From the inside of a storm,
hope for the future

Kansas Historical Society

Eighty-five years ago, in the spring of 1935, a horrific dust storm swept through Kansas.

On Black Sunday, April 14, according to the Kansas Historical Society: “loose topsoil was scooped up and mounded into billowing clouds of dust hundreds of feet high. People hurried home, for to be caught outside could mean suffocation and death. The dust and darkness halted all forms of transportation and the fine silt sifting through any crack or joint forced the closure of hospitals, flour mills, schools and businesses.”

Four years of drought had culminated in pain that spread throughout Kansas and the region. Many wondered how they could persist.

But farmers listened to advice from scientists and changed their practices. The weather improved. And slowly but surely, our state emerged from a dark time better than ever.

Kansas is in the midst of another storm now, one not made of dust particles but of microscopic viruses. The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened thousands in the state and temporarily ground our economy to a halt. Like the farmers 85 years ago, we have stayed inside to weather the worst of it.

Like those farmers, we will endure. The state of Kansas will endure. But the needs of our children and families may well increase, which is what makes Kansas Action for Children’s advocacy all the more important.

This past legislative session, we saw important accomplishments and positive signs, but the approaching cloud of the coronavirus meant an early halt to proceedings. We saw advocates sow seeds of positive change, but an out-of-session Legislature was unable to tend to them. And there are still laws on the books that will harm our ability to recover from this latest storm.

We will survive and thrive. The grit and determination shown by our forebears should serve as an example for us today. We will listen to the experts, we will reopen safely, and we will build a state that nurtures the next generation.

2020 session summary

An Overview of the Budget

  • The budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (and remaining FY20) (SB 66) was passed March 19. The Senate voted 28-10 and the House 99-16 to approve the bill.
    • Legislators had to focus on passing a budget earlier than normal because of uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • For FY21, the Conference Committee recommended expenditures of $19.9 billion, including $8 billion from the State General Fund.
    • For FY20 (the year ending June 30, 2020), the revised budget totals $18.7 billion.
    • These budget amounts reflect minimal increases. Many referred to it as a basic, no-frills budget.
    • On March 25, the Gov. Laura Kelly signed the budget bill with no line item vetoes.
    • The Legislature did not make budget changes when it returned for sine die in late May.
  • A transportation budget and plan were also passed. Legislators, the state Department of Transportation, and many others have been working on a new plan for the upcoming decade, totaling $10 billion. They also deleted $25 million from the transfer from the State Highway Fund to the State General Fund for FY21. This will reduce the transfer from $158.7 million to $133.7 million.
  • We also monitored discussions regarding the restoration of the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, which would have returned revenue to local governments to lower property taxes. The $54 million meant for the fund was deleted from the budget after it became clear we needed to brace for an economic downturn due to COVID-19.

Taxes

  • The Goal: Restore refundability to the food sales tax credit program.
  • Why? Kansas’ high sales tax on food hurts families with lower incomes, yet sales taxes are an important revenue source for the state. A targeted approach would restore the refundability of the food sales tax credit, creating a sizable yearly rebate for low-income individuals and families.
  • The Result: A hearing was held in the House Taxation Committee in March, but the Legislature adjourned for its extended break shortly thereafter, and no action was taken. KAC provided verbal testimony and coordinated testimony from other advocates in support of the bill, and we will continue to support it in the future.
  • The Goal: Monitor income tax proposals – especially a return of “windfall” plans.
  • Why? Any measures that reduce state revenue should be scrutinized to understand who benefits. KAC knows that the needs of kids and families are urgent, and any tax proposal should be weighed against our responsibilities to them. Kansas’ ability to invest in kids’ futures would be hindered by tax breaks for the wealthiest.
  • The Result: No significant tax bills passed this year before the Legislature adjourned. KAC was the lead advocacy organization testifying against the “windfall” tax changes, which would have unlinked the state tax code from the federal one and benefited big corporations and those with higher incomes. We provided verbal and written testimony and coordinated testimony from other organizations.

Other Key Tax Notes:

  • The property tax bill (Truth in Taxation) passed when the Legislature returned for sine die. The bill changes the way local governments must handle communications to residents when property taxes are increased, and the measure also changed current tax lid voting and notification procedures. Update: The governor vetoed this bill June 1, stopping it from becoming law.
  • Also on sine die, changes for marketplace facilitator tax collection were included in a large tax bill. However, those changes were not included in the final bill. Other sales tax changes, such as the taxation of digital goods discussed earlier, also did not move forward.

Early Learning

  • The Goal: Full state matching for the Child Care Development Fund.
  • Why? Kansas is one of very few states that isn’t drawing down our full federal funding.
    • What would it have cost?
      • For FY20, Kansas would have needed to add $2.3 million to draw down an additional $3.3 million in federal funding.
      • For FY21, Kansas would have needed to add $2 million to draw down $3 million in federal funding.
      • This would have totaled an additional $10.7 million toward the CCDF over the two fiscal years.
  • The Result: Unfortunately, the full state match was not included in the budget passed in March as it was held over for consideration in an “omnibus budget” to be discussed after the April consensus revenue estimate was released. Predicted budget deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic ended any chance of more money being allocated this year.
  • The Goal: Partner with KDHE and child care providers to pass an unlicensed child care penalty bill.
  • Why? KDHE’s ability to stop unlicensed child care providers from operating is limited. This bill (HB 2228) would help them address these situations.
  • The Result: Despite several positive hearings about the bill and promising support from legislators, the bill did not come up for a vote in either chamber.
  • The Goal: Monitor the Children’s Initiatives Fund to ensure no reductions in funding. Also, strengthen the amount allocated for Early Childhood Block Grant programs within the CIF if possible.
  • Why? KAC has long advocated for stronger early learning programs, and the CIF is the main source of funding for these programs in Kansas. But those dollars have remained flat, and costs have risen because of expenses that used to be covered by other state funding.
  • The Result: The Children’s Initiatives Fund saw stable funding without significant change. Its total budget is just under $52 million, with $18 million of that total going toward block grant programs.

Other Key Early Learning Notes:

  • The Legislature added $2 million, all from the State General Fund, for the Infant and Toddler Program (tiny-k) for FY21.

Health

  • The Goal: Support the passage of Medicaid (KanCare) expansion. Advocate for an expansion bill without barriers such as work requirements, premiums, or access delays.
  • Why? We know when parents and caregivers have access to health insurance, their children are more likely to be covered as well — and receive regular care.
  • The Result: Despite significant progress, including a bill sponsored by the Senate majority leader and a majority of senators, Medicaid expansion did not pass this session. The process was unfortunately tied to an unrelated constitutional amendment about  abortion rights.
    • The Legislature included the $17.5 million allocated for Medicaid expansion to the Coronavirus Prevention Fund of the State Finance Council if Medicaid expansion did not pass.
    • It added language prohibiting the expansion of the Kansas Medicaid program without express consent of the Legislature.

Family Economic Supports

  • The Goal: Make positive modifications to the so-called “HOPE Act,” such as expanding lifetime limits on accessing cash assistance; limiting harsh sanctions on families enrolled in these programs; extending the time a single parent can receive cash assistance after giving birth from 90 days to 12 months, while meeting work requirements through home visiting; and restoring the an important waiver tool for the food assistance program.
  • Why? State-imposed barriers to federal assistance programs are hindering families’ ability to access needed programs for their growing children.
  • The Result: Two successful changes were included in the budget bill as detailed below. These are not permanent changes, but both will be in place for at least the next fiscal year.
    • Language from SB 484 was included in the budget allowing the Secretary for Children and Families to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand food assistance for able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 without dependents (these adults often have children who don’t live in the same household).
    • Language from SB 485 was added to amend work participation requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance to include in-home parenting skills training for a single parent with a child between 3 months and 1 year of age. This was a much-needed revision to help support infants and parents.

Other Key Family Economic Supports Notes:

  • Language was added to the budget bill directing the Department for Children and Families to use money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Fund, upon request of school districts, for the packaging, storing, and distributing of excess foods from school lunches to send home with qualifying students, provided the school follows food safety guidelines issued by the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

COVID-19 response

  • Kansas legislators passed a bill that extended unemployment benefits from 16 to 26 weeks (depending on the jobless rate).
  • $15 million was approved for the Adjutant General in Kansas for coronavirus response efforts.
  • $50 million for coronavirus response was approved under the purview of the Legislative Coordinating Council.
  • On sine die, the Legislature passed a multi-issue bill that contained many provisions for COVID-19 response, including changes to unemployment law, civil liability immunity, and other health-related topics. It also included changes to the governor’s ability to designate the federal relief funds, use emergency declarations, and issue executive orders. However, the governor vetoed this bill May 26, stopping it from becoming law.

Sine die marathon

The Senate and House convened for one final day, May 21, to close out the work of the Legislature for 2020. Typically, this last day, called “sine die,” is ceremonial without significant work occurring, but that was not the case this year, due to the shortened session.

In the evening, a motion in the House to suspend its midnight rule passed — allowing the Legislature to keep working through the night and into the morning of May 22. The intended one-day session turned into an overlapping, two-day, 24-hour marathon. An attempt was made to add an amendment for Medicaid expansion to a bill on the Senate floor early in the day, but the motion to discuss that amendment failed, 26-14.

Eventually, expected discussions about the pandemic, emergency powers, liability issues, and federal relief came up for discussion.

Major items that passed both chambers included measures changing property tax disclosures, banking industry changes and electric rate reductions for new Kansas businesses, and a large bill that limited the governor’s emergency powers and changed liability protections for businesses.

Special session called, finished

On May 26, Gov. Laura Kelly announced that she planned to veto that giant COVID-19 bill, questioning both its limitations on her emergency powers and its constitutionality.

She also called the Legislature back to Topeka for a special session, beginning June 3.

A similar, but slightly revised, emergency powers and COVID-19 response bill was discussed and passed during the special session that took place June 3 and 4. A few legislators had hoped to address other bills, such as those vetoed on property tax and foster care reporting for education, but legislative leadership did not discuss additional bills in either chamber. An attempt was made on the House side to include Medicaid expansion as an amendment to the bill, but the attempt was rejected by the majority.

It was clear that the challenges of kids and families struggling to meet their basic needs — before the pandemic and after — were not the priority in either sine die or the special session. We are disappointed that no significant discussion was given about the positive role of government to help our fellow Kansans. Instead, these poorly conducted final meetings did little to offer help or hope for these kids and families.