Kansas plans to throw more than a fifth of its nearly 90,000 unemployed residents off of the food stamp rolls by reinstating federal work requirements for the program that are normally waived during times of unusually high unemployment. The state’s Department for Children and Families announced the move Wednesday and projected that 20,000 unemployed Kansans currently on food assistance will be affected.
The federal rules for food assistance require that able-bodied recipients who do not have dependent children — a very small subset of the food stamp population — work at least 20 hours per week in order to receive the aid for longer than three months. But states can waive that requirement when jobs are especially scarce, and nearly every state has done so during the Great Recession and gradual recovery. Kansas will be the fifth state to reinstitute the work requirement, and Oklahoma and Wisconsin are reportedly poised to follow suit shortly.
Nationwide, there are more than 3 job seekers for every job opening. Critics of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) decision to reinstate the work requirements, such as Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, noted that the state can’t change that scarcity of work through sheer willpower. “Taking someone off food stamp assistance isn’t going to suddenly create jobs for them,” McKay told the Kansas City Star. Chad Manspeaker, a city councilman in Topeka, told the Huffington Post that unemployment is a long-term problem and “we don’t solve it by starving them.”
Brownback’s approach to poverty throughout his term has reflected this same approach to reducing economic hardship. He has cut nearly 15,000 people off the welfare rolls, eliminated child tax credits that primarily benefit the working poor, and gotten rid of tax rebates for food and rent that were targeted to the poorest Kansans. Over the same period, Brownback has shifted some of the state’s tax burden off of wealthy shoulders and onto poor ones while falling nearly half a billion dollars short of the minimum level of education funding to which residents are legally entitled. Poverty data for 2012 will not be released until later this month, but child poverty in Kansas rose from 18 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2011. Thanks to population growth, the overall poverty rate for the state slid by 0.2 percentage points despite the total number of Kansans in poverty having risen.
The vast majority of food stamp recipients are either working or not part of the population that is expected to work. Children, the elderly, and the disabled make up more than two-thirds of the food stamp rolls. Over 80 percent of recipients who would be expected to work find a job within a year of enrolling in the program. Over 95 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients who had a job when they enrolled continued to work while receiving the aid.