The Republican-led state government of Kansas has instituted new limits on the amount of time an individual is eligible for welfare benefits. S.B. 402 will change the lifetime limit from 36 to 24 months for cash assistance from Temporary Aid to Needy Families.
Caretakers of newborn babies and disabled people may be exempt from the limit, and the state can grant individual extensions of up to a year.
The bill is a continuation of the 2015 HOPE Act. It also contains tighter work requirements and fraud penalties.
The bill was signed into law on May 16 by Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who praised the law in a press conference, saying “hard deadlines” will help needy families transition from welfare to employment.
“It’s helped people get out of poverty, it’s helped people have more income and it’s helped people get back their dignity,” Brownback told reporters. He also mentioned a study by the Foundation for Government Accountability that found a 127 percent income rise in the first year after leaving the program for able-bodied workers in Kansas.
Critics of the law say it will hurt poor families and strengthen the cycle of poverty. Democratic lawmakers cited other parts of the same Foundation for Government Accountability study, which found that even though incomes rose, most families remained well below the poverty line a year after leaving the program.
According to the Kansas Department for Children and Needy Families, the new limit will cause 420 families to lose benefits in January 2017. Approximately 4,900 families currently receive TANF benefits in Kansas.
The availability of welfare benefits has declined sharply in Kansas over the last five years. In 2011, the lifetime limit was five years, compared with two years under the new law.
Kansas lawmakers also made headlines in April with a bill banning the use of welfare funds on a list of goods and services that included psychics, tattoos and spas. The Democratic minority denounced the move as discriminatory and stigmatizing