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State policy ignores harsh reality

Federal grants to Kansas helped meet real needs

By The Mercury

We sure do wish the Brownback administration would stop turning down federal money that can improve the lot of our state’s citizens.

The prime example, of course is the $31.5 million in federal money to lay the groundwork for health care exchanges called for in the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Gov. Sam Brownback wanted no part of it. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger in 2011 counseled against returning the money, but her practical advice stood no chance against the governor’s ideological views.

Like most Republican governors, Gov. Brownback assumed that either Congress would repeal Obamacare or the U.S. Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional. Neither happened. As a result, instead of the convenience of a state exchange, Kansans shopping for insurance under Obamacare must go through the federally-run exchanges.

More recently, the governor decided to cut ties with a federal grant program that helps Kansans who need food stamps to acquire them.

The sums involved don’t approach $31.5 million, but there’s little doubt that Kansans — although not in the Manhattan area — will be adversely affected. The Kansas Department of Children and Families on Sept. 30 notified agencies that help people get food assistance in Dodge City, Wichita, Rice County, Kansas City and Independence that their federal grants, which range from $12,621 to $16,278, would not be distributed.

The state’s rationale: “We simply do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to recruit people to be on welfare.” So said Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Department of Children of Families. For good measure, she added, “DCF believes that encouraging people to sign up for welfare benefits is not consistent with our position that welfare should be used temporarily and serve as a bridge to employment and self-sufficiency.”

That’s easy to say on a full stomach.

Unfortunately, it ignores the reality that workers in the outreach programs deal with on a regular basis. Debbie Snapp, director of Catholic Social Services in Dodge City, said, “The majority of people are working, or they are single moms with small children.”

The individuals she tries to help are among the nearly 320,000 Kansans — about half of whom are children — who benefit from food stamps, though the program is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Do some undeserving individuals get food stamps? Almost certainly. Will some people who are now cut off from food stamps — and who don’t already have jobs — be encouraged to look for work? We hope so. In fact we hope they already have.

But one of the harsh realities of this economy is that lots of people who look for work are turned away. It is wrong on a fundamental level for Kansas to also turn such citizens away when they or their children are hungry.









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