Twenty thousand unemployed Kansas residents may soon lose access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Unemployed Kansas residents will no longer qualify for food stamps if they fail to land a 20-hours-per-week job by Oct. 1, a move that could potentially impact 20,000 people and be picked up by other states like Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
The impending change to the state’s food assistance formula is being justified by the state’s Department for Children and Families as one intended to encourage Kansas families to work their way out of poverty.
“We know that employment is the most effective way to escape poverty,” Phyllis Gilmore, head of the Department for Children and Families, said in a press release. “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.”
Yet for those who do not find work offering at least 20 hours per week, the fall into poverty will hit harder than ever before.
“Once again, we find ourselves cutting off the most vulnerable Kansans from support,” Annie McKay, director of local think tank the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, told the Kansas City Star. “Taking someone off food stamp assistance isn’t going to suddenly create jobs for them.”
The 20,000 potentially to be impacted are those considered by the state to be capable of obtaining employment, and it excludes the portion of the population that is supporting dependent children.
The move comes as the state allows the expiration of a federal waiver, implemented in the state’s system due to high unemployment rates, which in 2012 sat at 5.7 percent, down from 6.5 percent in 2011.
The waiver was given to most states at the height of the Great Recession, except for New Hampshire, Delaware, Vermont, Wyoming and Utah.
The downward trend in Kansas unemployment is a sign to the department that the waiver is no longer necessary. In 2009, the federal program allowed states to apply for the waiver, which opened the doors for the childless unemployed to receive access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
State officials now claim jobs are available — and that it’s time to get back to work. In 2012, the state saw an increase of 18,100 non-farm jobs, according to the Kansas Department of Labor, representing a 1.4 increase from 2011.
“Over the past several years, Kansas has built a great business environment,” Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary Pat George said in a press release. “As a result, our state is enjoying strong job growth.”
This isn’t the first time in recent years Kansas has worked to eliminate the number of people eligible for public assistance. In 2011, 14,000 were cut from programs, including 2,000 adults living in poverty who suffered from disabilities, according to The Kansas City Star.