19 January 2024 | Tax and Budget Early Learning Education Economic Security Health

2024 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 2

Kansas Action for Children
January 19, 2024

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Flat Tax Bill Sent to Governor

We’re only in the second week of the legislative session, and lawmakers have already rushed through an upside-down flat tax plan and sent it to the Governor’s desk. The tax package in HB 2284 includes a single 5.25% tax rate that would overwhelmingly give households in the top 20% more money back than low- and middle-income Kansans.

Governor Kelly is expected to veto HB 2284 when she receives it, and we hope this opens an opportunity for a bipartisan plan to emerge later in the session.

Despite a similar flat tax plan failing last session, lawmakers made it a priority to force a vote on already-rejected legislation. This demonstrates how quickly the Legislature can work when legislative leadership determines something to be worthwhile.

It’s unfortunate lawmakers coupled a disastrous flat tax with several provisions (like eliminating the state tax on food and all Social Security, as well as addressing property taxes) that would help many everyday Kansas families. Hopefully, when another flat tax-focused bill is again rejected by the Legislature, we can work toward tax plans that help families with young children, senior citizens on fixed incomes, and rural communities thrive in the long-term. We ask lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to get to work on a bill that gives targeted relief to those who would benefit the most.

Two Medicaid Expansion Bills Introduced

As of this week, we have two Medicaid expansion bills! SB 355 is the Governor’s sixth proposal to finally expand Medicaid in our state; the House version is HB 2556.

While we have deep concerns about the work reporting requirement in the proposal, we remain committed to advocating for closing the coverage gap in Kansas, like 40 other states and D.C. have already done. 

Now is the time to pressure legislative leadership to finally hold Medicaid expansion hearings for the first time in years. Ask your state lawmaker to push for a Medicaid expansion hearing to be held by Kansas Day (January 29). 

More than 13,500 parents are in the coverage gap (making too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for insurance subsidies on the federal insurance exchange), as well as the thousands of additional Kansans. They must have a policy solution to address their lack of access to affordable health insurance coverage fully debated by their lawmakers.

On the KanCare front, the House Social Services Budget this week heard presentations from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services regarding several budget enhancements that are in the Governor’s budget proposal. One item we support includes adding staff to Medicaid Operations and Eligibility, which will address data systems needs (partially revealed by the ongoing unwinding process) and improve oversight of the KanCare managed care companies.

We welcome any opportunity to provide more transparency and accountability for KanCare, which serves around 300,000 Kansas kids. We hope that as budget discussions move forward, additional funding to address the lengthy waiting lists for the I/DD and PD waiting lists will be included.

Child Care Regulations Still in Review; Early Childhood Transition Task Force Recommendations

Families and providers look toward progress in modernizing many of the child care regulations within KDHE’s authority. Throughout 2023, KDHE reviewed several regulations and made recommendations for changes, such as lowering the age of a “toddler” from 18 months to 12 months. The proposal was submitted to the Attorney General’s Office in October. 

The two entities have worked to edit and revise the proposals in recent weeks. The proposals are expected to continue to the Secretary of State’s Office, which will invite public feedback. Completion of this process does not require legislative approval and can begin at any time of the year. This allows state agencies the ability to adjust the rules and regulations when needed and gives a voice to Kansans. We are hopeful the Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office will move these regulation changes through the process swiftly so that child care providers can benefit. 

The legislative session began with the Governor’s exciting budget proposal for $56.4 million in the budget to use toward child care and early learning programs, as well as establishing the Office of Early Childhood. Last month, the Early Childhood Transition Task Force reported its recommendations for forming a unified entity focused on a child’s earliest years. You can read our summary of the Task Force’s recommendations here.

Welfare Reform Committee's Current Focus: Homelessness

This week, the House Committee on Welfare Reform heard a review of the 2023 Special Committee on Homelessness, which met in November and gave very little time to data-informed presentations from organizations who know Kansas housing context best. The Special Committee made no recommendations, but focused disproportionately on “law and order,” rather than potential evidence-based solutions. 

In the House Welfare Reform Committee’s focus on homelessness, two presenters were invited to give information about how their states (California and Texas) have implemented policy solutions. Sadly, the California presenter mischaracterized housing-centered approaches and perpetuated stereotypes about those experiencing homelessness and services providers. In contrast, the Texas-based provider emphasized that treatment and services without housing will not solve homelessness. Rather, he said a prevention-based approach, including affordable housing and Medicaid expansion, is more effective and described how one-size-fits-all solutions are not useful to tackling homelessness. 

Unfortunately, we expect the Committee to maintain its ineffective focus on criminalizing homelessness in any future discussions and legislation.

The Committee also discussed legislation this week that would reorganize the statute determining eligibility requirements for family support programs. We will be watching for this bill closely because of the potential that lawmakers could negatively amend the programs after a bill hearing. If this were to occur, advocates wouldn’t have the opportunity to provide input on any further restrictions added by this committee until it reached the other chamber.

What to Expect in Week 3

As committee hearings take off, KAC will weigh in on a few bills:

  • On Wednesday in the House Committee on Child Welfare and Foster Care, KAC will submit testify in favor of HB 2536, the SOUL Family permanency option. This bill would help children who age out of foster care maintain legal relationships with the trusted and supportive adults in their lives. Listen to the Kansas Reflector’s podcast episode to learn more about the SOUL Family project.

  • On Thursday in the Senate Committee on Assessment and Taxation, KAC will submit testimony in favor of SB 264, a bill that would double the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit amount.

We’re also watching the House Committee on Welfare Reform’s joint meeting with the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development for a briefing on “Welfare, Fraud and the Workforce” on Tuesday. The presenter comes from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based think tank that backs weakening family support programs like SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid, and we expect there to be many misconceptions about “welfare fraud” and the individuals who use these programs.

If you’re in Topeka on Thursday, January 25, you can join the Immunize Kansas Coalition for its all-day Advocacy Day in the Capitol! Sign up here if you’re interested.