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A proposal to take food from hungry children? Typical cruelty for Kansas lawmakers.

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A proposal to take food from hungry children? Typical cruelty for Kansas lawmakers.

Feb 28, 2024 | 4:33 am ET
By Robin Monroe
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A proposal to take food from hungry children? Typical cruelty for Kansas lawmakers.
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Rep. Francis Awerkamp, R-St. Marys, introduced legislation to block the state from accepting federal money that would feed school children during the summer. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

I haven’t been engaged with state and local politics as much as in the past. The constant race to get by is exhausting and leaves room for little else. The energy it takes to sustain a home, kids, bills and school takes everything. I know that more people identify with that statement than not.

This is by design.

Our lawmakers rely on voter fatigue, the kind of political apathy that causes us to shrink from our responsibilities as citizens. Since 2016, there have been many appalling statements made by extremist lawmakers who now feel free saying the quiet part out loud. It now takes something especially shocking to get our attention.

The Kansas Legislature has done just that with House Bill 2674.

For no apparent reason other than cruelty, Rep. Francis Awerkamp, R-St. Marys, is asking that our state forego federal money that would feed all summer the school children who received free and reduced meals during the school year. This is typical of our Legislature, which never misses an opportunity to punish people who have less.

In December 2022, Congress made the Summer EBT Program a permanent part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program budget. Kansas school children were set to begin receiving the benefit this summer. They would have, but Awerkamp, who chairs the House Welfare Reform Committee, said, “No,” and he did so in just 11 lines:

“AN ACT concerning public assistance; relating to the secretary for children and families; prohibiting the secretary from participating in the summer electronic benefits transfer for children program.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:

Section 1. The secretary for children and families shall not participate in the United States Department of Agriculture’s summer electronic benefits transfer for children program established pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 1762.

Section 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after publication in the statute book.”

That’s it.

That’s the request for the introduction of a bill that “prohibits” the Kansas Department for Children and Families from participating in a federally funded program to make sure that children who qualify for free and reduced lunches can eat over the summer break.

“Wow,” you might ask, “is this a big expense to the State of Kansas?” Nope.

This program, like all SNAP funding, is from the federal government. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (I took the liberty of capitalizing the department’s name in the text above). Each state is responsible for 50% of the administrational cost of the whole program annually. This means the cost of the summer EBT program is part of the overall SNAP budget. USDA economic research shows that every dollar paid to lower-income households generates up to two dollars of economic activity in the communities where the benefits are used. So while this benefit doesn’t cost the Kansas taxpayer, the prohibition of it costs the Kansas economy.

“What about fraud? I hear these guys talk a lot about fraud.”

Yes, our elected officials love to talk about poor, working families in Kansas perpetrating elaborate schemes to procure SNAP-eligible food. The truth is that nationwide, SNAP has a fraud rate averaging 1.54%. Compare that to the Federal Trade Commission reporting a 22% fraud rate on active accounts. Don’t get me started on tax fraud or campaign finance indiscretions.

This suggests that poor children are not the criminal masterminds our overly concerned Legislature needs to worry about.

Another argument, “Entitlements make people quit their jobs and become dependent on government,” is also baseless. The summer EBT benefit is $40 per month per qualified child for June, July, and August. This is a total benefit of $120 per child. This is less than the $166 daily per diem given to each representative “to partially defray the costs of meals and lodging.”

This and the $88.66 per session day and any other “funding.” Of course, this will be doubled in January when the pay raise they enabled for themselves goes into effect. Oh, and yes, every cent of this money comes directly from the Kansas taxpayer.

Let’s just tell it like it is.

The same person responsible for co-sponsoring House Bill 2313, the so-called “born alive” bill, has zero concern for the 113,702 Kansas children who happened to be born alive into poor families. Children who depend on school lunches and breakfasts during the school year will go without proper nutrition during the summer months because of this monstrous decision.

The motivation for this bill isn’t fiscally or ethically responsible. The only possible goal of this bill is to punish the poor by way of hungry children.

If it becomes law, the hypocritical cruelty toward poor and working families in our state will have found a new bottom.

Robin Monroe is a native Kansan living and working in Wichita. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.