The Kansas Department for Children and Families won’t be dropping 350 families from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rolls on July 1.
Instead, these families — all of whom have been on TANF for at least 36 months — will have a six-month “grace period” to figure out how to make ends meet without their TANF benefits. The new cutoff date for these families will be Jan. 1.
“It is our goal to help individuals adjust to this new policy by working closely with them during the transition period to assess their situation, address their circumstances and achieve self-sufficiency before they exhaust their TANF eligibility,” Theresa Freed, a DCF spokesperson, said in an email.
The shift in policy comes after legislators last month passed — and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law — a bill lowering families’ lifetime TANF eligibility from 48 months to 36 months. The new law, Brownback said, is meant to strengthen families by lessening their dependence on government programs.
The 350 families that already passed 36 months on TANF, according to DCF estimates, include approximately 700 children. The total number of Kansas families on TANF as of April was 6,015.
In Kansas, the average TANF cash assistance benefit is $111 per person per month. Generally, a family is not eligible for TANF if the household’s income exceeds 26 percent of the federal poverty level, which is roughly $435 a month for a family of three.
Families that reach the 48-month threshold after July 1 will be dropped from the program. DCF will begin enforcing the 36-month lifetime limit on Jan. 1.
Sandra Kimmons, economic and employment services director at DCF, said the department will begin sending letters in late June or early July to the families it expects will be affected by the 36-month cap on eligibility.
Parents in these families, she said, will be encouraged to meet with their DCF case managers, who will help them follow through on their plans for “moving off of TANF assistance and into self-sufficiency.”
These plans, she said, are in place, having been developed shortly after the parent signed up for TANF.
Some families, Kimmons said, may be eligible for a “hardship exemption” that will allow them to remain on TANF for up to an additional 12 months.
The exemption is limited to parents who are recovering from domestic violence or sexual assault, caring for a severely disabled child, coping with a long-term disability that’s likely to lead to eligibility for Social Security benefits or heeding DCF-sanctioned plans to retrieve their children from the state’s foster care system.
Families in sudden, catastrophic circumstances — a house fire, for example — may be eligible for an exemption as well. Last year, DCF granted fewer than 40 hardship exemptions.
Families that are no longer eligible for TANF, Freed said, will be made aware of other resources — a food pantry, for example — that may be available in their communities.
They will remain eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, Medicaid and, perhaps, help in paying for child care and for utilities.
The average TANF family, Freed said, spends a total of 18 months on the cash-assistance program.
Advocates for the poor have panned the new law and DCF’s shift in policy.
The 36-month cap on TANF eligibility will harm families that already are among the state’s most vulnerable, said Jeanette Collier, who runs NEK-CAP Inc., a 20-county anti-poverty program based in Hiawatha.
“I know there’s a mindset out there that says 36 months (lifetime limit) is plenty long enough for people to get their acts together,” she said. “And for some people it is. But for the people who are going to be affected by this, it’s not.”
“On the community level,” Collier said, “neither the resources nor the systems are in place to ensure that these families are going to remain housed or be fed.”
Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.