20 October 2023 | Economic Security

Qualifying for Food Assistance in Kansas

Enrollees Must Overcome Many Eligibility Hurdles

Erin Melton | October 20, 2023

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The purpose of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), called “food assistance” in Kansas, is to help families living on low incomes have enough nutritious food for all members to lead healthy lives. Unfortunately, administrative and policy barriers hamper its effectiveness and limit the ability of many Kansas families to gain stability.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency that administers SNAP, measures the SNAP Program Access Index as “designed to indicate the degree to which low-income people have access to
SNAP benefits.”

Of all states and D.C., Kansas is ranked third from the bottom in SNAP accessibility. Kansas also ranks among the lowest for the rate of participation by eligible people. According to the USDA’s most recent data, Kansas has the fifth lowest rate of eligible people receiving food assistance.

These low rates of access and participation are not due to lack of need. In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, 14.6 percent of Kansas kids were food insecure. This is a significant decline from 17.1 percent in 2019, likely due in part to pandemic-era relief measures that increased food assistance benefits to most households and provided free school meals to all students. Now that those measures have expired and inflation continues to impact families, it is expected that food insecurity will rise again.

There are a few factors likely contributing to Kansans’ lack of access to crucial food assistance. On the administrative side, the application and recertification processes are burdensome. The joint application for food, cash, and child care assistance is 33 pages long, with the food assistance only application at 16 pages.

Meanwhile, Kansas law prevents many otherwise-eligible families from adequate access to food assistance through harmful and unnecessary policy restrictions. Kansas is one of the minority of states to still have restrictions for those with drug-related felony convictions.

Kansas requires cooperation with child support even when it is not in the best interest of the family. And onerous, inflexible work reporting requirements require Kansans to provide exactly the right paperwork at the right time or risk sanctions. In short, Kansans are unnecessarily forced to jump through burdensome, time-consuming hoops, all for about $6 per person per day.

Next, walk through the eligibility hurdles to accessing food assistance in Kansas.

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Context and Reference Information

1) Income Eligibility

To be eligible for food assistance, gross household income must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. For purposes of SNAP, gross household income includes pre-tax earned income and any unearned income.

Policy Context: Some states have a policy called “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE), which allows some households above this income level to be eligible if they qualify for other programs. This helps working families phase benefits out more gradually and encourages savings. Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature has outlawed this option.

2) Household Assets

For purposes of food assistance, household assets include all bank accounts, bonds, property (except the family home), and cars and other vehicles (except one vehicle per adult per household).

Policy Context: The so-called “asset test” prevents families living on low incomes from saving, one way to build wealth for their children and something to fall back on when they go through hard times. States have flexibility to lift the asset test through BBCE, but as with income eligibility, Kansas has made this option unavailable.

3) Citizenship Status

Criteria that allow lawful non-citizens to be eligible for food assistance include the following:

  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Non-citizens with deportation withheld under Section 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) or removal withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA
  • Cuban or Haitian entrants defined in the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980
  • Persons admitted as Amerasian immigrants according to the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 1988
  • Non-citizens who have been in the United States lawfully for five years following the date of entry/date of status granted
  • All non-citizens in the family have been in the United States lawfully for at least five years

If adults in the household are non-citizens who do not qualify, or who are unable to provide documentation, but the children are citizens or eligible non-citizens, the household may still be eligible, but only the children in the household can be issued benefits.

However, all adult incomes and assets of any adult unwilling or unable to provide immigration documentation will be counted toward the household total when determining the benefit level, despite them being deemed ineligible. A prorated amount of income and assets will be counted for ineligible non-citizens who are able to provide immigration documentation.

4) Drug-related felony convictions on or after July 1, 2015

If someone in the household has only one such conviction and has submitted/will submit to drug testing AND has participated/will participate in a drug treatment program, they may still be eligible.

If someone in the household has two or more such felonies, they are ineligible for food assistance. If there are other people in the household, the rest of the household may still be eligible, but the ineligible person’s total resources and income will be counted when calculating the benefit amount even though they won’t be included in the household size.

Policy Context: The 1996 federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA) included a lifetime ban from the federal SNAP program for those with drug-related felony convictions. However, states may completely or partially lift this ban. Kansas eliminated the lifetime ban completely in the early 2000s, but the Legislature reinstated a modified ban in 2015.

5) College Students

College students enrolled at least half time may still be eligible for food assistance if they meet one or more of the following exemptions:

  • Are under 18 or over 50
  • Have a physical or mental disability
  • Work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment
  • Participate in a work study program
  • Care for a child under 6 or between 6 and 11 if they lack necessary child care to allow you to attend school and work
  • Are a single parent with a child under 12 and enrolled full-time
  • Receive TANF

6) Adults without Dependents

Policy Context: The USDA has a special time limit and work reporting category for “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs), who are 18- to 49-year-olds who are “fit to work” and do not care for any dependents. However, in 2022, Kansas made time limits and work reporting even more restrictive, and in 2023, lawmakers added 50- to 59-year-olds who are “fit to work” and do not care for any dependents to that more restrictive category.

7) Single Parents

“Single parent” here means a parent whose child lives in their household, but the child’s other parent is not part of that household and that other parent could be legally obligated to pay child support, even if the “single parent” currently has a partner.

8) Dependents in the Household

  • Only one caregiver for each child under 6 “counts” for this exemption.
  • Only one caregiver for each incapacitated member of a household “counts” for this exemption.

9) Child Support Cooperation

If the reason someone is not pursuing child support is that it could create a dangerous situation for them and/or their children due to violence or abuse from the non-custodial parent, they may qualify for a good cause exception. They must have documentation from an agency, police report, witness statement, or other attesting that the non-custodial parent is a danger to them and/or their children to verify this good cause. There are a few other situations that could allow for a good cause exception to this requirement.

If someone is denied or determined ineligible for a good cause exception and does not or cannot cooperate with child support, they aren’t eligible for food assistance until they begin cooperating. The child(ren) in the household may still be eligible, but all the ineligible person’s resources and a pro-rata share of their income will be counted toward the household income, reducing the benefit amount or even making the whole household ineligible.

Policy Context: States are not required to mandate cooperation with child support for food assistance eligibility. The cooperation requirement, which is mandated by Kansas, can be particularly disruptive for co-parents living with low incomes. The Kansas Legislature implemented this requirement in 2015 and has repeatedly voted down attempts to repeal it, despite testimony from a wide array of social service agencies regarding the harmful nature of this requirement and bipartisan support among lawmakers.

10) Adult without Dependents Work Status

If someone is unable to work because they have a disability and have an SSA determination of the disability or a pending application, they are exempt from the work reporting requirement

If someone is unable to work because they have a disability but do not have a determination or pending application for disability (or their SSA application has been denied), they are ineligible for food assistance. They may be eligible in the future if they receive an SSA determination of their disability or they find a job of at least 30 hours/week.

If someone cannot report at least an average of 30 hours per week of work:

  • Because it’s less than an average of 30 hours a week, they will be referred to a mandatory employment and training program (even if they don’t think they need it) decided by their eligibility worker. If they fail to show up for these sessions, they may be disqualified and can’t reapply for at least three months. The penalty is six months the second time this happens and one year for every time after.
  • Because they are unable to get the documentation from their job and/or their schedule changes week by week, they may still be referred to mandatory training, depending on their eligibility worker. The same penalties as above would apply.

Policy Context: Federal law requires that “able-bodied adults without dependents” 18-49 years old (ABAWDs) work at least 20 hours per week to receive SNAP. ABAWDs are only allowed to not meet this requirement in three months out of every 36-month period or lose eligibility. However, in 2022, the Kansas Legislature raised this requirement to 30 hours per week and implemented a mandatory employment and training program for anyone who is not working at least 30 hours a week upon application. In 2023, they extended this restrictive requirement to 50- to 59-year-olds without dependents as well.

11) Work Registrants

If someone is between the ages of 18 and 59 and not subject to mandatory employment and training, as well as not currently either working 30 hours a week or earning the equivalent of minimum wage times 30 hours a week, they are labeled a “work registrant.” They must meet one of the following criteria to fulfill the work requirement:

  • Register for work
  • Participate in an employment and training program
  • Accept “suitable employment” if offered

If employed, they must not voluntarily quit a job of at least 30 hours a week or reduce hours below 30 hours a week, or must not voluntarily quit a job where they’re earning the equivalent of minimum wage times 30 hours a week or reduce hours to a point where their pay would go below minimum wage times 30 hours a week, without good cause.

If they fail to meet these requirements, they are disqualified for three months the first time, six months the second time, and one year for every subsequent time.

If they are disqualified for failing to meet this requirement, the rest of the household may still be eligible. When calculating their benefit amount, a prorated share of the disqualified person’s gross income will be counted as available to other household members, but they will not be counted as a member of the household. This will decrease the per-person benefit amount and could make the whole household ineligible.

12) Net Income

Every household receives the standard deduction, meant to account for basic, unavoidable costs. Households receive a deduction of 20% of earnings on earned income. Any household whose total housing costs exceed half of its net income after all other deductions can receive the excess shelter deduction.

The maximum excess shelter deduction in Kansas is $672, unless there is at least one household member who is elderly or disabled. Individuals and households may qualify for a range of other deductions, depending on their family’s situation:

  • If experiencing homelessness, they qualify for a $179.66 homeless shelter deduction.
  • If an elderly or disabled member of a household has medical costs that exceed $35/month, they can receive a deduction equal to the difference between the total costs and $35.
  • If a household has dependents, they can receive a dependent care cost deduction equal to the expenses used to pay for care for those dependents.
  • If someone in the household pays legally obligated child support, that amount is deducted from the household’s income.
    • No fees for garnishment charged by an employer count.

Household’s may or may not have an eligibility worker who knows to ask for these deductions, so they might have to know on their own to get the maximum benefit.

If, after deductions, the household’s net income is at or below the poverty level (refer to the guidelines in #1), they can receive the food assistance benefit. If the household’s net income is $0, they will receive the maximum benefit, or $740 a month for a family of three. On average, a family will receive about $2 per person per meal.

Next Steps: Changes to Eligibility

If a whole household, or any members of a household, are ineligible and circumstances change that make them eligible, they should speak with their eligibility worker about updating the household’s benefit amount. Some cases of ineligibility require a waiting period, regardless of how quickly a household comes into compliance with the requirement.

If there are any changes that would make a household or any members who are currently eligible ineligible, such as increases to income over the maximum amount or changes in work status in a household with only adults without dependents, they must report those changes to their eligibility worker immediately.

Most households must recertify their eligibility every 12 months.