Kansas Action for Children focuses on early education, food security and health insurance
TOPEKA — Kansas Action for Children’s Adrienne Olejnik knows what children look like enduring without a sustainable food source, quality early childhood education, and routine medical care.
Her job required her to look straight in the eye at the politicians in the 2022 Kansas Legislature making decisions that didn’t always put these children in need at the top of the agenda despite the extraordinary financial surplus of the state.
“I wish they had the conversations they’ve been ignoring for the past few years,” Olejnik said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “We have too many uninsured children. Too many children are hungry.
Here’s a look at three stats motivating Olejnik: 86,000 children under six don’t have licensed child care, 43,000 didn’t have health insurance in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic and one in six faces food insecurity.
“We’re sitting on this budget surplus, and I know they want to be cautious and somewhat frugal, but they’re rushing to cut taxes all the time, and yet they’re not rushing to invest in kids. . So if I had a magic wand, I would really ask them to think about their role for our next generation,” said Olejnik, vice president of Kansas Action for Children.
KAC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Topeka, works with local organizations, state policymakers, and other advocates to make a difference in the lives of Kansas children. Their quest is to build a state where every child has the care, education and resources they need to thrive.
The legislature produces child welfare bills every year, but the KAC believes lawmakers have often opted for the status quo. The 2022 legislature voted to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funds, which would be available for future investment rather than immediate impact.
“You know, right now, families are surviving — not necessarily thriving,” said Jessica Herrera Russell, also of Kansas Action for Children.
The House and Senate agreed to reduce the state’s food sales tax from 6.5% to 4% on January 1, 2023. Legislation signed by Governor Laura Kelly, who preferred that the sales tax state rebate on groceries is eliminated on July 1, would result in the state’s share of the food sales tax being reduced to zero on January 1, 2025.
“When the initial reduction starts, it will help … with these rising costs due to grocery inflation,” Russell said. “I hope this money can go back into the families’ pockets.”
The Legislative Assembly passed an economic development bill that provided for the expansion of the employer child care tax credit. Since 2012, it is limited to certain types of companies. Going forward, all kinds of businesses will be able to deploy the credit to improve the affordability and availability of childcare for their workers.
Olejnik said a wave of organizations and individuals have been advocating in the Legislature to change state law to expand access to a program designed to help workers struggling to obtain benefits. childcare services.
“It’s one of the successes for us this session,” Olejnik said. “A business can support its employees by providing on-site child care, and some businesses here in Kansas do that. It could also subsidize childcare costs for their employees. So they can make some contribution to make it more affordable.
The legislature declined to extend Medicaid eligibility to more than 100,000 Kansans under the Affordable Care Act. The governor recommended expansion. Polls indicated that most Kansans support extending KanCare to low-income families, but resistance from some Republican lawmakers remained. They argued that the program might be too costly or that creating a larger rights program was not good for Kansas.
Olejnik said the state should expand the category of people covered by Medicaid and invest more in providing Medicaid services to people with disabilities on waiting lists.
The Legislature approved, despite a Kelly veto, a bill barring the Democratic governor from rewriting the $4 billion annual contract with three for-profit insurance companies that provide KanCare services throughout the state. This legislation was controversial because no individual, group, company or lobbyist came forward to claim ownership of the bill.
Olejnik said the state’s current contract with KanCare providers is insufficient because it does not require the disclosure of important information about the availability and quality of services for children.
The legislature, however, passed a bill adding Kansas to a new federal program bolstering postpartum depression coverage through Medicaid from the current two months after birth to 12 months after birth. It was recommended in January by Kelly, and the House and Senate included the necessary language in the new state budget.
“We know that when mothers are healthy, their babies are healthy,” Russell said. “They are on track to meet their health care needs. So it was really important.