WICHITA, Kan. – A federal waiver that allowed about 20,000 unemployed Kansas residents to receive food assistance will be allowed to expire at the end of the month, state officials announced Wednesday, saying they wanted to encourage work over welfare dependency.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families said able-bodied adults with no dependents would need to work no less than 20 hours per week to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.
The work requirement to receive food stamps was first implemented in 1996 as part of welfare reform. But the 2009 stimulus bill allowed all states to waive the work requirements for able-bodied adults with no children. Since then, states have been allowed to keep using the waiver as long as they meet certain criteria.
Kansas no longer meets the criteria because of its low unemployment rate, but the state was offered the chance to use an earlier higher unemployment rate to continue the waiver. Kansas rejected that offer, opting instead to let the waiver expire on Sept. 30.
That means that come Oct. 1, adults now getting benefits will have three months to either find work or enroll in a federally approved job training program in order to keep getting food stamps. Adults who lose their jobs after that date will be covered by the 1996 law, which makes them eligible for food stamps for three months out of every three years.
Officials at the Department for Children and Families said the timing of their announcement was tied to a federal deadline for states to notify the U.S. Department of Agriculture whether they'll continue with the waiver.
All states at one time used the waiver. Oklahoma and Wisconsin also plan to let their waivers expire this month. Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming and Utah had previously ended the waiver.
Kansas officials noted the state had the same policy before the 2009 federal stimulus program and said there's widespread support for work requirements for able-bodied adults. They also stressed that the change applies only to adults who don't have children.
"We hold people back when we say, 'No, you need this money. You can't do it on your own,'" DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said during a news conference. "We're saying, 'Yes you can,' and 'We're here to walk beside you, and we're here to help you.'"
The 20,000 adults affected by the change receive an average of $126 a month in SNAP benefits.
Gilmore noted that the funds for SNAP come from "tax dollars. It is not free money."
But Louis Goseland, a community organizer with Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, said the state was "shamelessly" doing away with a needed benefit.
"It is absurd that once again our state is choosing to promote this right-wing kind of anti-poor, anti-working class ideology in a way that turns down resources that benefit Kansans and cost no extra expense to the state," said Goseland, who works with low-income residents on issues including wage disputes, voting rights and immigration.
The Kansas Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit that works on state policy issues, noted the state's unemployment rate has increased throughout this year, and that one in seven Kansas households struggles against hunger because it can't meet basic food needs.
"Thousands of Kansans are struggling to find a way back into the workforce," the group said in a statement. "Cutting off supports such as SNAP only makes it more difficult for them to get back on their feet at a time when the jobs outlook does not support a policy shift such as this."
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, endorsed the policy change.
"I'm supportive of able-bodied people working to get help," Masterson said. "I would see that as a good change."
But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, issued a statement saying the decision will make it harder for some Kansans to put food on the table.
Associated Press writer John Hanna contributed to this report from Topeka.