New food assistance restrictions win committee approval


A bill broadening the work and job-training requirements for older Kansans to qualify for food assistance moved out of a House committee Thursday.

The newly created House Welfare Reform Committee approved a bill that would require someone 50 to 59 years old to work at least 30 hours a week or participate in a mandatory employment and training program.

The bill was tweaked to address concerns raised by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration that it would violate federal food assistance regulations because the state cannot impose additional restrictions on federal food-assistance benefits.

Democratic state Rep. Heather Meyer of Overland Park opposed the bill, partly because there seemed to be little public support for the measure.

Heather Meyer

“Several constituents from across the state reached out to us to let us know how they felt about these bills and that they were opposed,” Meyer said.

“I have not seen one email, or had one phone call, or one social media message in support of this bill,” she said.

“I implore you all, as you make your decision on how to move forward with this bill, to consider what your constituents think and vote in that manner,” she said.

Meyer tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill so that employers who paid their workers so little that they were still eligible for food assistance would have had to pay the state an amount equivalent to those benefits.

Susan Humphries

Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries of Wichita said she believed in a robust safety net for the most vulnerable part of the population.

The question, she said, is how that can be accomplished.

“I believe that work is a blessing,” Humphries said.

“People who work have a pride in a job,” she said. “If we can help move people a little bit in that direction, then I am all for that.”

Humphries talked about her son, who has been underemployed at times and how it affected how he thought of himself at times when he couldn’t support his family.

“He’s now kind of gotten over that. He’s has a great job. He’s supporting his family,” she said. “He’s now like a different person.”

She broadened that goal for the general public.

“If we can help people move into the next level of self worth and support and contributing to society, that’s what I want to do,” she said.

The bill was backed by the Opportunity Solutions Project, a conservative think tank incorporated as a 501(c)(4) organization and headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida.

Steve Greene, the group’s lobbyist, told lawmakers that the bill would be one way of addressing the workforce shortage in Kansas.

Citing federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Greene noted there are 97,000 open jobs in Kansas.

He said there are establishments around the state that are now closed during normal business hours because of a labor shortage.

Greene said the number of able-bodied adults without dependents receiving food assistance declined by about 1,000 after the new job requirements were started last year.

He said the legislation is intended to build on a law enacted last year that required able- bodied adults who are 18 to 49 years old without dependents to work at least 30 hours a week or participate in a mandatory employment and training program.

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the requirement, saying it would burden families. The Legislature later overrode the governor’s veto.

Erin Melton, food security policy adviser for Kansas Action for Children, criticized the committee’s action.

“It’s clear that many members of the Welfare Reform Committee do not understand the needs of Kansans struggling to afford groceries,” Melton said in a statement.

The bill is “punitive and will create more barriers to accessing the food assistance program.

“And instead of passing bills that will improve the food insecurity rates in the state, the committee is attempting to make it more difficult on hungry Kansans.”