Food stamps likely are one of the nation’s most accepted forms of public assistance for low-income people because they address a basic need of all humans: food.
Funding for the food stamp program comes from the federal government, but states have authority over how that money is distributed, and a couple of recent decisions in Kansas have made it more difficult for low-income people to obtain that assistance.
Last month, the Kansas Department of Children and Families announced that about 20,000 unemployed Kansas adults no longer would be eligible to receive food stamps after Oct. 1. The benefit now is available only to people who work at least 20 hours a week. The work requirement was part of the 1996 federal welfare reform plan, but the 2009 economic stimulus bill allowed states to waive the requirement temporarily. Because of its relatively low unemployment rate, Kansas no longer qualified for the waiver, but it and several other states were given an opportunity to continue it.
Kansas declined. Childless adults who want to continue to receive food stamps now have three months to get a job or enroll in a job training program. The move may seem harsh, but the food-stamp waiver for able-bodied adults always was envisioned as a temporary measure tied to the struggling economy. Now that the economy is improving, it may be time to wean state residents from that assistance.
More difficult to justify is the state’s move last week to reject federal funding that already had been approved for five Kansas groups to provide outreach and assistance for people who qualify for food stamps. “We simply do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to recruit people to be on welfare,” said a DCF representative.
That seems like an overly harsh characterization of a program that provides food, often on a temporary basis, for low-income Kansans, about half of whom are children.
The five agencies were notified just one day before they were scheduled to receive their grant money. The groups scheduled to receive grants were Catholic Social Service in Dodge City, Rice County, the USDA Food Bank in Wichita, Harvesters of Kansas City and Community Access in Independence. The five grants weren’t huge — they totaled about $71,500 — but they were important to the groups that received them. That federal money, which includes Kansas tax dollars, now will go to other states, and the Kansas groups will have to dig into their own meager budgets to try to continue their outreach programs. The DCF representative noted that Kansas joins South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming in not using federal funds for outreach programs so Kansas apparently is in a pretty small minority on this issue.
Getting people back to work and off of public assistance is a good goal, but many Kansans likely question a decision to turn down federal funds intended, at least in part, to providing a food safety net for Kansas children.