Blogger | Child Poverty

Helping Kansas kids “soar”

By Annie McKay
KAC President and CEO

Today, bi-partisan leaders of the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee introduced a new proposal to tackle unintended consequences created by welfare restrictions enacted in 2015 and 2016. The “SOAR” Act (Strategic Opportunities to Achieve Results) offers a handful of commonsense ideas, but two components really excite us at Kansas Action for Children:

•Exempts parents attending school or work training from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) strict hourly work requirements and a 24-month lifetime limit for child care assistance eligibility. This means Kansas moms and dads can focus on their education with the peace of mind that their children have access to child care – even if their program exceeds 24-months.

•Exempts single mothers of infants from TANF work requirements for 12 months after giving birth, protecting the health of both mom and baby while saving Kansas thousands in costly infant child care assistance.

This is really good policy.

Although the “HOPE” Acts may have been well intentioned, political eagerness to enact welfare restrictions on adults overshadowed the “trickle down” consequences for children.

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Ten years ago, in 2007, Kansas had 100,000 poor kids. In 2015 (the most recent data available), there were 122,000 poor kids – an increase of 22 percent.
  • During that same time period, more than 18,000 Kansas children lost access to cash assistance (from an average of 26,633 children per month in 2007 to 8,621 children in December 2016 – a 67.6 percent decrease). The Kansas Department for Children and Families makes no data available to monitor how children losing those services fare afterwards.
  • According to the most recent federal data, only 10.6% of TANF families’ (ie, families with children) left the program because the family found employment. Those who did report employment earned an average of just $13,524 annually. Furthermore, Kansas’ own data shows that 60% of parents who leave TANF are unemployed just a few months later (See page 233). Without a safety net, these children could potentially be left in households with zero income.

The SOAR Act puts Kansas parents in a much more strategic position to permanently address these circumstances. Self-reliance requires opportunity. Kansas not only ranked 7th worst in job growth in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. Parents must acquire training and education to truly move ahead, but they cannot pursue those opportunities without child care. Lifting restrictions on child care assistance for these moms and dads is a smart, two-generational approach to reducing poverty.

Secondly, the SOAR Act confronts a serious problem with the current system by acknowledging the critical and costly needs of Kansas babies. Infancy is a particularly crucial time in a child’s development that requires stability and security. No baby born in our state should be denied this just because a family lives in poverty. Additionally, infant care is incredibly expensive and beyond the reach of low-income families who don’t have assistance. Maternity leave and child care assistance will not only create stronger families, it’s a much more cost effective option for the state.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Kansan who supports the continued suffering of our state’s most vulnerable children. The SOAR Act is about those children – babies, toddlers and little kids – and helping improve the conditions under which they grow so they can reach higher and achieve more later in life.

Read the bill here.

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Welfare Restrictions vs. Reality: Why Kansas kids need a strong safety net

By Annie McKay
KAC President & CEO

Kansans are folks who respect hard work. Our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality grew from our deep pioneer roots. It is both a quintessentially Kansan value and the crux of the American Dream.

Unfortunately, the notion that Kansans receiving help from the government do not work hard has become a common but untrue stereotype, and this stigma has grown dangerously toxic.

In recent years, state policymakers have championed some of the most punitive and problematic welfare policies in the country. Their most alarming reforms hurt a critical program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is designed to help children living in extremely difficult circumstances. It provides a small amount of cash to Kansas’ most desperately impoverished moms and dads so they can put dinner on the table, pay an overdue water bill so their kids can bathe, or buy diapers for their baby. TANF is not a frivolous, long-term income source or an excuse for able-bodied adults to avoid work. It is a temporary lifeboat – for families with children – to keep them afloat in their darkest hours of need.

Data shows that a little extra cash can make a long-term difference for families in deep poverty. For an economically fragile family, it only takes one small misfortune – something as trivial as a flat tire or a flu bug – for their entire world to unravel. TANF can mean the difference between having a place to live and being evicted, keeping a job and getting fired, or feeding their children and sending them to bed hungry.

Everyone agrees that self-reliance is the best-case scenario for all Kansans. But self-reliance requires economic opportunity. Kansas not only ranked 7th worst in job growth in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. The restrictions Gov. Brownback put on TANF don’t create a single new job, or raise a single Kansan’s salary, but they do limit families’ ability to keep their heads above water as they’re drowning under bills.

The success of Gov. Brownback’s welfare reforms should be measured by the number of Kansas families who leave the program because they find work that allows them to afford basic necessities like rent, utilities, food, and medical bills. Federal data shows less than 10 percent of Kansas families receiving TANF leave the program for this reason. Rather, most people leave because new restrictions forced them off. The state makes no data available to monitor how children losing those services fare afterwards. This is where the disconnect between welfare restrictions and reality lies. What hope do we offer Kansas children by letting them go hungry when their parents can’t find good-paying jobs?

Kansans value hard work and self-reliance, but they also value their neighbors, and caring for those less fortunate, especially children. Ensuring kids have basic necessities during their most critical years of development through TANF gives them a fighting chance to break the cycle of poverty that makes welfare necessary in the first place.

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Declining child care assistance leaves Kansas families stuck in poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO


For the last year, state policymakers have engaged in a vigorous debate about how to best help low-income Kansans escape the cycle of poverty. Diverse philosophical approaches have been explored. At Kansas Action for Children, we believe public supports – like cash assistance – give families the critical lift they need when they need it most, increasing their children’s chance of escaping poverty in the future. Some may disagree, suggesting public supports promote government dependency, steal dignity, and discourage low-income people from working.

It is impossible, however, to demonstrate your commitment to the importance of getting Kansas families back to work without also acknowledging how child care access impacts their ability to find and keep a job. If Kansas children do not have child care, their parents cannot work. Without access to child care assistance, parents in poverty must choose between their work and the wellbeing of their children.

Unfortunately, the number of Kansas children receiving child care assistance has declined significantly in the last 10 years. In fiscal year 2015, the state’s child care assistance program served an average of just 12,779 children each month – compared to over 19,000 in 2006.

Child Care Assistance Drop

Today, only eight percent of Kansas’ 211,000 eligible children receive child care assistance from the state.

Eligible Children

The impact of this is undeniable. As access to work supports dropped, it’s not surprising that childhood poverty increased.

Poverty Increase
A variety of factors impact the childhood poverty rate, but research consistently proves child care subsidies affect the economic security of families. Families who receive assistance paying for the costs of child care are also more likely to hold stable employment. A child care subsidy can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.

The 2016 legislative session will offer a unique opportunity to strengthen child care assistance in Kansas as part of the implementation of the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant. Policymakers say they want to help Kansans who rely on public assistance transition to meaningful and rewarding work. Given that, we expect overwhelming support for making child care assistance more accessible to Kansas families in 2016.  Child care assistance helps Kansas parents get back to work or enables them to go look for work. It is a critical step in helping low-income families get off welfare rolls, onto payrolls, and out of poverty.

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Longterm consequences of childhood poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
October 29, 2015

On Thursday, October 22nd I had the privilege of presenting at the Kansas Economic Policy Conference.  The theme of this year’s conference was Economic Opportunity in Kansas: What Does the Future Hold?  When we think about what the future holds in Kansas, many of us are quick to focus on the state’s current fiscal situation.  And, while that certainly doesn’t bode well for our future, I think there is another indicator that is just as important. Here are a couple of the thoughts I shared with the audience:    

 

Childhood poverty is persistently high in Kansas.  For more than a decade, the percentage of children living in poverty in Kansas has been on the rise.  Nearly 1 in 5 Kansas children are growing up in poverty.  Despite a recent downtick in this trend, childhood poverty continues to be at levels more consistent with a recession than with an economic recovery.  And, we are lagging several of our neighboring Midwestern states in terms of improvement on this indicator.   

 

We know what to do, but we just aren’t doing it.  While the dialogue at the state level might suggest we don’t know what to do to change the trend with respect to childhood poverty, the evidence is clear and compelling.  For our youngest children, changing the trajectory means investing in two things: income supports and access to high-quality early learning.  It is that simple.  In fact, for a family with a young child, a $3,000 annual boost to family income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings and 135 additional work hours per year after age 25.  And, children who have access to high-quality early education require less remediation and special education, complete more school, are better prepared for a job, have higher lifetime earnings, and incur lower criminal justice and welfare costs.  Together, income supports –  like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit – and access to high-quality early learning is a powerful combination that can change the course of a child’s life.

 

Childhood poverty has consequences for our economy.  While there are more immediate opportunities for concern when it comes to the Kansas economy, the long-term implications of persistently high levels of childhood poverty are significant and shouldn’t be overlooked.  Children that grow up in poor families – absent significant intervention – are likely to become tomorrow’s poor adults.  The poverty status of children has negative consequences for their health as adults, their educational attainment, and their lifetime earnings.  Poor adult health, low educational attainment, and the inability to transcend low-wage work has obvious human costs.  What may be less apparent is how costly it is for all of us.  If policymakers continue to make choices that fly in the face of what’s good for children growing up in poverty today, tomorrow the same children will be relying on Medicaid, public assistance, and other costly government programs.

 

This conversation will certainly continue as the 2016 legislative session approaches, and we hope you will contribute to the dialogue. If we are committed to an economic future that is bright in Kansas, we can’t continue to ignore the consequences of failing to invest in our poorest children.  Policymakers must set their ideological commitments aside, and instead commit to an approach that recognizes the success of children is inextricably linked to the success of their parents. 

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Diminishing HOPE for Kansas Families with Children

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO

For struggling Kansans, state-administered safety net programs are an essential lifeline to help families meet basic needs. When the HOPE Act is fully implemented, fewer families with children will have access to pathways out of poverty in Kansas.

An already minimal benefit will become more limited.

Cash assistance for Kansas families living in deep poverty is already very minimal (a family of three can receive a maximum benefit of just $429 per month). Hundreds of families with children will be cut off from assistance in January when a 36-month lifetime limit goes into effect. This policy change will penalize the most vulnerable families who are unable to climb out of assistance within the time limit, or those who experience a setback after leaving the program once. Kansas policymakers should reconsider the policy, which has prompted the Department of Children and families to create a plan to warn food pantries and homeless shelters that more families will be in need of help once they reach their lifetime limit of assistance.

Already struggling families will face new, unnecessary burdens.

Other new regulations unnecessarily burden families who are already piecing together work, child care, and transportation. Beginning July 1, Kansans will not be able to use cash assistance to make purchases outside of the state, even if the nearest or cheapest grocery store or gas station is just across a state border. A $25 per day limit on ATM withdrawals will expose poor families to additional fees and add yet another hassle to their day-to-day lives – all without any known policy benefit. Supporters of the restrictions say this is about promoting self-reliance, but it’s really about penalizing families for being poor. Most TANF recipients are hard working, they’re not spending TANF funds on things that are unnecessary. This law mischaracterizes the majority of TANF beneficiaries.

More poor children will not have access to economic support.

New legislation codifies existing administrative changes that caused a sharp decline in the number of children in families receiving cash assistance. This decline is particularly troubling because enrollment in other safety net programs, like food assistance, KanCare, and free and reduced price lunch, has increased during this time period. That means that even though more children are growing up in poor families, fewer are able to access vital economic support.

While policymakers may be well intended in their desire to promote self-sufficiency among poor Kansas families, the policy changes included in the legislation are not supported by evidence that demonstrates they will achieve the goal’s the administration’s has stated. What is certain are the enormous consequences the most economically fragile Kansas families with children will face as a result of the HOPE Act. Short-term, the legislation may further reduce the number of families with children that access safety net programs, but long-term policymakers have increased the likelihood that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.

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Collaborative advocacy to secure investments for the youngest Kansans

By Erick Vaughn
Executive Director of the Kansas Head Start Association

Voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for at-risk pregnant women and parents
with young children is a vital INVESTMENT in our country’s future, economy, families, and children. The Home Visiting Program, builds upon decades of scientific research, provides voluntary, culturally-appropriate, individually-tailored supports to families in their homes, including providing information about children’s health, development, and safety, and when appropriate, referrals to other support services.

Recently, President Obama signed into law a bill that provides for a two-year extension of that investment, called the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program (pronounced “McVee”). The bill provides an extension for federal fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at the current funding level of $400 million per year. In Kansas this translates into the means for the continuation and expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs that are currently a part of the Kansas MIECHV work in Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery, and Wyandotte Counties.

The Kansas MIECHV project will now be able to:

  • enroll and serve more at-risk families with evidence-based home visiting supports
  • improve child and maternal outcomes through enhanced interventions
    enhance system and service coordination by addressing healthcare access, mental health, and domestic violence services
  • enhance statewide system infrastructure components including professional development for home visiting professionals

This is great news for Kansas during these times of diminishing resources for services to our most vulnerable. However, this support would not be available if the bill had not first passed the House and Senate.

Many Kansans had a role in helping advocate nationally for this funding. Early childhood partners in Kansas had established relationships with their members of Congress through ongoing communication and this served as a foundation for advocacy activities that ultimately lead to the passage of this bill.

In January, Head Start staff were able to visit our congressional delegation while in DC attending a conference. As a result of follow-up from those visits, Congresswoman Jenkins visited a Head Start program that is a part of the Kansas MIECHV work, and even had the opportunity to go on a home visit. Meanwhile, early childhood partners were asking other Congressmen and Senators to support continued MIECHV funding, a vital investment in our children and families.

A group of parents visited the Kansas delegation a week before the Senate was to vote on MIECHV reauthorization. KHSA takes a group of parents to DC every year to go on hill visits — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many parents. This year our trip occurred a week before the Senate voted and passed this important bill. The parents shared their stories of the impact of Head Start and home visiting on their children and their families’ wellbeing. This visit was perfectly timed and had a cumulative impact with the other good work that had occurred. Kansas played a vital role in the passage of MIECHV reauthorization with five of six in the Kansas congressional delegation voting in favor.

Having a coordinated, strong and consistent message is important, however nothing is more important than the stories and voices of those impacted by home visiting. Are you a parent or grandparent who knows firsthand the importance of home visiting or other early childhood services for your family? If yes, then share your story with your state and federal representatives. If you do not have a personal story, then get involved so you meet someone who does, and help them tell their story and involve neighbors and friends. Your voice is vital in getting and maintaining investments in early childhood. Ultimately, telling our personal experience to decision-makers matters, especially in this environment of limited resources.

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Closing pathways out of poverty

By Hilary Gee
Director of Health Policy

Work supports like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Care Assistance are proven to help lift families out of poverty. With 1 in 5 Kansas kids living in poverty, we should improve access to support programs, not limit them.

Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature is moving quickly on bills that will severely limit access to programs like TANF. House Bill 2381 and Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258 (previously Senate Bill 256) weaken programs designed and proven to help families get out of poverty.

TANF provides small amounts of cash assistance for extremely poor families with children. To qualify, a family of three would have to have income lower than $527 a month – many families participating in this program have no income at all. The help received is not excessive – about $400 a month to help with necessities like housing, food and child care.

The program is limited. Federal rules stipulate that a family is eligible for 60 months, or five years, over a lifetime. TANF also already has strict work requirements – able-bodied adults must be working, looking for work, or pursuing education to maintain eligibility. The average Kansas family in the program receives help for 14 to 18 months at a time. However, many families need that short-term help more than once. The Kansas Department of Children and Families has already shortened lifetime eligibility to just 48 months and participation dropped by 950 cases each month. The Legislature is now considering cutting lifetime eligibility to just 36 months.

Legislation moving through the Statehouse also limits access to food and child care assistance, and seeks to further stigmatize families who participate in these programs. It prohibits beneficiaries from spending TANF benefits outside of Kansas, so families that live in border areas may have to travel further or pay more. Additionally, a proposed amendment to the bill would require a photo of the recipient on the benefits card used for SNAP, TANF and child care subsidies. This is presented as a way to prevent fraudulent use of the programs, particularly SNAP. However, SNAP has a very low level of fraud (around 1 percent). And adding photos to cards could cost the state millions to implement. Currently, one card is issued per household, and multiple family members may be authorized to use it. If a photo were required, the state may need to issue cards for each family member.

Kansas Action for Children opposes these changes and testified against House Bill 2381 and Senate Bill 256, the original versions of the bills, and opposes the passage of Senate Substitute of House Bill 2258. With the state facing a budget shortage, the Legislature should focus on cost-effective solutions that lift families out of poverty, which benefits all Kansans and our economy.

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The opportunity for young children and their families that we cannot afford to ignore

By Charles Bruner
Child and Family Policy Center

One of the biggest drivers to the American economy and American prosperity over the last 50 years has been the entry of women into the paid American workforce, dramatically expanding the number of workers in society and the pool of skilled workers to drawn upon for innovation and growth. This, however, also has meant new demands on families with children – particularly in the child’s earliest and most formative years. In two-parent families, parents have worked hard to balance bread-winning and care-giving roles – often while starting out at entry-level and low-wage positions and themselves needing experience and additional education and training to move up. Single parents have done the same, but usually without the two sources of economic support needed to provide for even for the most basic needs and opportunities. Because of these factors, overall in the United States, young children are the age group in society most likely to be in poverty, and poverty figures do not consider the additional costs of child care borne by families with young children.

While parents remain their child’s first and most important teacher, nurse, safety officer and guide to the world, they also are responsible for their child’s security – food, clothing, housing and safe and supportive supervision and care arrangements on a 24-7 basis. Far too many parents struggle in juggling to meet these essential care-giving and bread-winning roles.

The federal budget for 2016 includes proposals that will place upwards of $5 billion annually toward supporting families with young children to meet their children’s child care and other needs in these earliest years of life – and the discretionary fund investments in the budget provide additional funding to make child care and other early childhood services more accessible and of high quality. The proposals more than double the investments the federal government currently is making, through states and communities, to support young children’s early education and development and begin to narrow the gap in investments society makes in these earliest learning years to support young children and their families.

Investments in young children hold the potential to address two of American society’s greatest challenges – the preparation of the next generation to compete and lead in a knowledge-based world economy and the opportunity for the United States to embrace its growing diversity.

Research is clear on the critical importance of the first five years of life to cognitive, social and emotional development – and the current vulnerability that too many children, particularly from lower socio-economic backgrounds, face in this respect. Families want to make investments in their children’s development and be their child’s first teacher, but the United States needs to establish greater opportunities and supports to do so.

Demographics show that young children are the most diverse age group in society (as well as the most likely to live in poverty). While it may not be possible to eliminate poverty overnight, ensuring that all young children start school healthy and prepared for success provides the opportunity to achieve that goal over the next generation. This means investing in their success, through supporting their families as their families work to get by and get ahead. Concerted actions to create equity of opportunity that commence in those first years of life – where one-half of the birth to five population is of color – can move America much farther to becoming a post-racial society that values its diversity as a strength.

Fittingly, at the 25th Anniversary Kids Count Conference, Angela Glover Blackwell stated it simply, “If we can’t raise our kids of color to be part of the middle class, there won’t be one.”

The 2016 federal budget has created the opportunity to commence a truly substantive and critical policy dialogue – across political affiliations and perspective on other issues – on what young children and their families need to grow and succeed. This is a dialogue we cannot afford to ignore.

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No do overs for Kansas children

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO
Resolving the fiscal crisis our state is facing won’t be child’s play. State legislators have their work cut out for them. And, unfortunately, for today’s Kansas children there will be no do overs if policymakers don’t make choices that put their needs first.

As I listened to Gov. Brownback’s State of the State address, I was struck by three key words that I hope policymakers will embrace as they consider how to move forward.

According to Gov. Brownback, “It requires the courage to face our challenges head-on and find solutions that work for Kansans.” I couldn’t agree more, and I hope that policymakers will have the courage to acknowledge that the “great experiment” hasn’t produced the desired results and reverse course before it is too late for an entire generation of Kansas children. Today’s young children cannot afford for the state to have inadequate revenue to ensure high-quality educational experiences beginning in the early years, access to health care and access to other economic supports for our low-income working families.

The governor also acknowledged, “Kansans are sensible, decent, compassionate, thoughtful people.” I am a native Kansan and his words resonated with me. I simply don’t believe that Kansans want tax policies that short-circuit investments in the next generation. Compassion for our state’s children – particularly our youngest children and our children growing up in poor families – means policymakers will have to take a hard look at what the “march to zero” is really costing us.

Near the end of his address, the governor said, “So let us be wise and loving in how we serve the people particularly those in the greatest need at the time of their greatest need.” There is no time of greater need than childhood. It is a once in a lifetime window of opportunity. Kansas children get one opportunity to put the building blocks in place that will allow them to maximize their potential and their contribution to our state.

Let’s not just hope that legislators do the right thing for our children. Together, let’s call on Kansas policymakers to demonstrate their courage, compassion and wisdom in the choices they make this legislative session.

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning, Economic security, Kansas Legislature, Shannon Cotsoradis | Tagged | Leave a comment

Working to end child hunger in Kansas

By Rebecca Gaston
Kansas Appleseed

Child hunger still exists in Kansas. One in five Kansas children is without access to enough nutritionally adequate foods and is considered food insecure. Approximately one-half of Kansas public school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. But on weekends, holidays and other school breaks, many of these Kansas kids do not have adequate access to regular meals.

This weekend, students will have an extended break for Thanksgiving, which means four or five days between meals at school, and many of them do not know if there will be enough food at home during the break. At a time when the temperature is falling and gas bills are rising, many low-income families have fewer resources available to purchase food.

It gets worse during longer breaks. In the summer, when kids are out of school from late May until August, only 7 percent of eligible kids are receiving meals through the Summer Food Services Program, putting Kansas in 50th place for meeting low-income kids’ summer meal needs.

To help improve access to food among hungry kids and other vulnerable groups in Kansas, Kansas Appleseed and Kansas Action for Children are coming together with representatives from school districts, statewide government agencies and other non-profits to form the Kansas Food Security Roundtable. We’ll be meeting often to make plans to create and expand programs and outreach events that will improve access to foods all over Kansas. We are committed to ending food insecurity in Kansas.

Kansas Appleseed is a nonprofit, nonpartisan justice center dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans.  

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