- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Lawrence Journal-World, Dec. 9

Revisit laws on welfare

Kansas should look closely at whether the state’s restrictions on public assistance are in part to blame for a significant increase in children in the state’s foster care system

Incoming Gov. Laura Kelly said last week that new welfare rules adopted in 2015 have put stress on poor families and resulted in a spike in the number of children in the state’s foster care system.

“We know that it has had a huge impact on our foster care system, and the Legislature needs a chance to discuss that and revise it if they see fit,” Kelly said.

Starting in 2011, during the tenure of Gov. Sam Brownback, the state Department for Children and Families began implementing policies making it harder to qualify for public assistance. Those policies were adopted into law in 2015.

The law sets a lifetime limit of 36 months to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and requires healthy adults to participate in a job training program or work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for benefits. When the law was signed, Brownback and Phyllis Gilmore, then DCF secretary, touted it as a way to lift residents out of poverty and foster self-reliance.

The policies have definitely pushed residents off of public assistance. Since 2011, the average number of people receiving cash benefits each month has dropped nearly 75 percent, to fewer than 9,700. The state had provided assistance to more than 25,000 children; the figure is now fewer than 7,500.

During the same period, the number of neglected children in the Kansas foster care system has increased 45 percent, to more than 7,500 at the end of October.

Initial reaction to Kelly’s plan to address the foster care system by looking at the welfare laws was chilly, especially from Republicans. Senate President Susan Wagle said such a plan would be dead on arrival.

And House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins isn’t ready to roll back the welfare restrictions. “It’s about getting (public assistance recipients) back to work so they’re self-sufficient,” Hawkins said. “You want them to thrive.”

But what happens when they aren’t able to thrive? Is taking away public assistance the best answer?

It certainly stands to reason that policies limiting public benefits have disrupted families and forced more children into the foster care system. And most often, the cost of caring for a child in state custody is greater than the welfare benefits provided.

Public assistance programs are meant to provide a helping hand to those in need and the goal should always be for that assistance to be a bridge to the workforce and independence. But if the new welfare restrictions are forcing more children into state care - at an increased cost to the state and to the detriment of the children and their families - it’s only prudent to revisit those restrictions. Kelly’s idea makes sense and legislators like Wagle and Hawkins would be wise to open their minds to at least exploring potential reforms during the 2019 session.


The Kansas City Star, Dec. 7

KU is right to suspend “Pooka” Williams after a domestic battery arrest, but more must be done

News that a football player at the University of Kansas was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery is disturbing and frustrating for all of us - and perhaps especially so for those who followed the case of former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt this week.

According to paperwork in the Douglas County Sheriff’s office, KU running back Anthony Ray Williams - known as “Pooka” - was arrested Thursday afternoon. No other details concerning the accusation were immediately available.

New football coach Les Miles said Williams had been suspended from all football activities. “We are taking these allegations very seriously,” Miles said in a statement.

Kansans should not prejudge the Williams accusation until all the facts are in. At the same time, Miles was right to suspend the student from team activities pending a further investigation. Indeed, if the allegation proves to be true, further punishment will be warranted, including potential dismissal from the team and the university.

The Chiefs also made the right decision in dismissing Hunt, who shoved and kicked a woman in February.

Domestic violence and violence against women are a scourge. America must do more - much more - to educate men about the horrible danger of that violence, and how to find ways to avoid it.

That seems particularly true now for young athletes. Football is a violent game, but it is just a game. The people who organize and coach the sport have an absolute duty to teach players and coaches about the difference between the violence of the game and the costs of violence in the real world.

That counseling should begin early. And it should not be limited to a one-time lecture: If teams, even in high school, lack ongoing access to counseling and mental health services, they should add them now. Players and personnel should know help is always available to deal with anger involving physical threats to others.

That kind of counseling should be available to everyone, of course. The lack of quality mental health services in the United States is an ongoing scandal, undoubtedly adding to the higher crime rate in many cities. People who need help should be able to get it, without questions asked or a credit card required.

The people we cheer on Saturdays and Sundays are not perfect, and should not be held to that standard. But they must know - and should be taught, again - that hitting or threatening others is always wrong. They should also know where to find help if needed.

We hope Pooka Williams gets that help. The University of Kansas should make sure he gets it, whether or not he ever plays another down for the football team.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 9

All benefit when local charities thrive

The holiday season doesn’t just mean shopping or burly, bearded men dressed in crimson finery. It also means charitable organizations across the spectrum - the biggest and smallest - are jostling for your donations.

While you likely know the names of the biggest organizations seeking your aid, such as the Salvation Army, the World Wildlife Fund, the Red Cross and so on, there are numerous local charities that also need your help. We’ve covered many of them here in The Topeka Capital-Journal, writing about their holiday fundraisers and other efforts to bring in support for the new year. You may have seen the names of others on social media, where “Giving Tuesday” efforts spread far and wide last month.

These smaller organizations don’t have the staffing or advertising budgets of the big players. They don’t have a national profile. And yet they do more, every day, to shape this state. Feeding the hungry? They do that. Advocating for children? Absolutely. Taking care of residents with special needs? You bet. Providing shelter for the homeless? Yes and yes and yes.

When you hear about such a charity, or you see its name in these pages, don’t just nod and smile. Not in this holiday season, not when so many across this city, state and nation struggle to make ends meet.

Instead, why don’t you look up the organization online, find their donation page and open your wallet? You might want to conduct some research, of course. Not everyone in the world is honest and transparent, but if an organization has a robust website and long list of articles about it in the news media, you can be relatively confident in its mission and bona fides.

You shouldn’t feel compelled to give hundreds or thousands of dollars, either. The whole point of charity, of giving during this season, is to get in practice. Understand what it feels like to give something, even if it’s only $5, to a cause that matters. Then share that feeling with others. Then donate again,

Conservatives are fond of saying that the government does too much to help the needy, and that private organizations should do more. Liberals are sometimes too confident in believing that government action holds the keys to all societal ills.

Members of both groups should look to their communities, and the nonprofits doing crucial work throughout, and put their money to work. Conservatives can live their beliefs, and liberals can bolster organizations that fill the gaps that exist today.

In this season, that’s an easy - and rewarding - win for us all.

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