After being briefed on the matter, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that he won’t change a policy that eliminated food stamps for hundreds of children.
But several state legislators promised to do their own review.
The bipartisan group wants a further explanation of the policy change by the state’s Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The change eliminated food stamps for hundreds of low-income children who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are illegal immigrants.
Brownback had said Tuesday that he planned to ask SRS workers in the field for an update on the policy and how it is affecting children.
On Wednesday, his spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said that Brownback had been updated by Jeff Kahrs, SRS’ acting secretary.
“The governor is not going to make any changes to the program,” she wrote in an email.
Lawmakers, however, want a closer look.
“We don’t want to give benefits to illegal aliens, or people who sell the food stamps for drugs,” said Rep. Jerry Henry, an Atchison-area Democrat who is on the House Social Services Budget Committee. “But the issue here is we may be hurting children, and that’s the bottom line.
“...I can assure you that the majority of legislators will want some assurance that protection is put in place for children affected by this policy. I believe we will be discussing this pretty quickly.”
By law, illegal immigrants are not eligible for food stamps. However, U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants can be.
Since the change went into effect Oct. 1, more than 1,000 households have lost their food stamps. Many said they had relied heavily on benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Under the new policy, SRS counts the entire income of all members of a household. Before the change, the agency counted only a portion if one or more members did not provide proof of legal U.S. residency.
SRS officials say the new policy is fair. The old formula, they say, gave some households with illegal immigrants more benefits than some households of the same size with all U.S. citizens.
Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, told The Associated Press that the change “has the effect of denying food to children, which is something I could never support.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, agreed and said the policy must be reviewed.
“There are other ways to approach this other than to cut off access to food for these kids,” she said.
Advocates for low-income Kansans were happy to hear that legislators would examine the SRS policy.
“This reflects a growing recognition that the current policy changes aren’t working,” said Elena Morales of El Centro, an anti-poverty agency in Kansas City, Kan.
SRS should return to the old policy, she said, and add a cap to make sure that no household that includes non-citizens gets more in food stamps than if they were all U.S. citizens.
Kelly said Brownback’s response was a “most unfortunate” decision by a governor who has vowed to reduce child poverty.
“I don’t see how you could say that one of the primary goals of your administration is to lift children out of poverty and then implement a policy like this that clearly drives children deeper into poverty,” Kelly said. “I don’t understand that.”