- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback touted the welfare limits he signed into law Monday as a way to free recipients from the grip of poverty, but critics argued some families could be left without a safety net during financial difficulties.

The changes in public assistance eligibility are a continuation of the 2015 HOPE Act, a law designed to move families off of welfare and into the workforce. The new law will reduce the lifetime limit on cash assistance from 24 to 36 months, although the state can grant an extension of up to 12 months.

Able-bodied recipients of food assistance would be required to keep their jobs, provided they’re at least 30 hours a week, or participate in an employment or training program. A first-time violation of the requirements results in a three-month ineligibility. The penalty increases to six months for a second-time offense and one year for subsequent violations until the work requirements are met.

However, caretakers of newborn babies will be exempted from a work requirement to receive cash benefits for up to three months, unless one adult in the plan has already reached the lifetime limit.

“It’s helped people get out of poverty, it’s helped people have more income and in some cases it’s helped people get back their dignity to get back into the labor force,” Brownback said about the welfare reform measures during a news conference Monday. He referenced a February report from the conservative research group Foundation for Government Accountability that found able-bodied Kansans experienced a 127 percent rise in their income within a year of leaving the food assistance program.

Within the next year, the administration also estimates that about 9 percent of the roughly 4,900 households receiving cash assistance will become ineligible to receive benefits because they have reached the two-year limit.

“It’s necessary to decrease lifetime limit to encourage people to get back into the game,” Brownback said.

But critics fear that restrictions on public assistance have only lightened the welfare roll without reducing poverty levels. The state has decreased the amount of children on cash assistance it serves by over 60 percent since 2007, according to the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children. Yet the childhood poverty rate has increased by 20 percent.

“Application requirements have led to thousands of needy families not being able to get onto aid at all, or get access to work programs that might be offered,” Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the liberal research group Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in an email. “And sanctions have resulted in thousands of families losing benefits, often those with the greatest barriers to employment and who may not have been able to do what the work requirement assigned to them.”

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