Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration says it has found a way to provide extended food assistance to adults who can’t meet the state’s work requirements.

Kelly’s goal is laudable. Kansas lawmakers deserve criticism for humiliating the poor with punitive laws and regulations, including an aggressive work requirement. No one wants to be poor, or avoids work to pick up food assistance worth about $110 a month.

Overly stringent work requirements for public benefits in Kansas are meant to punish the poor, not to help them.

But Kansans should be worried whenever a governor uses a regulation or loophole to overturn the clear intent of the Legislature, and that’s what is happening here. Republicans are right to criticize the governor’s approach.

The issue has arisen because the state caps nutrition benefits for able-bodied adults at three months over a 36-month period, unless the client is working or undergoing job training. That’s the federal standard.

The law also prohibits the state from seeking a federal waiver for more generous benefits or beginning a different program to avoid the work requirement.

In a memo dated May 17, though, the Kansas Department for Children and Families said the state had accumulated 58,000 federally-authorized exemptions that allow for extended benefits for clients who aren’t working. The state will use those exemptions to “extend food assistance eligibility,” according to the memo.

Republicans understandably have reacted with frustration. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins called the decision a direct violation of state statutes: “It’s appalling that the Kelly administration would attempt to undermine legislative intent and Kansas law,” he said in a statement.

The Department for Children and Families insists that using the exemptions isn’t the same as a waiver or a new program, so it fits within the law’s framework. The courts may end up determining the legality of the maneuver.

Kelly’s own opposition to strict work requirements for nutrition benefits is clear, and our support for her view remains intact. But the way to loosen those requirements is through a new law, not a regulatory loophole.

To understand this, reverse the situation: What would the reaction be if a Republican governor imposed work requirements for nutrition benefits, in contradiction of a state law prohibiting them? Kansans would be angry, and they’d have a right to be.

If the governor wants to convince Kansans to make food assistance more generous, she should argue that case. Kansas lawmakers are far too interested in hurting the poor, and Kelly is on the right side of this issue.

But the ends don’t justify the means. Using a loophole to reach a policy goal sets a dangerous precedent that future governors could exploit on other issues.

Kelly should rescind the order and then convince the Legislature to change the law.

Kansas City Star

(4) comments

Justice81

Well, "heaven forbid" Democrats to use Loopholes against Republicans! You need to grow up...everyone everywhere uses LOOPHOLES!

SnowGypsy

Gee, having to work to put food on your table? I remember when that was a given for the able-bodied. Considering there isn't money for education, no money to fund those waiting for services for citizens that are elderly and/or disabled, this just seems like someone pandering for votes for the "Party of Free Stuff". I hear that companies are needing workers and don't know where to get them from, well, maybe make not working more lucrative to fill those positions. I see companies all over town needing help. If Kansas is more generous with public assistance, "they" will come to get it, and that is not the kind of citizens that will benefit the state. Kelly was able to win because of the heavy funding coming in from outside of the state from groups that are pushing abortion, socialism, free, free, and more free. Taxes are hideous in Kansas and continuing to drag the state in the mud, so more to public assistance means those working pay more and more and more.............. Best business in Kansas might be renting out U-Haul trucks!

booker5m

Only 3 more years and this gal is GONE! Kansas knows what a mistake this was.

Aim_High

That's what we all thought about Brownback too, but it took 8 years to get rid of him!

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