Kansas Tightens Welfare Standards to Boost Jobs

Kansas Tightens Welfare Standards to Boost Jobs
December 9, 2011

Kansas' largest welfare agency quietly changed some key rules in November for applying for food stamps and other assistance, which state officials say will save taxpayers at least $10 million annually.

The actual savings will be larger, but the expected savings from reducing fraud and waste and from moving as many welfare families as possible into full-time employment and self-sufficiency can't be calculated now, said Department of Social and Rehabilitation Secretary Rob Siedlecki.

The changes, part of a wider total overhaul of Kansas government proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to improve the state's economy, are designed to help create as many new jobs as possible in Kansas, Siedlecki said.

Job Training Priority

Much of the expected savings will be plowed back into job training and job location programs, he said.

"Helping people find jobs is our first priority," Siedlecki said.

Nearly 14,300 Kansas families are receiving food stamps and other welfare benefits, Siedlecki said.

Social and Rehabilitation Services, the state's primary provider of welfare and other social services programs since 1973, implemented some new welfare rules Nov. 1.

The changes will cut $10 million or more annually from the state's primary food and child care assistance programs, he said.

One of the biggest changes involves Kansas' administration of a joint state-federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, that helps families get through temporary financial setbacks.

Immediate Job Search

Kansans applying for financial help through TANF now are required to begin immediate SRS supervised job searches, instead of waiting 30 days as allowed before.

Applicants will forfeit benefits for three months the first time they decline to search for jobs and for 10 years after the fourth time. Single parents who fail to provide information about their partners so child support can be calculated face a similar loss of benefits.

The second change involves the state-federal food stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. The new Kansas rules include the incomes of unmarried live-in partners before determining whether applicants qualify.

Siedlecki told members of the Kansas Legislature's Joint Health Policy Oversight Committee that SRS also planned to work with the state Departments of Labor and Commerce to match welfare clients' job skills with employers' needs and provide training when needed.

Some Skepticism

But some members, including state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka), wondered how realistic it was to rely on job creation to reduce the state's welfare rolls.

"How do you expect to get these people back to work when a record number of unemployed, able-bodied, career-oriented people are out there too?" Kelly asked Siedlecki at the committee hearing.

Kansas' unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in October, according to the Kansas Department of Labor's latest report. Unemployment nationally remained at 9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Siedlecki said he believed still-undisclosed tax reform plans that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will propose to the Legislature to make the state more economically competitive provide opportunities for that growth.

He also said Kansas would continue to help welfare clients during the changeover.

"As long as someone is trying to get a job and working with us, no one will be denied food stamps," he said.

Learning Curve

For the moment, however, some Kansas social services workers say the new rules are causing confusion and concern.

"We know new guidelines are out there, but we haven't had time to look at them closely," said JoAnne Haworth, social services manager at the Gardner Multi Service Center, a Johnson County Human Services office in Gardner. "It's too soon to say what the effects will be here."

Churches, charities, and other community organizations that also provide emergency financial or other help to Kansans want to know about the changes too, said Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director of United Community Services, a Lenexa nonprofit formed to help coordinate public and private programs.

"Our community partners are very unsure what the new rules are," Wulfkuhle said. "I'm not sure if some of them realize there has been a change."

Gene Meyer (gene.meyer@kansasreporter.org) is state capital reporter for KansasReporter.org, where this article first appeared. Used with permission.