House rejects bill lowering barriers to food and child care programs for low-income families

TOPEKA – Diann Gambill’s work as a Family Response Advocate in Crawford County places her in a vortex of high-risk home environments littered with stressors in which parents choose between paying basic bills and getting nutritional groceries for their children.

Gambill knows of domestic violence victims who avoided SNAP food assistance and child care assistance because it was too dangerous to hire a noncustodial abuser to try to meet the requirements of the Hope Act. signed into law in 2015 and 2016 by Governor Sam Brownback. The statutes imposed unprecedented eligibility limits on access to major state social safety net programs.

State laws denying low-income families access to millions of dollars in federal funding have been hailed by supporters as an important incentive for parents to get jobs rather than rely on government subsidies. Critics of the erosion of this direct financial assistance argued that the reform trapped parents in poverty and placed children in foster care.

“I’ve seen consumers not asking for food assistance because they didn’t want the abuser or abuser invited back into their lives,” said Gambill, who works to connect families to public services in working with the City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Police Department. and the Family Resource Center. “Every qualified carer should be able to benefit from a diet
services such as the SNAP program without fear of being dangerous.

She was among 30 people who testified before the House Children and Seniors Committee as a supporter of House Bill 2525, which would remove the state’s requirement that parents cooperate with services. state child support as a condition of eligibility for maintenance benefits. The bill would also exempt adults enrolled in public or private K-12 schools or colleges from the 20-hour weekly work mandate for child care assistance eligibility.

The only attorney who testified for the bill was a representative from the Opportunity Solutions project, which is an arm of the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability. The foundation has been a supporter of work requirements for SNAP and has approved model legislation aligned with Kansas’ Brownback-era Hope Act.

Despite support from Republicans and Democrats in the House, the bill failed 53-66. Meanwhile, Opportunity Solutions Project supports Senate Bill 501 to strengthen Kansas access restrictions to family safety net programs.

Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita, opposed Bill 2525 because it would remove restrictions on food and child care subsidies and weaken the Hope Act signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback. (Kansas Reflector screenshot from the Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

Perpetual addiction

Wichita Rep. Patrick Penn, a Republican who voted against House Bill 2525, said the state’s labor shortage means public policy must be designed to move people from the margin to the workforce. Now is not the time to legislate increased incentives for food or childcare subsidies while allowing negligent parents to get away with not paying child support, he said. -he declares.

He said the bill would be bad for families, taxpayers and the economy. He said the provisions of the bill should not be confused with compassion. Watering down work warrants related to childcare assistance would be like handing someone a free get out of jail card, he said.

Penn said the House bill “ignores and erases all the gains of our current successful policy” and would perpetuate a state of dependency in families rather than fighting for a model that rewards hard-working Kansans.

Keeping a job — not clinging to the state and federal welfare system — is key to lifting people out of poverty, Penn said.

Rep. Susan Humphries, also a Republican from Wichita, said she was particularly uncomfortable allowing a parent to circumvent the 20-hour grant-related work requirement if they were enrolled in six hours of classes. academics. She said the legislation was a financial barrier to working because six hours of community college classes cost $600 and government benefits on the table could total $3,500 per semester.

“I am for education. I think it’s great, if there was some kind of accountability,” said Humphries, who chairs the House Higher Education Budget Committee. “I don’t want to discourage people from going out and working.”

State policy enshrined in House bill would wrongly help deadbeat parents avoid child support liabilities and promote expansion of government benefits related to child care and shopping of food, said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, said lifting barriers to child care and food subsidy programs for low-income families would show compassion for Kansans struggling with economic challenges. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

A little sympathy

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park, said the bill would have shown compassion for those in dire financial straits. She said the legislation would have supported low-income mothers unable to rush back to work after having a child.

She said that after giving birth to her first child, her husband lost his job and the family health insurance disappeared. She quickly returned to the workforce out of necessity, she said.

“Now I’m lucky. I am healthy. I was blessed with big feet and wide hips,” Clayton said. “I come from a peasant background. I was able to return to work immediately, but not all of our constituents. So I think compassion is the order of the day.

Rep. Chuck Smith, a Pittsburgh Republican who also voted for the bill, said the reality is that young women are getting pregnant and going through hard times because they don’t have access to financial support. The state should be prepared to help young mothers with food and childcare if they want to graduate from high school, obtain a general equivalency diploma, or enroll in college courses.

“My mum moved out when she was 14,” he said. “Nothing was given to her. She would have worked 80 hours a week. And, she probably wouldn’t have accepted anything from the government. But we’re in a different world now. We’re in a whole different world. And the one of our biggest problems in Kansas is child care. If we don’t take care of them when they’re young, we may be taking care of them for the rest of their lives.

Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas, said one in five children in Kansas lives in poverty, but the state's child care subsidy program only reaches 12% of these children.  (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas, said a survey indicated that one in five children in Kansas lived in poverty, but child care programs in the state only reached 12. % of these children. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

About children

Rep. Charlotte Esau, R-Olathe, said she worked to convince her GOP peers to support the legislation by sharing information about a single mother of a 3-year-old who wanted to enroll in college in about two hours from his family and friends. to provide support.

The only job the mother could get during the time childcare was available earned her about $300 a month, Esau said. College scholarships and loans were not enough to cover living expenses, so the mother applied for childcare assistance through the state. On the form, Esau said, the mother left the line asking her to identify the child’s biological father blank because she knew the risk of bringing him into the equation.

State officials said she would be denied assistance without disclosing the identity of the father due to an obligation to sue the man for child support.

“She told them to delete the app,” Esau said. “There was no amount of state support worth the risk of involving the absent biological parent in their lives. She had no police report. No record of abuse claim. But she knew that any involvement in their lives would be detrimental not only to her, but also to the child she was determined to protect.

Esau said state policy should embrace adults who want to leave dangerous relationships behind and be full members of society.

“These are the parents we want to help – not for a lifetime of dependency – but for a short time while they work to improve their financial situation. Really, it’s not for adults, although they enjoy it too. It’s the children who really benefit when the adults in their lives can provide what they need. “