Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a master of deception, is attempting another sleight of hand by yanking money from the state’s poorest families under the guise of helping them.
The governor on Wednesday unveiled a program to seek mentors for welfare recipients and youths aging out of the state’s foster care system.
Community volunteers would guide people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, providing encouragement and help with education, problem-solving, career and employment needs. Brownback hopes that 1,100 mentors will step up to reduce low-income families’ time and reliance on welfare.
But Brownback already reined back welfare. Last year he signed into law a bill that caps lifetime TANF subsidies at 36 months, two years less than is allowed under federal law.
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That cut was painful to TANF recipients. Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director of United Community Services of Johnson County, described them as the poorest of the poor in Kansas.
To be eligible for TANF, the income for a family of three is around $6,000. That Kansas family receives about $400 a month in TANF funds for such things as food, shelter and utilities.
Brownback’s mentoring program would redirect federal TANF funds that now go to needy families to create five positions in the Kansas Department for Children and Families. Jim Echols will be program director of HOPE Mentoring, which stands for Hope, Prosperity for Everyone.
Four regionally based coordinators, serving the Kansas City and Wichita areas and western and eastern parts of the state, are to collect applications from potential mentors and match them with welfare recipients wanting to participate in the program. Potential volunteers would undergo background checks and receive training. Ideally they would spend a a minimum of an hour a month with clients.
It’s notable that Brownback, who professes to want to shrink state government, is creating a new function for one of his departments. And there are already pressing questions about whether that particular department, Children and Families, is competently protecting vulnerable children and performing other core responsibilities.
Volunteers and trained professionals in social service agencies, nonprofits and churches already do the kind of mentoring work that Brownback wants to start — without creating a new state bureacracy or taking away welfare money that should go to benefit the state’s most needy residents.
“The broader question is whether this is the most effective strategy when these are families that really need something different from the state,” Wulfkuhle said.
To lift families out of poverty, Kansas should be increasing its investment in child care subsidies, health care, education and high-quality job training.
The complexity of poverty in Kansas is increasing, claiming more children and families. The state’s poverty rate is 13.8 percent of the population, up from 11.2 percent in 2007.
Reducing services and only providing simple, redundant gestures don’t help.
It just makes matters worse.