Kansas expands food assistance

Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard has announced that Kansas residents who receive food assistance will benefit from a permanent increase in the maximum benefit amount beginning Oct. 1.

“Access to healthy food is a key component of a family’s well-being,” Howard said. “This permanent increase helps us address food insecurity, especially among children, which has a positive impact on the overall health of our community.”

The change is taking place due to the 2018 Farm Bill that directed USDA to re-evaluate the Thrifty Food Plan which is used to calculate benefits for food assistance. Through this year’s adjustment, the maximum allowable allotment increased to $250 for a household of one. The maximum allotment amounts for households the size of two or more also have increased.

Other annual adjustments also have been made:
• The gross and net income limits have increased this year
• The maximum excess shelter deduction is increasing from $569 to $597
• The standard utility allowance is increasing from $364 to $392
• The limited utility allowance is increasing from $247 to $286
• The telephone standard is increasing from $35 to $37
• The standard medical deduction remains the same $175

Most households will see changes in their benefits for the month of October to reflect the annual adjustments.

Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) temporarily increased food assistance benefits by 15% from March 2021 through September 2021 due to the national public health emergency.

The temporary 15 percent increase ends Sept. 30 and will be replaced with the new amounts. Taken together, food assistance recipients will see a 10 percent increase from pre-March 2021 benefit levels.

The chart shows the Oct. 1 maximum benefits as well as gross income and net income limits for food assistance:

The minimum allotment is $20. All food assistance benefits are based on household size, household income and allowable deductions.

USDA provides shopping strategies and meal planning advice to help families serve nutritious meals affordably through the following:

• gov (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/)
• Plan, compare and prepare (http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/03/28/healthy-eating-on-a-budget/)
• Team Nutrition Recipes (https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/team-nutrition-recipes), which helps find healthy low-cost recipes and create cookbooks and shopping lists.
For more information on the food assistance program, visit http://www.dcf.ks.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Campaign poll: Kelly holds slim margin over Schmidt in Kansas governor’s race

Democratic governor’s job approval at 53%; GOP attorney general’s at 40%

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — An early survey in the 2022 election cycle shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly with a narrow advantage over Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a head-to-head gubernatorial showdown of two statewide officeholders gearing up for that campaign.

The poll by Clarity Campaign Labs, a liberal-leaning firm in Washington, D.C., at the behest of EMILY’s List, which promotes Democratic women candidates, indicated Kelly had a 3 percentage point advantage on Schmidt. Kelly held support of 47% of participants to Schmidt’s 44% in a survey with a 3.4% margin of error.

Kelly attracted backing from 83% of voters who considered themselves ideologically moderate and 21% who viewed themselves as somewhat conservative.

Laphonza Butler, newly appointed president of EMILY’s List, said Kelly had proven herself a champion of women and families during a period of unprecedented health and economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Butler expressed confidence in Kelly’s path to re-election.

“The numbers tell us that Kansans appreciate her leadership,” Butler said. “A majority of Kansans across party lines approve of Governor Kelly’s performance in office throughout her first term.”

Kelly and the Kansas Democratic Party have sought to convince voters the state’s economy was in a strong position. The governor has touted expansion in business investment and associated job growth. She says she was integral to achieving proper funding of K-12 public schools, restoring stability to the state’s transportation program and overhauling the child welfare system.

The Kansas Republican Party and Schmidt have argued Kelly fumbled the state’s response to COVID-19. They’ve asserted she responded to the pandemic by unnecessarily closing businesses, imposing mask mandates and limiting the size of gatherings at places of worship. In addition, the Kansas GOP has sought to nationalize the governor’s race by taking issue with policies embraced by President Joe Biden.

The survey taken more than one year prior to next year’s general election revealed 53% of respondents approved of the job Kelly had done as governor with 41% disapproving of her performance. Across the political spectrum, 27% of self-identified Republicans expressed approval of her track record as governor since 2019 along with 69% of independents and 94% of self-identified Democrats.

In terms of Schmidt, the pollsters said 40% of participants approved and 42% disapproved of his performance as attorney general. During the GOP primary campaign, Schmidt has sought to convince Republicans of his conservative credentials and eagerness to push back against policies of Biden.

In 2018, Kelly defeated the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, by securing 47.8% of the vote. Kobach had prevailed in back-to-back statewide campaigns for secretary of state, but couldn’t translate high name recognition and a GOP registration advantage into victory in the governor’s race.

Kelly’s first campaign for governor emphasized unpopularity of former Gov. Sam Brownback, who had stepped down to work in the administration of President Donald Trump. Instead of distancing himself from Brownback, Kobach advocated resumption of the Brownback economic experiment that centered on slashing state income taxes. Spending wasn’t reduced a comparable amount under Brownback and the state struggled with budget problems until his tax program was repealed in 2017.

In her campaign for governor, Kelly asserted Brownback’s leadership jeopardized the state’s education and highway systems and undermined the safety net for vulnerable Kansas. She also said Kobach was “Sam Brownback on steroids.”

The survey for EMILY’s List showed Brownback remained unpopular among Kansas voters. In this poll, 17% said they were in favor of returning to Brownback-era policies. At the same time, 56% of respondents wanted to “go in a different direction” than policy championed by Brownback.

Overall, 30% approved of how Brownback did his job as governor and 62% disapproved of his performance as the state’s chief executive.

The telephone survey of 810 registered voters in Kansas was conducted Sept. 13-15. The sample was weighted by the polling firm to reflect a likely 2022 general electorate. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.45%.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/09/24/campaign-poll-kelly-holds-slim-margin-over-schmidt-in-kansas-governors-race/.

Kansas gas utility won’t release invoices detailing winter prices, but some data is already available

Utilities purchased a combined $1 billion in excess natural gas charges during storm

by Allison Kite, Kansas Reflector

Kansas’ largest natural gas utility has resisted releasing records about what suppliers charged it during the historic cold snap in February that saw prices rise by more than 200 times. But according to a new filing, it has already disclosed much of that information.

In February, when temperatures in Kansas City plunged below 15 degrees for 10 days, natural gas prices went from a few dollars per MMBtu to $300 and $600 on some days. Kansas regulators are reviewing utilities’ plans to pass $1 billion in excess natural gas costs onto ratepayers, stretched over years.

Some large-scale customers have balked at the plans, pushing for more information about what suppliers charged Kansas utilities, particularly Kansas Gas Service, such high prices. But KGS has resisted those calls, saying its supplier invoices are confidential information.

But in a filing more than a month ago, KGS disclosed its suppliers and how much it paid each of them during the storm. A key piece of information missing is how much it paid per MMBtu, which would allow for comparison between companies.

“It seems to us to not be reasonable to say … 90% of what’s in the invoice is public, but 10% is not. That doesn’t seem to make logical sense to us,” said Jim Zakoura, an attorney representing the Natural Gas Transportation Customer Coalition, a group of large-scale business customers.

Zakoura filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission Wednesday asking commissioners to reconsider their earlier decision to deny his petition to release KGS’ invoices.

“It highlights the fact that in five days the market was so dysfunctional, in our opinion, that it caused a run-up of $1 billion,” Zakoura said.

Dawn Tripp, a spokeswoman for KGS, said documents the utility has filed with KCC are fully accessible to the agency’s staff, the attorney general’s office, Zakoura’s client and other consumer and business groups.

“Specific information about the pricing structure of the agreements we have with our natural gas suppliers and the prices paid are confidential,” she said.

Tripp said KGS has disputed charges with one supplier, Southwest Energy, reducing the cost of gas by $5.6 million. Another dispute, with MacQuarie Energy, is worth nearly $15 million and pending.

KGS is requesting to pass on more than $451 million in natural gas costs and carrying fees, the largest total of the Kansas utilities, and recover it from ratepayers over five, seven or 10 years. The change would increase the average customer’s bill anywhere from about $4 to $11 per month.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/09/23/ks-gas-utility-wont-release-invoices-detailing-winter-storm-prices-but-some-data-is-already-available/.