Increased food aid may keep children out of foster care

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Food assistance programs reduced the number of foster care cases by 14%, according to the KU study. Blaise Mesa/Kansas News Service

By BLAISE MESA
Kansas News Service

TOPEKA — A new study fuels arguments that the state could significantly save children from landing in foster care if the state spent more on things like child support for struggling families.

A University of Kansas study estimated that the number of foster care cases could drop 14% if taxpayers spent more on family support benefits.

Nearly three in four cases of child abuse — something that can throw children into foster care chaos — stem from neglect, which occurs when families can’t pay rent, struggle to groceries or pay for utilities.

The KU study found that in 2016, Kansas ranked near the bottom for “income generosity” programs that make families eligible for government assistance. For example, some states do not count child support as part of the amount of support a family may be entitled to.

Donna Ginther, director of KU’s Institute for Policy and Social Research, said food aid lowers reports of abused or neglected children because it gives families more financial flexibility.

“People who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) benefits have very low incomes and any money at the margin will make a difference,” she said. “The more generous a state, the better the outcomes for children.”

Ginther’s study focused on food assistance, but people who advocate for more government assistance to poor families argue that other social security programs can also prevent the kind of household collapse that can place children in a host family. Another study in 2017 said that a $1 increase in minimum wage reduced reports of child neglect by 9.6%.

Ginther called on lawmakers to be more generous with such programs, but they don’t have much political support among lawmakers who are expected to approve increases. In 2015, Kansas passed a series of welfare program reforms called the HOPE Act. He banned state agencies from promoting food benefits, limited welfare cash withdrawals from ATMs to $25 a day, and reduced lifetime eligibility for the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families.

Lawmakers at the time said the bill would lift people out of dependence on government assistance and get more people back into the workforce.

“A person has the right to refuse to work, but the taxpayer also has the right not to support that person,” Phyllis Gilmore, then secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said in 2015. “We have an obligation to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, and these are policies that help everyone win.

The HOPE Act also required 20-hour work weeks or job training programs. People who did not comply were kicked out of state-funded support. Kansas Republicans passed similar legislation this year while echoing comments from 2015.

“We have a lot of people who are trapped in poverty,” Rep. Pat Proctor, a Republican from Leavenworth, said on the House floor this year. “It is morally wrong to perpetuate a system that keeps people in poverty. If we have the ability to give these people…professional training so that they can be more successful…that’s 100% good.

Despite past legislation, Quinn Ried, policy research analyst for Kansas Appleseed, is becoming more optimistic about the future. He said more bipartisan support exists for certain measures, such as removing part of state law that bars some drug felons from getting food assistance.

Ried said the number of foster children has dropped in recent years, which he attributes to more liberal welfare programs that have expanded during the pandemic.

“Two years ago there wasn’t even a hearing on this,” he said. “A good foundation was laid in this regard in the last session, and I think we can build on that going forward.”

Ried said the upfront expense saves taxpayers in the long run. Foster families receive different rates depending on the child’s level of care, but the cheapest foster rates for a child are around $300 per month, with other rates over $700. The maximum SNAP benefit for a three-person household is $658.

Even if the political opposition blocks any change next spring, the Kansas Department of Children and Families is trying to address the issue now.

In 2014, half of foster children entered due to FINA withdrawal. FINA, or families in need of an assessment, could be a caregiver struggling with substance abuse or struggling to adequately care for a child. In 2022, only one child in three goes into foster care because of FINA.

DCF Secretary Laura Howard said it was the result of a DCF push to help families and keep children with their parents. She said foster care is traumatic and provides support to the family.

“We don’t really want to be a state or a society that says, ‘Because you’re poor or because you’re struggling to care for a child…that we want to take your child away from you,'” he said. she stated. . “We want to support this family.”

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at [email protected]

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