefits, while in Kansas that rate is 16.5 percent, a decrease from 21.3 percent in 2008, the report said.

The report criticized numerous policies.

For example, in November 2011, DCF began to require child care assistance recipients to work 20 hours per week. In May, that was increased to 28 hours per week. This hurts parents who cannot find that much work, the study said.

Also before May, mothers with newborns younger than 6 months were exempt from work requirements. But that was changed, requiring mothers to return to work after their child was 2 months old.

Less than one-third of all TANF spending in the last fiscal year went for essential services of cash assistance, child care, and employment services. That is down from one-half in 2008, the report said.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including increasing the maximum monthly grant, eliminating asset limits and reassessing policies that seem to be aimed at reducing caseloads instead of helping people find jobs.