New law means new changes to state support programs

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FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2016 file photo, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks to the legislature in Topeka, Kan. After he became governor in 2011, Brownback, slashed taxes on the promise that the cuts would trigger a furious wave of business expansion. But the “shot of adrenaline” hasn’t worked as envisioned, and the state […]

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Even though state legislators are not meeting every day, there is still action at the Statehouse.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Sam Brownback, (R) Kansas, signed Senate Bill 402 into law.

Calling it “Hope Act 2.0,” Brownback signed the multi-faceted bill then touted some of the new provisions.

A summary of the bill’s actions run the gamut from changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to how adults identify where they live to the Department of Children and Families.

But one part of the bill Brownback focused on at the signing looks similar to a federal program enacted in the 1990s.

A work requirement was added to the TANF program. The new legislation also cuts the amount of time recipients can receive benefits. Now, there is a 24 month limit instead of 36 and cash assistance from the program is down from 42 months to 18.

“It is the way out of poverty,” Brownback said. “And that’s why I’m pleased we can take this next step in Hope Act 2.0. To codify these changes that have been put forth in the state of Kansas and move this forward for more people to get out of poverty.”

Although there are opponents to each of the changes, one new provision garnering a lot of concern is the implementation of a step therapy or “fail first” program which will be overseen by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).

“They weren’t allowed to do that before, now they’re allowed to do that,” said democratic Sen. Laura Kelly.

Kelly, the Senate Minority Whip, said she voted ‘no’ on all of Senate Bill 402.

But said she is most concerned about the new step therapy provision.

A summary of the bill provided by the legislature said, “the bill removes the prohibition from requiring a Medicaid recipient to use or fail with a drug usage or drug therapy prior to allowing the recipient to receive the product or therapy recommended by the recipient’s physician.”

“It interferes with doctor, patient relationships and particularly when you’re dealing with the mental health world, that’s a very fragile and complex relationship,” Kelly said.

The program, according to Brownback, is estimated to garner more than $10 million in savings. Money that will go back into the general fund for the state in order to combat the continuing budget shortfalls.

However, Kelly said that money would be a drop in the bucket.

Because the money potentially saved is not going back into healthcare specific programs, some advocates are worried about further money loss.

“We’ve been stalled for a long time in getting any new funding or resources toward treatment for persons with mental illness and so, we just can’t sustain any further cuts,” Kyle Kessler, the executive director for the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas.

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

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