Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Brownback defends handling of programs designed to help poor Kansans

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday defended his handling of programs designed to help the poor in the wake of a report that showed child poverty had increased during his tenure while poor families receiving cash assistance from the state had dropped.

Brownback said the 38 percent decrease in the number of families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families was because of people who refused to comply with a requirement that they look for a job.

"I think that is a pretty modest requirement," Brownback said. "The best way to get out of poverty is a job," he said.

The Kansas City Star reported during the weekend that the child poverty rate in Kansas had increased from 14.5 percent in 2008 to 18.8 percent.

Approximately 39,000 Kansans received TANF when Brownback took office. Since then, the rolls have decreased by 15,000. That decrease includes 9,000 children.

Advocates for the poor have said the Brownback administration has implemented rules that make it more difficult for low-income families to receive help.

TANF is designed to help the poorest of the poor. To qualify, families can have annual incomes no greater than 28 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is approximately $6,500.

In 2011, the Brownback administration announced several major changes in TANF, including a reduction in the amount of time people can receive cash assistance over a lifetime to 48 months from 60 months.

Another policy requires that people look for 20 jobs a week as their applications are being processed. Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the search for 20 jobs a week is flexible.

"That is our goal. But of course each individual case is different, as is each individual community. In smaller communities, obviously this is going to be a steeper hill to climb than in a metropolitan area. Caseworkers do have a certain amount of flexibility," she said. In addition, she said, mothers with infants in their homes are not held to this requirement.

Brownback said his administration is focused on getting people jobs and providing more stable family situations.

He has also set up a task force to make recommendations on reducing child poverty.