A study done by the University of Kansas found that while Kansas cut the amount of time families could get cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) and made it tougher to qualify, child abuse and neglect cases increased. As KCUR reported, the leading reason Kansas children are put into the foster care system is due to abuse and neglect.
“It’s remarkable. There is a mirror image,” KU economist Donna Ginther explained. “As the Kansas TANF caseloads drop, the number of reports of abuse and neglect go up. And you see a similar relationship for foster care placements.”
Due to the increase in requirements to qualify for TNAF and the cap on what families could receive, TNAF funds have plummeted from 14,321 families in 2011 to 4,563 in March 2017.
Under Brownback's "tea party experiment," TNAF has been sliced three different times. First, they cut the number of months a family could get benefits from 60 months to 48 months. Four years later, the Republican-led legislature passed the HOPE Act, which cut it even more, down to 36 months. By 2016, Republicans passed HOPE Act 2.0, which cut it down to 24 months with the possibility of getting a hardship extension for up to a year.
Gina Meier-Hummel, the Secretary of Kansas Department for Children and Families, claimed that her department's internal numbers don't show what the KU study reveals.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations about the policies and make sure we’ve got everything right,” she said earlier this week. “We obviously think we have the policy right, but we’ll continue to look at that.”
But Sandra Kimmons, Department for Children and Families director of economic and employment services, told KCUR that records from 2010 to 2016 revealed a constant percentage of families leaving TANF and children entering foster care in the 12 months that followed.
The study authors examined the number of children who entered the foster care system within 24 months of losing their TANF benefits. The Department of Children and Families only searched for the last 12 months. The KU researches also looked at families who not only lost their TANF funding but also who applied and were denied.
Republican Kansas Rep. Linda Gallagher sits on the child welfare task force and called the study the evidence she needs to call for improvements in the foster care system in the state. She's hoping the researchers can testify in a hearing about their findings so that legislators can begin to reverse the HOPE Act 2.0.
“I didn’t vote for the HOPE Act in the first place, so I welcome anything we can do to roll back aspects of it,” Gallagher said.
The Kansas legislature is led by a majority of so-called "pro-life" elected officials. A recent piece of legislation placed more barriers and hoops women must jump through to have an abortion. The law passed the House 85-38-2. It's unclear where these "pro-life" legislators stand on child abuse and neglect.