- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A member of a Kansas legislative oversight committee questioned Tuesday whether new state policies were leading to fewer people being eligible for state assistance programs and contributing to lower cost estimates in the coming years.

Of concern to members of the joint House and Senate committee was how the estimates were calculated and whether Kansas residents were being denied services they otherwise are eligible to receive under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“Why is the number of poor people going up and the costs going down?” asked Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat.

TANF is a federally funded program that aims to help low-income families achieve self-sufficiency through block grants of funds to states. The Kansas Department for Children and Families administers the TANF program, serving about 18,000 state residents monthly, though the number has been declining from as many as 38,000 a month in 2011 when the state was emerging from the Great Recession.

Several policy changes and state laws adopted since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011 have tightened eligibility, including requiring drug tests for applicants. There have also been increased education and employment requirements to receive assistance, resulting in fewer residents getting benefits.

The state has been able to increase its TANF reserves, which Gov. Sam Brownback tapped last December to expand a literacy program in southeast Kansas aimed at reducing the cycle of poverty. The state claims by increasing literacy it will lower the likelihood of unwanted teen pregnancies. Reducing the cycle of poverty, one of the purposes allowed under federal guidelines.

However, Sen. Laura Kelly renewed questions Tuesday whether the $9 million set aside for reading could be justified under federal.

“I think everyone in the room would agree that is a bit of a stretch,” said Kelly, a Topeka Democrat.

The committee spent the bulk of its day reviewing the state’s KanCare Medicaid system, which is administered through three private insurance companies. Kansas privatized the program in 2013 to reduce the growth of health care costs, which are shared by state and federal sources.

Republican legislators asked KanCare staff whether increased numbers of participants in the program were related to more residents seeking Medicaid as a so-called woodwork effect of the federal health care overhaul. The legislators were concerned that more people seeking Medicaid coverage would drive up the state cost to administer the program.

Staff members said it hadn’t been determined if the mandate was causing the increase or it if was general marketing of the state system by the three providers.