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Legislature ties SNAP for able-bodied adults to job training or part-time job

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TOPEKA — The Kansas House and Senate voted to send Gov. Laura Kelly a measure Thursday mandating able-bodied adults without dependents hold down a job for 30 hours a week or enroll in a job training program to receive federal food assistance.

Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican who chairs the House commerce committee, said he was convinced placing the requirement into state law would compel more people 18 to 49 years of age without a disability to enter the workforce. If Kelly concurred, Kansans meeting the work-hour minimum or enroll in job training wouldn’t be blocked from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also called SNAP or food stamps.

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“It’s a successful program. Helps people learn new skills. Get higher wage jobs,” said Tarwater, who expects the bill to help motivate people to get a substantive job. “We think people will just go back to work for 30 hours rather than go to a class.”

Opponents of House Bill 2448 said the only public advocate for shifting the Kansas job training program from a voluntary option to a government mandate in relation to food stamps was the Florida think tank Opportunity Solutions Project. A representative of the organization said the pressure tactic was necessary to move people off the sidelines and into an economy starved for workers.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, said the legislation would require the Kansas Department for Children and Families to hire employees — perhaps as many as 30 — to track whether SNAP applicants were fulfilling the weekly work or job training directive.

“You’ve got an outside, out-of-state organizing trying to impose their will and their policies on us,” Clayton said. “In short, sketch process from a sketch proponent. It will impose an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.”

The legislation cleared the House on a vote of 70-46 after emerging from the Senate on a vote of 28-11.

In the Senate, debate brushed up against the comparable themes of government’s duty to encourage people to find a way out of poverty and the risk of undermining an individual’s immediate food security in exchange for potential job gains down the road. In addition, champions of the bill said the issue was crafting self-sufficiency among adults. Skeptics called it just mean.

“The whole purpose of this is to encourage people to get the training to go back to work,” said Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, said she was concerned individuals who needed food stamps could jeopardize their low-paying job to comply with the training program order. She also said the bill could cost DCF as much as $2.7 million annually to track compliance among SNAP applicants or recipients.

Kansas lawmakers should expand enrollment in job training initiatives so families can escape bondage of generational poverty, said Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth. He said it was “morally wrong to perpetuate a system that keeps people poor.”

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Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, said the bill was designed to make life more difficult for impoverished people even if they had a job. He said the legislation had more to do with conservative legislators scoring points with their base voters than addressing food or training needs of the poor.

In fact, he said, the legislation represented an unnecessary expansion of state government and a waste of tax dollars.

“This is bad policy if you’re conservative,” Probst said. “It’s bad policy if you care about poor people. We’re doing this all just to be mean to poor people and say we get to decide what they do and don’t do.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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