16 February 2024 | Early Learning Education Economic Security Health Tax and Budget

2024 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 6

Photo: KAC staff presented testimony on a number of issues pertaining to kids and families this week.

Kansas Action for Children
February 16, 2024

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Busy Week for Committees Ahead of Next Week’s Legislative Deadline

This week was the busiest of the 2024 session for KAC staff, with five of us presenting a total of 11 pieces of testimony on every one of our issue areas. We are proud of the work we, alongside our partners, have accomplished this week to give kids and families a voice in the Statehouse.  

As you’ll read in this week’s update, we spoke on key agency budgets that include child care investments and health programs, a bill attempting to broadly control what SNAP recipients can purchase with their benefits, and expanding the Homestead Property Tax Refund program to once again include renters.  

This work culminated ahead of a crucial legislative deadline next week – Turnaround. By next Friday, lawmakers must consider any non-exempt* committee bills if they aren’t already on the calendar in their originating chamber. After this date, any remaining bills not on the calendar for floor discussion will require leadership approval to move forward or will be dead for the rest of session. 

Most committees have two more days of work ahead of two to three days of a marathon of voting. We’re watching closely to see what choices (good and bad) lawmakers will have to make during their floor votes. We'll continue to connect with decisionmakers to ensure that they know how kids will be affected by the legislation they’re considering. 

*Exempt committees include budget, tax, and federal and state affairs; all others are non-exempt.

Welfare Reform Attempts to Control How SNAP Recipients Use Their Benefits

It seems that public pressure opposing HB 2674, which would ban the Department for Children and Families (DCF) from participating in Summer EBT, is working. The bill did not have a hearing this week and is not scheduled for one next week. Unless House leadership maneuvers to allow it to move forward after deadlines pass, the bill has been defeated this year! We’re not in the clear yet, though; help us keep up the pressure by taking action here.  

Unfortunately, the House Welfare Reform Committee did give time to a piece of harmful legislation this week. The Committee held a hearing on HB 2673, which would require DCF to annually request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowing Kansas to prohibit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from being used to purchase “soft drinks” and “candy.”  

We believe this bill is mostly an unwise use of time; the USDA has never granted this kind of waiver, rejecting them from at least three different states under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.  

If this bill passes, and in the off-chance that the USDA grants the waiver, Kansas families who use SNAP will suffer. The average SNAP benefit is less than $2 per person per meal, so these families’ grocery budgets are already stretched thin. And Kansas’ definitions of “candy” and “soft drink” are very broad—they encompass foods like granola, protein bars, and juice—severely restricting how Kansans put food on their tables. We hope that the Committee will think through these consequences and oppose this bill so it doesn’t reach the full chamber.  

Senate Health Gives Air to Two Anti-Public Health Policy Bills

Yet again, the Senate Health Committee chose to hear two more bills that would threaten the well-being and lives of children and other vulnerable Kansans. During hearings on SB 390 and SB 391, we reminded the Committee that these bills would result in measles outbreaks (which we are already dangerously close to), putting especially young kids at great risk. 

We expect the Committee to work both bills early next week, where they are both likely to get voted out to the full Senate chamber. If that happens, Kansans will need to contact their senator asking them to vote NO on this dangerous legislation. It’s not hyperbole to say that these bills would put our state’s health at stake.   

While the Senate Health Committee heard those two troubling bills, “Love Thy Neighbor” Day, led by two of our partners, Alliance for a Healthy Kansas and Kansas Interfaith Action, brought nearly 100 faith-minded advocates to the Statehouse to advocate for Medicaid expansion. Advocates dropped off hundreds of postcards from Kansans, urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid this session. We are still awaiting official scheduling of expansion hearings in both chambers, as soon as in two weeks. Until hearings are scheduled, Kansans need to keep pressuring lawmakers to do the right thing and take expanding Medicaid seriously. You can contact your lawmakers here and sign up to attend a Statehouse rally on March 6 here.  

House Tax Hears Bill Adding Renters to Property Tax Program, Schedules Hearing for Child Tax Credit

As flat tax discussions have stalled until a veto override is attempted, the House Committee on Taxation is moving forward with two proactive pieces of legislation that give targeted relief to low- and middle-income Kansans. 

Just yesterday, the Committee heard HB 2636, which would once again add renters as eligible to participate in the Homestead Property Tax Credit program. Lawmakers often hear from their constituents about how they are burdened with ever-increasing property taxes. This refund program is one that has tried to ease this burden for homeowners, but renters have been left out of this relief since 2014 when they were removed by the 2012 Legislature. With renters (who are more likely to be living on low incomes) often having property tax increases passed onto them in the form of increased rents, we are in strong support of the bill and hope to see the Committee vote it out to the full chamber.  

Next week, our proposal (HB 2687) to establish a state child tax credit in Kansas is moving forward through a hearing in the House Tax Committee! We introduced this bill just last week, so seeing it quickly get a hearing is encouraging news. This bill is a great opportunity for Kansas lawmakers to join 15 other states in implementing a proven way to reduce childhood poverty and increase families’ economic security.  

Agency Budgets Stripped of Significant Funding for Health, Child Care Priorities

Though revenues for January came in lower than expected and continue to trend downward, the state is still looking at a $2 billion+ surplus, meaning we can afford to fund crucial services that support vulnerable members of our community – if lawmakers determine them a priority.  

This week, several committees took aim at funding we know would help Kansans better access health care programs and begin to further ease our child care crisis. We provided testimony on several key agency budgets – the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF), Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), and Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS).  

Additionally, the House Committee on Appropriations introduced what’s known as the “mega bill,” the mass budget bill containing funding for all state agencies. The House’s budget bill is HB 2802; the Senate Ways and Means Committee has yet to introduce their own version of the mega budget bill. 

Health Budget Updates

We reminded lawmakers in both chambers how their KDHE and KDADS budget decisions impact the health of kids and families. So far, the House Committee on Social Services Budget agreed to fund one of the enhancement requests we supported from the Oral Health Kansas Coalition. The Committee also retained several provisions from the Governor’s budget proposal we supported, including Medicaid staffing, digital fingerprinting devices for child care workers, and health and safety grant funding.  

Unfortunately, the Social Services Budget Committee removed the Medicaid expansion funding proposed by the Governor. The House will have to add more money back into the budget at some point to account for this deletion, as initial federal incentives were expected to save the state money for this next fiscal year. Spending more money without expanding health insurance access to the more than 13,500 Kansas parents in the coverage gap indicates a serious misalignment of priorities. The KDHE budget now moves onto the full House Committee on Appropriations. 

The powerful testimony over the impact of IDD/PD waivers continued in the Social Services Budget Committee’s discussions. Lawmakers listened to pleas for waiver enhancement funding to decrease the waitlist by at least 20% each year; we’ll know what recommendations the Committee makes next week.

Child Care Funding

This week, we also reminded the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services about the importance of budget support for early childhood learning. We voiced support for items in KSDE’s budget like $30 million for accelerator grants, which will increase available spots (possibly through construction of new sites), and $5 million to create a pilot program establishing public-private partnerships to address rising costs of care. The discussion also allowed KAC to emphasize the need to support the mixed delivery of environments that address various needs, including caring for children with disabilities.  

Sadly, the Senate Education Committee removed both of these important investments from the KSDE budget. They also removed other education items, including special education services state aid and the mental health intervention team pilot program. 

In our testimony on the DCF budget, we highlighted the need to sustain family child care through the $15 million sustainability grants, which allow providers to address increasing business costs. We await the budget decisions from the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee early next week. 

What to Expect in Week 7

Committees are expected to continue meeting Monday and Tuesday next week before all lawmakers debate and vote on legislation in their chambers all day Wednesday through Friday. This is the last chance for most committees to pass out any bills to their respective chambers due to the Turnaround deadline on Friday. 

With just two more days for non-exempt committees to meet on their original slate of bills, a few hearings will take place that KAC will weigh in on.  

  • On Monday in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee:
    • We’ll submit written-only opponent testimony on SB 488, which would expand the Office of Inspector General’s duties to include duplicative oversight of food and cash assistance programs. (These programs are already overseen by the Department for Children and Families.) 

    • We’ll submit written-only proponent testimony on SB 489, which would establish the Nursery Program for Incarcerated Moms.  

  • On Tuesday in the House Taxation Committee, we’ll testify in support of HB 2687, our state child tax credit proposal. (Note: This bill is not subject to the Turnaround deadline.)