After Welfare Reforms, Kansas Childhood Poverty Rates Fall

Published October 30, 2017

Childhood poverty rates in Kansas declined by 26 percent over the past five years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, with the great majority of the improvement coming after the state government instituted work requirements for welfare recipients.

The U.S. Census Bureau released datasets for the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) on October 19, including survey data on the number of children living in impoverished households. Last year, the bureau estimated 122,000 Kansas children lived in low-income households.

This year, the ACS reported Kansas’ childhood poverty rate declined by 18.9 percent, compared to the 2015 rate.

On September 28, Brownback released a press release about the falling poverty rates reported by the ACS’ preliminary data, saying “our policies are good for Kansas families, the economy and taxpayers.”

In 2015, Brownback signed Senate Bill 265 into law, reinstating work requirements for welfare recipients and reducing the cumulative lifetime length of time an individual can collect food stamps.

From Welfare to Work

Jonathan Ingram, vice-president of research at the Foundation for Government Accountability, says Kansans are better off, thanks to Brownback’s 2015 entitlement reforms.

“Kansas’ reforms have led to more employment, higher incomes, and less time trapped in dependency,” Ingram said. “After the reforms were implemented, those on welfare went back to work in more than 600 different industries, and their incomes more than doubled. Those leaving welfare are now earning more than they were collecting in welfare benefits, leaving them better off.”

Calls Government the Problem

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), former chairwoman of the Kansas Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee, says dependency on government typically causes poverty instead of curing it.

“Most poverty exists because of government bureaucracy that encourages dependency,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Blind government assistance can never be enough, because it does not reach the real needs of actual persons. When government violates the basic tenets of human nature, it destroys human dignity, and it is severely destructive to our society. Giving aid to the poor should not be government gaining more control over citizens’ lives.”

Government should work to help struggling individuals help themselves, Pilcher-Cook said.

“The poor should be given assistance, but it must be done in a way for the sake of human dignity and the good of the human person, so that it brings the poor into a situation where they can help themselves,” Pilcher-Cook said.

‘Builds Self-Esteem’

Government should not simply pay people to do nothing, Pilcher-Cook says.

“Welfare without work requirements is paying people not to work,” Pilcher-Cook said. “That perverse incentive needs to be eliminated and replaced with job training and work obligations. Much more value needs to be placed on work, which builds self-esteem and self-worth and gives individuals the ability to take care of their families while giving back to their community.”

If government gives people incentives to be more self-sufficient, Pilcher-Cook says people will respond as desired.

“Incentives matter,” Pilcher-Cook said. “They factor into how specific decisions are made based on costs and benefits, and they change behavior. It is important to point out that good intentions of policymakers do not change behavior. Therefore, it is imperative to take the time necessary to evaluate natural human action due to incentives and then incorporate the correct incentives into policy.”

One way state lawmakers can do that is by expanding work requirements to other entitlement programs, Ingram says.

“Lawmakers should also expand commonsense work requirements to other welfare programs, including Medicaid,” Ingram said. “The Trump administration should swiftly approve those work requirements when states propose them.”