Kansas statute determining access to child care subsidy conflicts with federal regulation

DCF urges repeal of state law, but Florida think tank offers alternative

By: - March 15, 2023 8:55 am
Steve Greene, a lobbyist with Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, said the Legislature shouldn't repeal a Kansas law mandating families receiving child-care subsidies cooperate with the state agency enforcing child support payment orders. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Steve Greene, a lobbyist with Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, said the Legislature shouldn’t repeal a Kansas law mandating families receiving child-care subsidies cooperate with the state agency enforcing child support payment orders. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Kansas law denying child care subsidies to single parents who don’t fully cooperate with a state welfare agency’s pursuit of unpaid child support violates federal mandates, officials said.

State officials said Kansas relied on the statute to deny child care assistance to an average of 22 children per month. The law was put in place in 2015 under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who asserted President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was a failure and that Kansas needed a course correction to break the cycle of poverty in families.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families, and a collection of child-advocacy organizations, recommended Tuesday the House Welfare Reform Committee remedy the problem by passing House Bill 2179. It would repeal the Kansas requirement that a parent — even those fleeing domestic violence — coordinate with DCF’s child support enforcement staff to get the subsidy for child care.

Tanya Keys, deputy secretary of DCF, told lawmakers the federal government required families eligible for child care assistance to receive that benefit for 12 months. The state was sent an initial notice of noncompliance with that federal guidance in December 2021 and received confirmation of the violation in March 2022. That led DCF to request introduction of the House bill in January.

“Under current state law,” Keys said, “families are disqualified from receiving child care assistance benefits for progressive periods of time if they fail to cooperate with child support services. Under federal law, the agency must provide 12 full months of continuous eligibility following the issuance of child care benefits. The disruption of benefits, if an individual is found non-cooperative with child support, is a violation of this requirement.”

She said failure to bring state law into compliance with federal regulation would trigger a 4% or $2.7 million penalty against funding Kansas received to operate the child care assistance program.


Mandate a ‘good thing’

Steve Greene, who lobbies for the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, said the House committee shouldn’t approve the bill introduced by DCF. He recommended lawmakers amend Kansas law so eligible families in Kansas received 12 months of the child care subsidy and then were made to comply with the DCF enforcement mandate.

This would bring continuity to benefits authorized by the federal government, Greene said, and incorporate the state’s interest in enforcing child support agreements.

“Mandating child support enforcement as a condition for receiving benefits is certainly a good thing,” Greene said. “Child support enforcement often serves as a connecting point … between a child and their non-custodial parent.

Opportunity Solutions Project is affiliated with the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank that has invested more than a decade in advancement of a conservative, free-market policy agenda in the states.

In 2015, the foundation presented Brownback an award for championing state laws supporters contended would make low-income Kansans more self-reliant.


‘Families in danger’

Daniel Klaassen, education policy advisor with Kansas Action for Children, said Kansas was among the minority of states with a child support enforcement requirement linked to child care assistance. The state law, he said, discouraged families struggling to pay for child care to seek a subsidy.

“Those who are not currently cooperating with the program often have good reasons why it might not be in their family’s best interest,” Klaassen said. “Forcing parents to do so can push some into decisions they know are not best for their children and can even put families in danger.”

Paula Neth, president and chief executive of The Family Conservancy, has worked since 2018 to help families in Wyandotte County gain access to the child care subsidy. The state mandate for cooperation with DCF placed a disproportionate burden on mothers and children, she said.

“An estimated one in 10 applicants choose not to apply for the subsidy due to concerns around pursuing a formal child support case,” Neth said.

Gail Cozadd, chief executive officer of Kansas Children’s Service League, said repeal of the cooperation mandate in Kansas would mean more children were placed in safe, stable and nurturing child care settings. The subsidy would alleviate stress among working parents anxious about care of their children, she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.