26 January 2024 | Health Economic Security Early Learning Tax and Budget

2024 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 3

Opportunities Shine as Policies Take Shape 

Though the weather was mostly drizzly and gray in Topeka this week, we’re seeing spots of bright opportunities begin to take shape in the Statehouse.

On Wednesday, KAC joined a coalition of other organizations and young people to testify in favor of HB 2536, which would implement the SOUL Family Legal Permanency Option in Kansas. The policy would allow young people who exit foster care to have permanent, legal relationships with trusted and supportive adults, while still allowing them to maintain close relationships with birth family members.

SOUL Family is a transformative policy option because of how it has been informed by those who have lived experiences of being in foster care and the challenges they have faced due to a system that doesn’t meet their needs after they reach adulthood.

The House Committee on Child Welfare and Foster Care heard from several individuals who bravely shared how having legal relationships with adults they trust and love has better enabled them to transition to adulthood, attend and graduate college, and start their own families.

We are proud to be a part of this empowering legislation and are hopeful it can get through the legislative process this session.

On Thursday, the Senate Tax Committee held a hearing on SB 264, which would double the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. In Kansas, this is the only individual tax program that helps defray the costs of child care by putting a bit more money back in Kansans’ pockets. With positive discussion from committee members and minimal opponent testimony, the bill seems like it could make its way through the process, if the Committee commits to passing it on to the full chamber sometime this session.

Flat Tax Vetoed; What Tax Opportunities Remain This Year?

Today, the Governor vetoed HB 2284, the flat tax bill. Lawmakers have 30 days after accepting the Governor’s veto into the legislative record to attempt to override her choice to stop the bill from becoming law.

It’s unfortunate that like last year’s flat tax bill, lawmakers tied an unsustainable income tax structure to several items in HB 2284 that would help many Kansans make ends meet, including hurrying up the state food sales tax elimination, standard deduction increases, Social Security changes, and property tax relief. If the Governor’s veto is upheld by the Legislature, lawmakers must work toward practical tax solutions that empower low- and middle-income families to make ends meet while considering the stability of our state budget in the long term.

One solution is to pass a state child tax credit, which would bolster Kansas families’ economic security and, as we saw when the federal child tax credit was expanded in 2021, would lower the rate of childhood poverty. If Kansas were to pass a universal credit, the parents or caregivers of every child in Kansas could benefit and put those savings toward food, rent/mortgage payments, utilities, child care, and more.

Kansas can join 14 other states (including two of our neighbors) in implementing a state child tax credit. With the Kansas budget looking healthy, lawmakers must seize the opportunity to provide targeted tax relief for families.

Distorted Views on SNAP and Medicaid Given in Committee Hearing on "Welfare Fraud"

The House Committee on Welfare Reform joined the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development for a briefing on “Welfare, Fraud, and the Workforce” from Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). Among other things, FGA and its lobbying arm, Opportunity Solutions Project, advocate for excessive restrictions on public benefit programs like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), child care assistance, and Medicaid.

The entire presentation was convoluted and misinformed the Committee on SNAP and Medicaid “fraud” rates, often implying the programs are designed to be abused and that adults without children are able to live off these programs, even though that’s impossible due to strict eligibility standards.

It was a frustrating and confusing hearing, and it’s disappointing that the Committees spent an entire hearing giving FGA this platform while Kansas advocates haven’t been given similar lengthy opportunities to demonstrate how support programs empower Kansans to get back on their feet when things get tough.

Later in the week, the Welfare Reform Committee heard about eligibility verification through data sharing and the Inspector General’s fraud investigation process. It’s clear the Committee is spending a disproportionate amount of time on an extremely small percentage of benefit recipients, to the detriment of Kansans living on low incomes. We know the “welfare reform” Kansans really need is improved access to the programs that help kids and families get health care, have enough food to eat, and afford child care so they can get to work and provide for their families.

Medicaid Expansion Still Stalled; Immunize Kansas Coalition Advocacy Day Reminds Us of Routine Vaccines' Importance

This week, Medicaid expansion was a point of conversation in the Statehouse, as we heard several times that constituents across the state are calling on their lawmakers to hold hearings on Medicaid expansion for the first time in years. So far, no hearings have been scheduled. The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas’ action alert pushing for Medicaid expansion hearings is still active.

Until Medicaid is expanded in Kansas, thousands of working parents can’t get the coverage they need to learn and work. Kansas parents – and their kids – who would benefit from expansion are waiting.

Meanwhile, dozens of vaccine advocates flooded the Statehouse as Immunize Kansas Coalition held its advocacy day. Participants visited with lawmakers about why vaccines are important in keeping Kansans healthy and safe.

The day culminated with a press conference as three lawmakers, a pastor, and a polio survivor shared why vaccines – especially those routinely given in childhood – are crucial to keeping our state healthy. They shared stories from the past about the ramifications from before vaccines were available and when vaccine-preventable diseases struck, including the lifelong complications from surviving polio and being exposed to rubella during pregnancy.

The speakers also shared about the present – what happens when the right information is used to make decisions to protect babies, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. When a vast majority of individuals receive immunizations, medical professionals don’t see preventable diseases infect their communities.

The day shared a reminder that our current vaccine policies must remain in place, even as we continue to see new bills introduced by lawmakers that threaten the status quo and health of our state.

Early Learning Caucus Meets to Hear Task Force Recommendations

The Early Learning Caucus invites all lawmakers to learn about child care and early childhood issues from advocates, experts, and state officials.

A handful of lawmakers attended their first meeting this week to hear from Zach Vincent, the Governor’s Deputy Director for Legislative Affairs, about the Early Childhood Transition Task Force’s recommendations released in December 2023. (We’ve summarized the Task Force’s recommendations here.)

The lawmakers in attendance learned briefly about the three types of governance systems for early childhood around the country: 1) coordination amongst agencies (Kansas’ current system); 2) unification into a single entity (like Missouri); and creation of a cabinet-level agency in the state (like Colorado).

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, Kansas ranks 49th in the United States for efficient early childhood systems. Parents and providers experience this every day by having to interact with four separate agencies, demonstrating the need for our early childhood system to be streamlined.

As we get further into the legislative session, we are hopeful lawmakers will act on these recommendations to make our early childhood system more efficient and higher quality for the benefit of providers, parents, and kids.

What to Expect in Week 4

Next week, KAC will weigh in on three bills:

  • On Tuesday in the House Health Committee, we’ll provide testimony in favor of HB 2547, which would allow school nurses to stock and administer certain medications used to reverse severe allergic or asthmatic reactions.

  • On Wednesday in Senate Tax, we’ll provide testimony in favor of SB 377, the Governor’s tax plan that includes immediate elimination of the state sales tax on food, diapers, and feminine hygiene products; increases to the standard deduction; and other tax items that help low- and middle-income families.

  • It’s possible that the House Welfare Reform Committee will introduce the bill to reorganize the HOPE Act statute on Tuesday and hold a hearing on the bill just two days later on Thursday. If this occurs, we’ll present testimony on that bill that contains eligibility requirements for SNAP, TANF, child care assistance, and Medicaid.