- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republicans pushed a further tightening of Kansas’ welfare rules through the state Senate on Thursday after rejecting a Democratic proposal to give poor mothers of newborns a year of relief from a work requirement.

The Senate’s vote was 31-8, along party lines, sending it to the GOP-dominated House. The measure’s chances of becoming law appear good, given strong support among Republicans for such measures in the past and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s touting of Kansas as a welfare reform model.

The bill tightens a lifetime limit on cash benefits and requires the state to look for winners of lottery jackpots of more than $5,000 among welfare recipients. It also requires the Department for Children and Families to launch an anti-fraud investigation if welfare recipient repeatedly replaces benefit cards.

Republicans argued that such changes are in keeping with their larger goal of moving people out of poverty and a dependence on government assistance into good jobs. The state’s cash assistance and food stamps rolls have dropped since Brownback took office in January 2011.

“We are giving people their dignity back,” said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican.

Able-bodied adults receiving cash assistance are required to work, search for work or be enrolled in job training. Poor mothers of newborns are exempt from the requirement for three months.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, proposed extending the exemption for new mothers to 12 months, saying it would benefit both parent and child.

His proposed amendment failed on a voice vote. Republicans said his plan would have given welfare recipients far more time off work than mothers who work receive.

The bill decreases the lifetime limit on cash assistance to 24 months to 36 months, though the state can grant emergency extensions of up to 12 months. Department for Children and Families officials said the average lifetime use is 16 months, down from 18 months last year.

This year’s bill follows a GOP-backed law enacted last year tightening welfare rules. The 2015 changes received national attention because it included a long list of items that couldn’t be purchased with welfare benefits, including tattoos, body piercings, and consultations with psychics.

“It amazes me how far my colleagues will go to ensure that needy people don’t get any help,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was in Ohio on Thursday, promoting Kansas’ welfare changes to a legislative commission, saying they helped get people back to work.

“These people can look at themselves and know they lifted themselves out of poverty,” he said in a statement.

Advocates for the poor in Kansas contend the policy changes pursued by Republicans simply deny needy families benefits.

When Brownback took office in January 2011, the state provided temporary cash assistance for about 40,000 residents, most of them children, at a cost of $4.4 million a month. By December 2015, both figures had dropped more than 66 percent, to fewer than 13,000 residents and less than $1.5 million a month.

The declines for food stamps is less dramatic, but the program’s spending in December 2015, at $29 million, was 23 percent lower than the nearly $38 million a month the state spent when Brownback took office.

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This story has been corrected to show that the state currently provides a three-month exemption to its work requirement for cash assistance recipients for mothers of newborns, not a two-month exemption.

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Online:

Welfare bill: https://bit.ly/1SDdMpj

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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