The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services recently announced awarding $500 to each of 10,847 families to help cover costs for the upcoming school year.
Funding was provided by stimulus funds as part of the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.
The SRS press release explained that no one needed to apply for the free federal money. According to the SRS “eligibility for the program is determined by household size, income and resources … eligible families will be notified by mail.”
But if you are poor and did not receive such a payment, there is no mechanism to apply for this government assistance. The government decided unilaterally who received these payments, and no legislative body in Kansas reviewed this program or authorized these payments.
The SRS cited both Kansas and Federal statutes for denying an open records request for the list of recipients to study:
Personal information relating to the recipients is confidential and privileged pursuant to KSA 39-709b and the federal Privacy Act, 5 USC 552a.
SRS Director of Communications Steve Mock answered our questions:
Q: Why did SRS make the decision about who was eligible for this payment instead of publishing the requirements and asking the public to apply?
A: Families enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program have incomes under 26.4 percent of the federal poverty level – less than $5,000 a year for a family of three – and very few assets. To receive TANF assistance, families must have at least one child under age 18 in the home and must work towards employment. There is a 60 month lifetime limit on TANF assistance.
Those families enrolled in TANF in June 2010 were identified as recipients of a one-time back-to-school payment because they were known to be very poor and known to qualify for public assistance, minimizing outreach and enrollment overhead. Families with school-age children face a number of back-to-school costs, including school supplies, clothes and school fees. SRS chose to direct the TANF Emergency funds to families with children between 3 and 17 to help children enter school ready to learn and succeed in the classroom.
Q: What is the estimate of the number of jobs created or saved from this stimulus activity?
A: We have not estimated the number of jobs created or saved through the one-time payment.
Should a government agency unilaterally decide who gets free money through one-time payments during an election year?
Should the list of those receiving one-time government payments be available for public scrutiny?
Update (Aug 10). In response to a follow-up request for more information on the location of the 10,847 families, SRS provided the following breakdown by county:
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Editor’s Note: We did not plan to publish the list of the poor receiving the TANF funds, but did intend to talk to some of the recipients to find out how they benefited from the assistance.
We intended to look for waste, fraud and abuse in the awarding of the federal funds unilaterally by the State of Kansas, but this is not possible without information about the recipients.
- SRS response to KORA/FOIA request for recipient names
- SRS response about related questions
- OFA 100 TANF Emergency Fund Request Form from SRS
- Recovery.gov: 77 more jobs, $183 million more received in Kansas in last quarter, Kansas Watchdog, Aug. 7, 2010.
- Stimulus Data and Spending in Kansas in Q1, Kansas Watchdog, July 29, 2010.
- State will distribute $5.5M to needy, Lawrence Journal-World, July 30, 2010.
- KCTV Investigation: Road to Recovery? Part III, July 28, 2010.
Contact: Earl F Glynn, firstname.lastname@example.org, KansasWatchdog.org