By Bryan Thompson
November 13, 2014

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says lifting kids out of poverty requires helping their parents, too. The new KIDS COUNT policy report is called “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach.”

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KIDS COUNT: Creating Opportunities for Families

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The report says 42 percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income ladder stay there. It’s at least partly because parents working multiple dead-end jobs don’t have enough income or free time to invest in their kids.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, said breaking the cycle of poverty requires not only programs for kids, but support for their parents, too.

“The reality is, those children grow up in the context of families, and if we’re committed to reducing childhood poverty, we have to be committed to helping children and also helping their parents,” Cotsoradis said.

According to the report, there are 95,000 low-income families with children living in Kansas. Cotsoradis said the social safety net plays an important role in helping these parents and kids meet their basic needs.

“However, a fundamental anti-poverty program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is experiencing decreasing caseloads that do not reflect the increase in poverty across Kansas,” she said. “It’s time to revise TANF policies to ensure this program is working for Kansas families instead of against them.”

But Department for Children and Families spokeswoman Theresa Freed said the income eligibility criteria for the TANF program have not changed.

“Those who qualify for TANF receive it,” Freed said. “If they choose not to work or at least enroll in job training, that is their decision. The reduced case load is a reflection of more people working and no longer needing cash assistance, and a lack of willingness to participate in employment activities.”

Freed said DCF agrees that breaking the cycle of poverty is essential to strengthening families. She said the agency works closely with community organizations through a long list of initiatives that do just that. As an example, she cited the Economic Services Program.

“We work with the Kansas Department of Commerce to help individuals who walk in seeking welfare benefits, and helping them identify the skills they have, the skills they need to have, and how to obtain those, so that they can get those jobs that pay the bills,” Freed said.

But Cotsoradis worries about the sustainability of all kinds of social safety net programs with the deep budget shortfall that Kansas faces. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group has projected that revenue losses caused by tax cuts enacted over the last few years will produce a $279 million deficit in the current fiscal year, and even larger deficits in subsequent years. Cotsoradis worries that cuts of that magnitude could undermine the supports that low-income Kansas families rely on.

“I certainly haven’t heard anyone talk about reversing course on the tax cuts,” said Cotsoradis. “That’s not a message we’re hearing, clearly, from policymakers or the governor, but clearly we should be considering additional revenue sources as we look at how we’re going to sort this problem out.”

Read more from the Kansas Health Institute.