Kansas passes bill restricting food stamps amid labor shortages

As businesses report thousands of open jobs amid record unemployment in Kansas, Republican lawmakers are seeking to steer people away from food stamps.

The Legislature passed HB 2448, which imposes new work or training requirements on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 with no dependents who do not work at least 30 hours a week would be required to complete an employment and training program.

The bill passed the Senate with an unvetoed majority, 28 to 11, but the 70 to 46 vote in the House was 14 yeses away from a super majority.

“What this bill does now is it requires the Department of Children and Families to assign all able-bodied adults without dependents who would otherwise be subject to food assistance work requirements, it requires them to go through a vocational training program,” the representative said. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell.

Continued: Kansas refuses to enforce federal COVID vaccine mandate. CMS will take over, cut $350,000.

Supporters said the bill was inspired by labor shortages in the state.

The most recent Kansas Department of Labor report put the state seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 2.5%. Department data shows this to be the lowest rate reported in records dating back to January 1976.

But the low unemployment rate comes at a time when businesses are short of workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 95,000 open jobs in Kansas in November.

Proponents of the bill argue that effectively kicking people out of food stamps will increase the labor pool and help fill job vacancies. However, data from the Department of Children and Families shows that approximately 14,000 able-bodied adults without dependents receive SNAP benefits each month.

Continued: COVID accountability bill overrides objections from pro-ivermectin Democrats and Republicans

‘Sketch Promoter’ out of state

Erin Melton, food security policy adviser at Kansas Action for Children, said in a statement that the proceedings “demonstrated that Kansas lawmakers have more to learn when it comes to the Kansas food assistance program, which many of their constituents matter to make ends meet.”

“For example,” Melton said, “proponents of the bill have said it will encourage more people to return to work. But many Kansas residents who will be affected by this bill are already working, some over 20 hours a week Now these working poor in Kansas will have to choose between taking on more paperwork and training they don’t need or losing their food assistance benefits, which cost an average of just $1.40 per person and per meal. “

The bill originally began as SB 501 as part of a broader welfare reform bill that also targeted Medicaid eligibility for low-income parents, young elderly in foster care and women diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer. These elements of health care were then removed from the bill.

The bill was promoted by Sam Adolphsen, a former Maine civil servant who now works for the Florida-based conservative think tank Opportunity Solutions Project. The Senate Public Health Committee received more than three dozen testimonies from opponents.

“This is an example of very active outside interests in Kansas,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, called it “a sketch proponent’s sketching process.”

“It’s really not a Kansas-based solution,” she said. “You have an out-of-state organization trying to impose its will and policy on us. Also, those of you who are concerned about the increased tax burden on Kansans may want to take a look. look at this tax note.”

Continued: ‘Return to normal’ rewrites of public health laws pass Kansas Senate, but not veto-proof

Training has a cost

DCF estimates that implementing a mandatory training program as contemplated in the bill would cost the state $2.7 million per year.

DCF already has a voluntary training program, but participation is low. Republicans aim to make participation mandatory, while Democrats argue that “the working poor don’t participate because they work,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City.

Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, said fiscal conservatives should view the bill as bad policy because it “unnecessarily” fattens government “just to be mean to the poor.”

“We’re going to spend state money, we’re going to hire more than 30 people to administer this program and expand it, to decide who gets the federal money that comes into the state that’s already allocated to us,” did he declare.

Tarwater said the tax note was “a bit large, but it assumes 100% participation in this program and we think people will likely go back to work for 30 hours rather than going to class.”

Legislative documents show that the tax cost was calculated using historical data which suggests that only 9.3% of affected beneficiaries would participate in a mandatory program.

“The goal is to encourage people to get training to get back to work,” said Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, questioned the purpose of the legislation if training is already being offered.

“A requirement is very different from a voluntary program,” Gossage replied. “Often people aren’t aware of a voluntary program. Sometimes…requiring you to do something that will actually help you can be a better thing.”

Tarwater said the current voluntary program is “successful” and has “helped people learn new skills and get better paying jobs.”

“Being valid is more a matter of mind”

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she is concerned that non-custodial parents and people caring for siblings or parents will lose access to food.

“I appreciate the effort of trying to provide training,” she said, “but I think people can judge for themselves if it would be helpful. I’m glad it’s a voluntary opportunity .”

Pettey said the bill targets “the working poor” and that such a training requirement “could actually cause them to lose, even if it’s a low-paying job, cause them to lose a job that they ‘they already have”.

“The able-bodied is more about the mind,” Rep. Chuck Smith, R-Pittsburg, said amid debates over the technical definition of “abled.” He was referring to a quadriplegic, wheelchair-bound friend who had a job. “He thought he was valid. You have to want to work.”

Pat Proctor, R-Fort Leavenworth, said his town had “a lot of people trapped in poverty. My opinion is that it’s morally wrong to perpetuate a system that keeps people in poverty.

“If we have the opportunity to give these people, who are trapped in the system, professional constraints so that they can do better, they can get better paying jobs and they can get themselves and their families, of slavery, of this generational poverty trap, it’s a 100% good thing.”

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, responded that Kansas lawmakers have already made it so “you can only be trapped in this system for 24 months of your life, versus the 60 months allowed by the federal government.”

Jason Tidd is a reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.

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