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  • Writer's pictureRachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Out-of-state lobbying group returns to Kansas to condemn residents who need food, health care


Sam Adolphsen, policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability, told lawmakers the state needed to scrutinize “welfare fraud, even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud associated with Medicaid or other safety net programs in Kansas. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature video)


By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — Kansas legislators heard about the dangers of “welfare fraud” from an out-of-state lobbyist who has previously asked lawmakers to limit federal benefits.


Sam Adolphsen, policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability, said the state’s programs for food assistance and Medicaid needed to be examined for fraud during a Tuesday joint meeting for lawmakers on the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development and House Welfare Reform committees.


Adolphsen has advocated for restrictions on social safety net programs in previous legislative sessions on behalf of the Florida-based organization Opportunity Solutions Project, which is the lobbying arm of FGA.


The organization is a conservative think tank working to influence laws at the local and federal level and has made multiple appearances in Kansas legislative hearings on a variety of topics.


OSP lobbyists in September pressured Kansas legislators to investigate Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly after accusing her of making “backroom deals” to increase voter registration. Kansas Reflector debunked the claim by securing copies of the “secret” agreement from three sources while legislators took a lunch break.


During Tuesday’s meeting, Aldolphsen promoted the false narrative that welfare programs are prone to fraud, even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud associated with Medicaid or other government assistance programs in Kansas.


“There’s a lot of money in these programs,” Adolphsen said. “And that makes it a magnet for people who want to steal from taxpayers and the truly needy and exploit the program.”


To qualify for the state-run Medicaid program, a person must be either under 19 or over 64, pregnant, or mentally or physically disabled. Parents and legal guardians of children, as well as people who have someone disabled in their family, also are eligible. Besides these requirements, the individual must be below a certain income level. An adult with a dependent child has to earn less than 38% of the federal poverty level, around $7,500 per year, to qualify.


Adolphsen claimed nearly one-third of Medicaid funds in Kansas are spent on “waste or fraud” and that Medicaid eligibility needed to be closely monitored. He mentioned the pandemic-era continuous eligibility for Medicaid as one example of dishonesty, calling it “state-sanctioned fraud.”


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal “continuous coverage” provisions meant Medicaid administrators couldn’t end health care eligibility unless the person in question moved away, died or asked to end coverage. Participation in KanCare, the Medicaid program in Kansas, increased from 410,000 to 540,000 people during the pandemic. When federal protection ended, more than 53,000 Kansans, including 25,000 children, were removed from the program, mostly for procedural reasons.


“When you’re not on welfare, there’s no fraud happening there,” Adolphsen said. “That’s the best way to prevent fraud in the first place.”


He tied the issue to the funding of the long-stagnant disability wait lists, which have thousands waiting for services, and called these people the “truly needy,” as opposed to “able-bodied adults” who he claimed are taking advantage of welfare programs.


Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, pushed back on Adolphsen’s characterization. Clayton said those on the waitlist are people, rather than a “political football” to be kicked around. 


“I think that you would be better served if you were advocating for helping them as opposed to against helping folks with food stamps,” Clayton said. “It’s a better strategy. Please do not pit vulnerable Kansans against people.”


Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, apologized to Adolphsen.


“My apologies for any inference that (Kansans with disabilities) didn’t matter to you. … If we can reduce fraud, we will be able to afford to fund those waivers and we’ll be able to afford them going forward,” Tarwater said.


Adolphsen also told lawmakers that Kansans needed to get off food stamps and start working to prevent food stamp fraud.


In the state, the Food Assistance Program provides monthly benefits for Kansans to purchase food with. Low-income working Kansans are eligible, as are people over the age of 60 and people with disabilities. Feeding America estimates that 291,430 people in Kansas are facing hunger, including 93,960 children.


 “You need those folks to come to work, earn a paycheck, get promoted, move on to self-sufficiency and really become part of the Kansas you all know and love,” Adolphsen said.


Rep. Jason Probst, D- Hutchinson, brought up the state’s low unemployment rate to refute Adolphsen’s claims that restricting welfare programs would bring more people into the workforce. December 2023 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put Kansas’ unemployment rate at 2.8%, effectively a full workforce.


“Who’s ripping off this system, this fraud that you think is happening?” Probst questioned.

“When I look at the numbers, it’s not the people that you claim that are on Medicaid. … I know it’s a hard concept to imagine that people in poverty do what they can to make their resources stretch, but they do.”


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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