Kansas Anti-Poverty Task Force Recommends Stronger Families, Weaker Safety Net


kansaswelcome3x2The Kansas government’s campaign against child poverty will rely on reducing Kansans’ access to safety net programs and redoubling state efforts to encourage old school family values, according to a report from Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) Task Force on Reducing Childhood Poverty. Of the nine specific ideas listed as “Recommendations” in the report, three involve fostering a better understanding of the importance of marriage and families, one involves reducing the scope of food aid in the state, and three are repetitive calls for increasing access to mentors for schoolchildren.

The report breaks its recommendations into three “pathways,” labeled “Education,” “Employment,” and “Family Composition.” The latter pathway gets the most attention, with three concrete ideas about promoting traditional, nuclear families as a primary route to lowering the state’s 19 percent child poverty rate. Kansas should waive the cost of a marriage license for couples that complete an eight-hour class on “pre-marital education,” wage a “public relations campaign” to “bring awareness to the importance of fatherhood and marriage,” and invest in something called “Healthy Relationship Education in Middle and High Schools.” According to the final sentence of the report’s executive summary, “Government must be mindful of programs and policies that result in keeping individuals in poverty by disincentivizing full-time employment and marriage or incentivizing out-of-wedlock childbirths.”

The “Employment” pathway recommends two things: reinstating work requirements for food stamps – which will kick 20,000 people off of food assistance without doing anything to create jobs for those people – and consolidating work programs offered by three different state departments into “one all-inclusive program.”

Of the four recommendations in the Education pathway, two are specific mentoring programs, a third is a vague call for “mentor-based programs,” and the fourth is a vague call for increased technical education to produce more Kansans with “industry-demanded professional certifications.”

The report is 27 pages long, but spends most of that paper on summarizing the credentials of the 12 members of Brownback’s task force. The list of credentials actually appears twice, both before and after the six pages that actually provide recommendations for reducing child poverty.

Critics of Brownback’s anti-poverty efforts noted that the report includes no new ideas and no plan to gauge the success or failure of the initiatives it recommends. “We can tell people to go get jobs,” Betsy Cauble, the chairwoman of Kansas State University’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, told the Kansas Health Institute. “But if that’s going to work, those jobs are going to have to be there. Right now, they’re not.”