Twenty thousand Kansans could see their food stamp benefits eliminated under a policy change that Republicans in Washington would like to apply nationwide.
As part of the Clinton era “welfare reform” able bodied adults were required to work a certain number of hours per week in order to receive food stamps, also known as “SNAP” benefits. The 2009 stimulus bill permitted states to waive the work requirement during times of high unemployment, and many, including Kansas, did so. But now, under the leadership of extreme right wing governor Sam Brownback, Kansas is preparing to reinstate the requirement that able bodied adults who have no dependent children must work at least twenty hours per week, or participate in a federally approved job training program.
The waiver will expire at the end of September, and Republican state officials are trotting out the platitudes to defend their decision.
“We know that employment is the most effective way to escape poverty,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said. “As long as federal work requirements are met, no one will lose food assistance; the law only affects those individuals who are capable of working and have no dependent children.”
Gilmore also observed that SNAP benefits are “tax dollars. It is not free money.”
Farm subsidies are not “free money,” either. The Kansas City Star reported on August 31 that Kansas receives much more money for farm subsidies than it receives in SNAP funds. Governor Brownback has been a past recipient of those subsidies.
Government assistance should be just that, a safety net, not a long-term way of life. Government assistance should be a hand up, not a hand-out. Individuals who take short-term assistance to avoid long-term dependency need to maintain empowerment over their lives, and a work requirement does just that.
Statistics show that assistance such as food stamps is not “a long-term way of life” for most who receive it. Although many choose to believe otherwise, most welfare recipients receive benefits for five years or less.
Kansas officials are saying that the reason for this change is because Kansas no longer meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s criteria to continue the waiver. This claim is questionable given that the actual USDA regulation regarding the waiver says that a state is eligible “in areas with an unemployment rate above 10 percent or for those in an area with insufficient jobs.”
Officials also say the state was given the opportunity to use a “12-month lookback” to a time of higher unemployment in order to meet those criteria, but they declined. This is also curious, as the unemployment rate for Kansas was virtually the same a year ago as it is now. In fact, although the Kansas Department of Labor says the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008, according to the federal Bureau Of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Kansas is currently increasing. After reaching a low of 5.5 percent this past January and February, Kansas unemployment now stands at 5.9 percent.
Some believe that there are other forces at work behind this decision. Topeka city councilman Chad Manspeaker (D) thinks that the policy change is designed to get the Republican base behind governor Brownback in advance of the 2014 election. Republicans in the state are split between Brownback’s ultra-conservative wing and moderates, with the conservatives wielding complete control over state government. Former state senate president and moderate Republican Steve Morris has accused Brownback and his allies Charles and David Koch of wanting to turn Kansas into an “ultra-conservative utopia.”
Republicans in Washington are watching this policy change in Kansas with an eye towards eliminating the waiver on a nationwide basis. The Huffington Post reports that last month GOP members of the House signaled their plan to submit legislation that would do just that, regardless of a state’s unemployment rate. The House GOP already passed a farm bill this summer that had funding for food stamps stripped from it, although it contained millions in farm subsidies. Any bill passed by the House that eliminates the waiver would likely face a tough road in the Senate, or a presidential veto should it pass the Senate.
As with many other issues the anti-government Republican line on farm subsidies versus food stamps is “government program that benefits me-GOOD. Government program that benefits you-BAD.”