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Nearly 200 Kansas families receive final cash assistance

Change approved last year lowered lifetime limit from 48 to 36 months

By Megan Hart | January 14, 2016

Nearly 200 Kansas families receive final cash assistance
Photo by KHI News Service File Photo Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore looks on as Gov. Sam Brownback discusses a welfare reform measure he signed in April 2015. The bill included more stringent limits on lifetime cash assistance for Kansas families that took effect at the start of January.

TANF in Kansas

As of November, 3,260 adults and 9,788 children were enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in Kansas.

The monthly average for the first five months of fiscal year 2016, which began in July, was 3,388 adults and 10,011 children. That was a 20 percent decrease in adults and a 14 percent increase in children compared to the average for the prior fiscal year, and the lowest average since at least 1996.

More stringent limits on lifetime cash assistance have kicked in, a change that means nearly 200 families in Kansas received their last cash assistance payment at the start of January.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill in April lowering total lifetime eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of cash assistance, from 48 months to 36 months. The cutoff was planned for July 1, 2015, but the Kansas Department for Children and Families opted to delay it six months.

As of May, 350 families, including about 700 children, were determined to have used TANF for at least 36 months. Some left TANF during that time, and about 12 percent received a one-year hardship exemption, said Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for DCF. The 198 families in that group still receiving TANF received their last check around Jan. 1, she said.

“Staff has been working with clients closely for the last six months, evaluating them for a hardship exemption, providing benefits through the employment services program and working one-on-one with the clients to develop a plan,” she said. The employment services program includes job or GED training, assistance with clothing or transportation, and some physical and mental health services, if necessary.

Hardship exemptions apply to parents who are:

  • victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
  • caring for a disabled child.
  • disabled and likely to receive Social Security benefits in the near future.
  • working with DCF to recover children who were placed in foster care.

Exemptions also could be made for families in other circumstances, like after a house fire.

The goal of the restrictions is to reduce dependence on government and to “empower” people in poverty to improve their economic standing through work, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said at the time the bill was signed. She added she thought implying TANF recipients couldn’t be successful without cash assistance was “insulting” to them.

Gary Brunk, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, said he is concerned Kansas isn’t doing enough to publicize its public assistance programs and to connect people who are working and seeking work with supportive services, like child care assistance.

“Public assistance is rightly considered a transitional support, but a transition to what?” he said. “Those work supports need to be there, and in Kansas they’re increasingly difficult to access.”

Restrictions on where TANF recipients can spend their benefits are scheduled to begin in July, Freed said. Under the new rules, recipients can’t use their benefit debit cards at a variety of locations, including jewelry stores, theme parks, swimming pools and tobacco stores.

The limits were part of a bill that would have limited TANF recipients to withdrawing no more than $25 per day in cash with their cards. Advocates said the limits would harm recipients’ abilities to pay larger expenses like rent and suggested they might violate federal rules that TANF recipients must have “adequate access to their cash assistance.” DCF isn’t pursuing the $25 limit, Freed said.

A family of three could receive a maximum of $386 to $429 per month in payments from TANF, depending on the cost of living in the county where they live. The average benefit was $115 per person, or $268 per family, in November.

To qualify for TANF, Kansas families must have at least one child younger than 18 and assets of less than $2,250, excluding the home they live in and some personal items. The household income must be less than the amount they would receive, unless the family has earned income, in which case they can earn up to $90 more, Freed said.

For example, a family in an urban county could receive up to $403 from TANF, but couldn’t have more than $403 in other income each month — unless an adult in the family had a job, in which case they could have up to $493 in income. With TANF and the maximum earned income, the example family still would have an income of slightly more than half of the federal poverty level, and larger families would have incomes of less than half the poverty level.

The changes passed last year also require adults who don’t have a disability to work 20 hours per week or to participate in education or job training. There is a three-month exemption for women who have just given birth.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.