Kansas's pro-work welfare strategy is pushing back on Biden's foolish regulations

Biden's administration fails to prevent Kansas from promoting pro-work welfare strategy

What’s the matter with Kansas? Nothing, at least when it comes to the state’s reputation for helping people move from welfare to work. The Republican state legislature recently overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a work requirement for many food stamp recipients. This victory puts Kansas on track to become one the most pro-work states in America when the policy goes into effect in July — and every state in the country should follow Kansas's lead. 

Kansas’s new law reflects lawmakers’ desire to solve two pressing problems. First, since March 2020, Washington, D.C., has banned states from implementing the primary work requirement within food stamps, something Kansas and 16 other states had before the pandemic. This foolish prohibition is tied to the federal government’s "public health emergency," which the Biden administration will maintain likely through October at least. Second, partially as a result of the federal ban, Kansas has more than 109,000 job openings. Employers are desperate to find workers, and with the state unemployment rate at 2.3%, the best place to look is people outside the labor force. 

Enter the reform. With a traditional work requirement off the table, the legislature turned to mandatory "employment and training." It allows states to require able-bodied adults to sign up for existing state programs that provide education, skills training, or on-the-job experience as a condition of receiving benefits. Food stamp recipients can also fulfill the requirement by simply finding a job. 


Kansas’s policy covers everyone who would otherwise be subject to the state’s previous work requirement, which is still on the books though blocked by Washington. As of July 1, about 14,000 able-bodied adults without dependents must either pursue employment or training or stop receiving food stamps. These individuals, who are between the ages of 18 and 49, have nothing preventing them finding work. Come July, they will also have nothing incentivizing them to avoid it. 

Their path to employment is clearer than most. Kansas currently spends about $600,000 administering employment and training programs specifically tailored to this requirement, though to date participation has been voluntary and therefore essentially non-existent. The state also provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements for costs such as transportation and childcare. Now that people are required to use these programs, Kansas’s job training infrastructure will finally support jobs beyond the bureaucracy. 


Who could oppose moving so many Kansans from welfare to work? When Gov. Kelly vetoed the reform, she accused the legislature of adding stress to low-income families’ lives. "This bill would unnecessarily burden … hardworking Kansans," she said in a statement. She also blamed inflation: "With the rising costs of" necessities like gas and groceries, "we should be helping people afford the basics." Never mind that the law makes life more affordable, since food stamp recipients would immediately or eventually earn wages in addition to receiving benefits. State Senate President Ty Masterson described the governor’s veto as part of her "war on work." 

The governor looks set to lose that war, which is a victory for the state’s economy and most vulnerable families. What’s more, she may be set to lose her re-election this November, at which point the state could enact even stronger pro-work policies. Mandatory employment and training could be expanded beyond the traditional work requirement population, and it would only need a simple majority instead of the supermajority needed to overcome Kelly’s veto. 


Under federal law, states can assign all able-bodied adults on food stamps to employment and training. That includes those up to 59 years old as well as those who have children who are either at school or otherwise out of the home, giving them greater freedom to enter the workforce. If Kansas enacted this policy, which already has broad support from prominent state lawmakers, some 42,500 food stamp recipients could soon move toward employment and ultimately self-sufficiency. That’s about three times more people than are covered by the state’s new law – and nearly half the current number of job openings. 

Kansas now has one of the strongest pro-work welfare systems in America, thanks to legislative leadership. Fewer than 10 states have mandatory employment and training, and none apply it to the maximum number of eligible food stamp recipients. If Kansas went even further, and embraced this requirement’s full potential, it would surely be the nation’s most work-friendly state. The powers that be in the current governor’s office and Washington, D.C., may not like it, but that’s something every state can and should aim to achieve. 

Sam Adolphsen is policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability.