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Kansas officials pull plug on SNAP outreach grants

Short notice given to outreach programs in five cities

By Dave Ranney | October 07, 2013

The Kansas Department for Children and Families has decided to drop its participation in a federal grant program designed to help poor people apply for food-stamp benefits.

“We simply do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to recruit people to be on welfare,” Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for DCF, wrote in an email to KHI News Service.

The decision, she said, was unrelated to the federal government shutdown.

The five programs affected by the decision and their grant amounts:

  • Rice County Communities That Serve, Lyons; $16,267.50
  • Kansas Food Bank, Wichita; $13,818.61
  • Harvesters, Kansas City; $14,314.50
  • Community Access, Independence; $12,620.77
  • Catholic Social Services, Dodge City; $14,506.50

DCF informed the programs of its decision on Sept. 30, a day before the grants were to be renewed.

“We’d filled out our application and had gotten everything accepted and approved to start on Tuesday (Oct. 1),” said Debby Snapp, who runs the Catholic Social Service office in Dodge City. “And then on Monday (Sept. 30), I got an email from DCF that said they’d decided not to accept any more outreach money.”

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Nationally, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by state welfare departments.

In Kansas, the grants have been administered by DCF and its predecessor, the former Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Today, nearly 320,000 Kansans — almost half of whom are children — receive SNAP benefits. The average per-person benefit is $122 per month.

Freed said South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming also have chosen not to participate in the program.

DCF’s decision, Freed said, was not meant to stop local charities from helping the poor to apply for SNAP benefits. Instead, she said, it only means their efforts will not be funded with state or federal dollars.

“DCF believes that encouraging people to sign up for welfare benefits is not consistent with our position that welfare should be used temporarily and serve as a bridge to employment and self-sufficiency,” Freed said.

DCF workers, she said, will be “happy” to help people who contact one of the agency’s service centers looking for help.

Snapp said Catholic Social Service will look for alternate sources of funding.

“Our plan is not to do anything different from what we’re doing now because we think what we’re doing is the morally right thing to do — and that’s helping people who are really struggling,” she said. “I understand that there are people out there who think these are people who choose not to work because they can get food stamps. But I have to say that’s not been our experience at all.”

Debi Kreutzman, director of community relations at the Kansas Food Bank, said the program also is looking for alternate funding.

“Charities can only do so much,” she said. “If we’re truly going to address food insecurity, SNAP outreach has to be part of the picture. Food pantries, commodity programs, soup kitchens…they’re just not enough.”

Marian Poe, director at the Rice County Communities that Serve, said she doubted the program would be able to offset loss of the grant funding.

Poe said she laid herself off last week.

“As of right now, we have no paid employees. We’re all volunteers,” she said. “We’re having an emergency board meeting tonight to talk about this.”

Shannon Cotsoradis, executive director with the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, blasted DCF's action.

“I am deeply troubled by this decision," she said. "Families with children that unexpectedly find themselves in difficult circumstances may not be aware that they are eligible for food assistance without outreach. This (decision) means more Kansas children will go hungry. Hungry kids not only suffer health-related consequences, but they are also less able to concentrate and learn in school. This policy decision will increase the likelihood that children living in poverty today will become tomorrow’s poor adults.”

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