Impact of Kansas welfare reforms on children discussed

Welfare restrictions enacted by Gov. Sam Brownback have had a “causal effect” on the increase in child abuse and placement of children in foster care, the author of a Kansas University study said Tuesday, but an official with the Kansas Department for Children and Families disagreed with the study’s conclusions. 

The KU study and Brownback administration’s position were presented Tuesday to the House Children and Seniors Committee. 

Starting in 2011, Brownback and his Republican allies in the Legislature enacted a series of changes to the major cash assistance program — called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — that reduced the length of time for benefits and set up other restrictions. 

Professor Michelle Johnson-Motoyama said the KU study on TANF concluded: 

— In Kansas, sanctions that remove families from TANF as well as barriers to obtaining TANF appear to increase abuse and foster care placements. When families lost benefits through sanctions, abuse and neglect victims increased 15.3 percent and foster care placements increased 15.8 percent. 

“Restrictions on access to the safety net appear to have unintended and consequences with regard to human costs and costs to Kansas taxpayers,” said Johnson-Motoyama, who did the study along with Donna Ginther, also of KU. 

Johnson-Motoyama said the average TANF cash assistance to a family is approximately $375 per month while the cost of placing two children in foster care is $3,300 per month. 

“If we just put a little more in, we could’ve saved a lot,” said state Rep. Monica Murnan, D-Pittsburg. 

But DCF disagreed that there was a link between shortening the length of time for TANF benefits and children coming into foster care.  

Sandra Kimmons, director of economic and employment services for DCF, said the state of Montana has a longer time limit for TANF than Kansas and has seen an 86 percent increase in children entering foster care. 

Kimmons mostly spoke about DCF’s efforts at helping TANF recipients find employment. She said DCF provides many support services to assist job searches. She said in September, 331 individuals on TANF reported new employment earning an average monthly gross of $1,483. But Murnan noted that such a salary still is below the federal poverty level. 

Another recent study by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that that the vast majority of Kansas families leaving TANF did not find steady work and remained in poverty. And other studies show few Kansas families eligible for childcare assistance actually receive that assistance. 

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