2018 KACAP Policy Priorities
Remove Barriers to Greater Low-Income Participation in Civic Life
Community action agencies are built on the idea of low-income participation in their communities. While that idea is most typically embodied in participation in the design and operation of agency programs, it extends into broader civic life, as well. Restrictions on voter registration and voters’ access to the polls pursued by our current Secretary of State have a disproportionate impact on low-income Kansans. KACAP supports rolling back voter ID laws and other restrictions, and supports proposals such as same day registration that make it easier for low-income Kansans to vote. KACAP also supports efforts to limit secrecy in government. Such secrecy often has a disproportionate impact on low-income Kansans who lack the time and/or resources to push for openness and challenge efforts to hide information that should be made public.
Improve the Child Protection System in Kansas
Poverty and child welfare are closely related. Low-income children are more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect, so it follows that problems with the foster care system in Kansas have a disproportionate impact on children from low-income families. Given this close relationship, KACAP members believe that legislative actions to reduce poverty (including rolling back punitive restrictions on safety net programs) are the most important steps that Kansas could take to improve child welfare in the state. KACAP supports greater investment in the child welfare system in Kansas, including addressing staffing levels for contractors’ caseworkers and for oversight. KACAP also supports policies that would provide greater assistance to older foster care youth as they age out of foster care.
It is also important to recognize the close relationship between the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system. Juvenile justice reform has begun to reduce rates of youth detention, but in at least some jurisdictions it appears to be placing additional strain on the child welfare system. Kansas should examine the impact of juvenile justice reform on the child welfare system, but should take care that any reforms do not cause youth detention rates to rise.
Preserve the Earned Income Tax Credit
Kansas provides for a fully refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) set at 17 percent of the federal EITC. This credit helps more than 200,000 working Kansans make ends meet. It can only be claimed by people who earn income through work and pay taxes, and the credit is structured to encourage people to work more hours. The largest benefits go to families with incomes between about $10,000 and $23,000. The EITC not only reduces poverty, it also has a lasting effect on Kansas’ children. Low-income children in families whose income is increased through initiatives like the EITC go further in school and earn higher incomes as adults.
As Kansas continues to face tight budgets, legislators will be tempted to eliminate or weaken the state EITC in an effort to raise revenue. KACAP opposes any effort to modify the EITC in a way that limits working Kansans ability to benefit from this important anti-poverty tool.
Fulfill the Promise of Mental Health Reform
In 1990, Kansas passed sweeping changes to the system of caring for mentally ill Kansans. Those reforms reduced resulted in the closure of some state mental hospitals, shifting responsibilities and funding to community mental health centers, so that more people could be treated in their communities. While that system initially worked well, years of under-investment in mental health care have dramatically hurt the quality of care for mentally ill Kansans, both at state mental hospitals and in mental health services in the community. Mental health issues and poverty are closely intertwined, so lack of investment in mental health complicates our efforts to fight poverty. KACAP supports efforts to bolster the mental health system in Kansas, both at the state level and through the state’s network of community mental health centers.
Tens of thousands of Kansans are not getting the health care they need because they do not have insurance coverage. Many could have access to insurance if the state used the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to expand eligibility to Medicaid. Kansas came tantalizingly close to expanding Medicaid last year, but fell just a handful of votes short of overriding the Governor’s veto.
As many as 150,000 Kansans would be insured under expansion. Enrollment numbers would start lower, but gradually ramp up over a few years. Under expansion persons not currently income eligible for Medicaid would be covered if their income was at or below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). This includes persons who are disabled (now eligible up to 75% FPL), parents (now eligible up to 33% FPL), and able-bodied adults without kids (currently not eligible).
Additionally, Kansas is proposing a waiver request to the federal government which would allow the state to impose strict work requirements and a lifetime cap of 36 months on KanCare participation. KACAP opposes these restrictions as unnecessarily punitive. Research shows that such restrictions have had little or no long-term positive effect on employment and poverty levels, and have driven many into deeper poverty.
Additional Issues We are Monitoring
Immigration – Proposals in the last legislative session would have prohibited cities from being so-called “sanctuary cities,” and would have required the Kansas Highway Patrol to play a stronger role in enforcing immigration laws, essentially “deputizing” them as immigration agents. These and other proposals create negative climate for immigrants—whether documented or not—and disproportionately affect Latinos and low-income Kansans.
Protect Early Childhood Programs – Kansas provides significant funding for a variety of early childhood programs through tobacco settlements funds. This dedicated funding stream has allowed the state to create and sustain evidence-based programs that have been shown to create lifelong benefits for children and for the state. Continued budget problems have created the temptation to raid this funding source in recent years by “securitizing” the tobacco settlement funds: essentially selling of the rights to future revenues in exchange for a one-time infusion of cash.
Repair the Kansas Safety Net – In recent years, administrative changes (subsequently codified by legislative acts) have created barriers to participation in safety net programs such as TANF and SNAP. These barriers, enacted under the premise that safety net programs are a disincentive to work, have not resulted in higher levels of employment and have deepened poverty for many Kansans. Kansas should roll back these restrictions, and should reject proposals to apply them to additional programs, such as KanCare.
State tax policy – The tax package enacted in 2017 was an important first step to restoring balance to state finances, but was only a first step. The bill did not restore all revenues lost by the Brownback tax experiment, nor did it reverse the regressive effects of that failed policy. Kansas should continue to build on the momentum created by last year’s action, and should do so in a way that reverses the disproportionate burden placed on low-income taxpayers.
Dental therapists – Most Kansas counties – 95 out of 105 – do not have enough dental health providers for the size of their population. Other states and 52 countries have responded to dental workforce shortages by using dental therapist who are mid-level dental practitioners. Working under the supervision of a dentist, dental therapists can provide routine and preventive dental care. In the same way that physician assistants and nurse practitioners have already helped address the medical workforce shortage, dental therapists do the same for the dental workforce.