- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Sedgwick County commissioners are being warned not to ask participants in a federal nutrition program about their citizenship status or risk losing its ability to administer the program.

In a letter commissioners and the county counselor received last week, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said asking about the status of participants in the Women, Infants and Children program before a change in state eligibility requirements could result in termination of the county’s contract to operate WIC.

“The current state and local operating procedures do not limit participation in the WIC program,” the KDHE letter said. “Before participation is limited, the KDHE must amend the procedures for participation and provide USDA with the amended procedures.”

The letter does not address whether the state would seek such a change in the program, which provides checks to low-income families for nutritional foods, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1SD6X2j ) reported.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau suggested last fall that the county health department start using a questionnaire that would ask about the immigration status of all who use health department services, including WIC recipients. Some commissioners said the intent was to gather useful data on who the department serves.

E-mails obtained by The Eagle showed that U.S. Department of Agriculture authorities told state officials that asking for WIC clients’ immigration status would be out of compliance and endanger federal grant dollars.

If Sedgwick County lost its contract to administer the WIC program, someone else would take up operations and participants in the program would continue receiving assistance.

Public health and immigrant advocacy groups have blasted Ranzau’s proposal, saying it would have a chilling effect on people seeking services and put community health at risk.

The commissioner also proposed last fall that the state redefine its eligibility requirements to block illegal immigrants from participating in WIC. Ranzau was chairman last fall when the commission formally asked the state to review those policies in an October letter.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he wasn’t comfortable with “welfare … provided to folks who have broken our laws.”

Blocking people from WIC was not a good use of the commission’s time, Commissioner Dave Unruh said later.

“A child born here by our laws is an American citizen, and we wouldn’t want to exclude that child from receiving those benefits, whether their parent was legal or illegal,” he said. “We just need to provide these services as long as we have the resources to folks who need them.”

Ranzau said he was frustrated over the lack of a clear answer from the state about whether it plans to block illegal immigrants from getting WIC aid.

“They’ve failed to answer any of our questions, basically,” he said.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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