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Jan. 30, 2012
TOPEKA A top Kansas welfare official today defended a change in policy that has resulted in at least 1,000 children being dropped from the state’s food stamp program.
“What we’ve done is allowable under USDA regulations,” said Michelle Schroeder, director of public policy and legislative relations at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The change, she said, was meant to correct a perceived disparity in how food-stamp eligibility was calculated for children whose parents who are U.S citizens versus those who are not.
Schroder said the previous policy allowed some households headed by non-citizens to earn $908 more per month than households headed by citizens.
“We just felt that it was inherently unfair that U.S.-citizen households were held to a higher standard than households with ineligible non-citizens,” Schroeder said.
U.S.-born children of non-citizen parents are eligible for food stamps. Households that have no citizens are not eligible for the benefits.
The agency changed the policy in October 2011.
Advocates for the poor have criticized the change.
“In the past, food stamps have been of partial assistance to families that struggle to feed their children,” said Sister Therese Bangert with the Catholic Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. “Now, for some of these families, that assistance is being denied.”
But Schroeder, testifying Monday before the House Appropriations Committee, insisted that the children were dropped from the program because their parents’ had too much income.
“We’ve moved to a system that treats income equally,” she said.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, welcomed Schroeder’s explanation.
“I don’t want to see this get blown out of proportion,” he said. “To me, this is a fairness issue, but I’m certainly willing to hear from the (advocacy) groups.”
None of the advocates were called to testify Monday.
Afterward, Rhoades told KHI News Service that he hoped the advocates would take part in an informal roundtable discussion later in the legislative session. But he said they would not be invited to appear before the Appropriations Committee.
“We just don’t have the time,” he said. “We have to start kicking bills out of committee on Thursday.”
Schroeder said that between October and November, 2,881 families exited the food stamp program. Of those, she said, 1,042 were thought to include at least one non-citizen parent.
How many children were in the families affected by the change was unclear, she said.
SRS reports show there were 138,483 Kansas children receiving food stamps in October. By December the number had dropped to 135,978.
Schroder said SRS wasn't able to track how much of the decrease was due to the change in policy. Nor could the agency track what happened to the children after they exited the program.
Bangert said she would ask legislators to get behind a bill that would assure children in households headed by non-U.S. citizens do not receive more in food-stamp benefits than those in households headed by U.S. citizens.
“If the issue, as we’re being told, is equity,” she said, “there are other ways to achieve it.”
The bill, she said, has not yet been introduced.
Several advocates disagreed with Schroeder’s explanation of the new policy.
“The way it used to be was if you had a non-citizen parent with three citizen kids, you would pro-rate the household’s income – you would divide it by four and multiply it by three,” said Trudy Racine, vice president for operations with the Kansas Children’s Service League. “Now, SRS is dividing that four-person household income by three because the parent isn’t eligible,” Racine said. “The way my math works, when you divide something by three instead of four you’re going to come up with a bigger number. That’s what’s happening, SRS isn’t pro-rating anymore.”
Debbie Snapp, who runs the Catholic Social Services office in Dodge City, said the new policy lacks clarity.
“The biggest struggle for me is understanding how eligibility used to be determined and how it’s determined now,” she said. “We asked for a copy of the formula and we’ve asked SRS to provide us with some scenarios so we can see what it is they’re doing, but so far nobody’s been able to produce that for us.
“The issue isn’t whether these children are U.S. citizens," Snapp said. "It’s whether they’re going to bed hungry. And I can tell you they are.”
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.