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Kansas Agency Delays Implementation Of Welfare Reform Bill

Enforcement of a law designed to limit where low-income Kansas families can spend their public assistance will take longer than expected, state officials said Monday.

The new law, initially scheduled to take effect July 1, will not be enforced for at least six months.

Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, attributed the delay to “a computer-system fix that needs to be done.”

Also delayed, Freed said, will be enforcement of the new law’s $25-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for public assistance accounts.

DCF, she said, is “actively working to implement this law” with Fidelity National Information Services Inc., the private contractor that oversees families’ access to their public assistance accounts through ATMs and the cash-back checkout options at grocery stores and department stores.

The company, Freed said, must reprogram the software that defines which transactions are allowed.

In keeping with the new law, families in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will not be allowed to use their state-issued debit cards in places including jewelry stores, tattoo parlors, theme parks, swimming pools and “smoke shops.”

Freed said the delays were not unexpected. “It just takes time,” she said.

The department, she said, also has postponed plans to give individuals in TANF — adults and children — the option of including their photo on debit cards. That option, meant to reduce fraud and abuse, will take 12 months to launch, Freed said.

Implementing the new law is expected to cost approximately $320,000 in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and $355,000 in the following fiscal year.

DCF last month announced that it had temporarily delayed plans to cut families’ lifetime access to TANF from 48 months to 36 months. Instead, families that reach the 36-month threshold will be given a six-month “grace period” and encouraged to meet with their case managers, who will help them develop plans for exiting the program.

On Jan. 31, 2016, families that have been on TANF for 36 months will be dropped from the program.

“We hope this transition period will be used to actively work with our case managers and employment services to obtain employment or training,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said in a news release Monday. “We know that the average client on TANF uses 18 months of eligibility, so we are confident that through our services, we can help individuals obtain self-sufficiency before they ever come close to the limit.”

DCF officials have said that about 350 TANF families will reach the 36-month threshold on or before July 1. It’s not yet clear how many will exhaust their eligibility between then and Jan. 31, 2016. Some of these families may be eligible for a temporary hardship exemption of up to 12 months.

In Kansas, the average monthly cash assistance in April for a TANF family was $111 per person, or $333 for single parent with two children.

DCF reports show that over the last five years, the number of Kansas families enrolled in TANF has fallen by almost 60 percent, from 14,200 in March 2010 to 6,000 in April 2015.

Child advocates have questioned whether the $25-a-day limit on ATM withdrawals violates federal rules that guarantee TANF families “adequate” and “no fee” access to their cash assistance.

Gilmore said DCF officials “have been in discussions with our federal partners about this provision of the law, but we have not received specific guidance about the daily ATM withdrawal limit at this time.”

Shannon Cotsoradis, chief executive with the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, welcomed news of the delays.

“This clearly underscores that there are unintended consequences here, one of which will be the cost of implementation,” she said.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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