Gov. Sam Brownback is defending his administration’s new approach to programs designed to help poor families in Kansas, but the numbers are troubling.
According to news reports, the number of people receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families has declined by 38 percent since the state instituted stricter rules for the payments in October 2011. That’s about 15,000 Kansans who no longer receive welfare payments aimed at sustaining the state’s poorest families. Among that number are 9,000 children, whose families no longer receive TANF.
If all of those people were successfully making the transition to self-sufficiency, there would be no cause for concern. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Since the Great Recession began in 2008, the number of Kansas families living in poverty has risen by about 80,000 people. During that same period, the child poverty rate in Kansas has increased from 14.5 percent to 18.8 percent. That’s nearly one in five Kansas children living in poverty.
On Monday, Brownback defended the new system, saying that most of the decline in families receiving TANF money is the result of a new requirement that they be actively looking for jobs. According to the regulations, that means people must make 20 job contacts each week. Brownback called that “a pretty modest requirement,” but it may not be so easy for some people, especially those living in small towns or rural areas, to achieve. A representative of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said that mothers with infants in their homes don’t have to meet that requirement, and caseworkers have “a certain amount of flexibility” in how that requirement is applied.
It’s certainly reasonable to try to motivate people on welfare to get a job, but if, as the governor suggested, the arbitrary new job requirement is the primary reason that 9,000 Kansas children have been thrown into poverty, the state should reconsider its stand.
Childhood poverty has many consequences, many of which will be costly to the state as those children grow up: problems in school, juvenile offenses, general lack of civic engagement and others.
Whatever the state is saving now by cracking down on public assistance funding may cost it much more dearly in the years to come.