Just two weeks after the Kansas state House rejected an attempt to remove barriers to food assistance and child care programs aimed at helping low-income families, a state Senate committee on Thursday will consider a bill erecting a new obstacle for adults without dependents who want help putting food on their table.
The House vote last month means single parents who apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (commonly known as SNAP) will have to continue to try to collect child support from the nonresident biological parent. House Bill 2525 would have eliminated that requirement. The bill also would have exempted adult caregivers who are enrolled in a school or college from the 20-hour weekly work mandate to qualify for child care support.
The unprecedented restrictions on eligibility were placed into law in the middle of the previous decade, during the administration of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
HB 2525, which drew strong support from advocates for children and low-income families, nevertheless fell short on a 53-66 vote on Feb. 22, despite bipartisan support in the overwhelmingly Republican House.
The bill’s opponents said eliminating the hurdles to eligibility would have been an inadvisable incentive not to work.
According to the Kansas Reflector, Rep. Patrick Penn, a Republican from Wichita, said the state is facing a labor shortage, so it’s not the right time to bolster incentives for food or child care subsidies. Nor, he said, should negligent parents get off the hook for not paying child support.
But backers of the bill said the existing restrictions hurt families and should be eliminated.
According to committee testimony on the bill, for instance, one advocate said a client decided not to apply for SNAP benefits because she didn’t want to risk contacting the father of her child to try to get child support; she was certain he would beat her again. Advocates also condemned the requirement that students work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for child care benefits. They said it creates an undue hardship on families that are trying to better their life circumstances and self-sufficiency for the long run.
Kansas lawmakers may not be done yet in getting tough on those who seek public assistance.
The state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday is set to give the first hearing to Senate Bill 501, which would require “able-bodied adults without dependents” to go through an employment and training program before they could access food assistance.
State agencies would also have to publish on their websites data from fraud investigations into food assistance and medical assistance, among other things.