As a Kansas City Star article this weekend explained, the Sunflower State has a new procedure in place eliminating or reducing food stamps for many U.S. children of undocumented immigrants.
That’s right, the state of Kansas is letting U.S. citizen children go hungry because of who their parents are.
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for public aid, including food stamps, but their American-born children can qualify. Here’s how state food stamp services used to work: the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services used a formula to determine whether a family was eligible based on its income. If a family was mixed-status and included undocumented members, the state would only use a portion of the total household income to determine eligibility.
For example, if a household included two undocumented parents who had a combined income of $1600 and two U.S. citizen children, the state would adjust the income so that it counted the two U.S. citizen children as receiving $400 each, and distribute food stamps for those children.
Now, the state no longer adjusts household income to account for non-citizen members, which means the same two U.S. citizen children would be listed as receiving the full $1600 in income—too much to qualify for food stamps. That means that a technical calculation is kicking children off state assistance despite a very, very real need.
According to the Kansas City Star article, Kansas is one of only four states to calculate eligibility for benefits this way, with the others being Arizona, Utah, and Nebraska.
It gets even more astounding. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made reducing childhood poverty in the state a cornerstone of his first term. It’s really hard to see how slashing aid to children and letting them go malnourished helps with that.
As Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is quoted:
This is not a time, with this economy, when we should be withdrawing help from struggling families with children. We have a demonstrated problem of food insecurity in this country and, in Kansas, this policy takes you further away from being able to solve the problem. It exacerbates the problem.
It doesn’t matter if the parents in question are longtime residents or recent immigrants. One father who spoke with the Kansas City Star has lived in Kansas for 13 years and has held the same job for 11, making enough money to stay off food stamps until his wife lost her job. One Kansas state mother is a legal immigrant who was still refused assistance for her two U.S. citizen children because she herself is not a U.S. citizen. When she protested, she was told the state would respond to her claim within two weeks. It’s been over two months.
Though the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services says it doesn’t know how many U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants are now ineligible for aid, they said that recalculated incomes eliminated benefits for 1,042 households between October 2011 and the end of 2011. From October to November, 2,066 Kansas children dropped from state food stamp rolls.
The new policy also represents a severe setback for nutrition and health service groups who have spent years trying to provide proper nutrition for Latino children nationwide. “Of the roughly 16 million children nationwide who are considered food insecure—meaning they often don’t have enough nutritious food,” the Kansas City Star article states, “Latino children make up nearly 31 percent.”
The state’s new policy might mean their efforts were all for naught. “These kinds of policies,” said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, “undermine all of those efforts.”
We in the immigration world who fight for policies like the DREAM Act know how frustrating it is when ideology stands in the way of sensible, compassionate policy. Still, withholding a basic human need from U.S. citizen children who haven’t done anything wrong is an outrage.
As Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said:
The bottom line here is we have children who are going to bed hungry at night. These are U.S. citizens, and it should be no more cumbersome for them to access benefits than any other U.S. child.