Advocates for children, needy question DCF’s reserve of $48 million

? Groups that help the needy and children are upset that the Kansas Department for Children and Families has a reserve of $48 million in a program designed to help the poor.

The issue most recently came to light when DCF said it was taking $9 million in federal funds, under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to pay for a childhood literacy program pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said the agency had $48 million in reserve funds.

“It appears that they are not spending adequate money on the core responsibilities for TANF,” said Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director of United Community Services of Johnson County.

TANF is a federally funded program designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States receive block grants to design and operate programs aimed at the purposes of the program.

The four purposes of TANF are to provide assistance to families so that children can be cared for; reduce dependence and promote job preparation; prevent and reduce unplanned pregnancies and encourage formation of two-parent families.

Wulfkuhle and others who advocate for the poor say that with as much need as there is in Kansas, there shouldn’t be a $48 million reserve in TANF.

“We have fewer dollars that are being invested in our poorest families to meet their basic needs,” she said, citing child care and job training, in addition to cash assistance.

But Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for DCF, defended the agency’s use of TANF funds.

“When opportunities come up and we see it is an appropriate use of money, we do a lot of programs,” she said. “We certainly don’t want to just dump a bunch of money into programs when it isn’t necessary.”

The number of people receiving TANF has been dropping from 38,963 people per month in 2011 to 18,821 people per month this year, according to DCF.

But advocates for the poor say part of that reason is that the state has made it more difficult to receive benefits.

Liz Schott, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says only 16 families for every 100 poor families in Kansas receive cash assistance, which is well below the national average.

Referring to the TANF funds going to Brownback’s reading initiative, Schott said, “While boosting reading is an important goal and may well be a good use of other state funds, I do not think this should be supported with state and federal TANF funds in the context of Kansas’ performance on welfare reform.”