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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