Kansas Action for Children focuses on early education, food security and health insurance

Nonpartisan organization asks Legislature to invest surplus in next generation

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas Action for Children’s Adrienne Olejnik knows the look of kids enduring without a sustainable food source, quality early childhood education and benefit of routine medical care.

Her job required she look squarely in the eye politicians of the 2022 Kansas Legislature making decisions that didn’t always place those needy children high on the agenda despite the state’s extraordinary financial surplus.

“I would like them to have the conversations that they have ignored for the last several years,” Olejnik said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “We have too many uninsured kids. Too many kids are going hungry.”

Here’s a peek at three statistics motivating Olejnik: 86,000 under age six are without licensed childcare, 43,000 went without health insurance in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and one in six face food insecurity.

“We’re sitting on that budget surplus, and I know they want to be cautious and somewhat frugal, but they rush to make tax cuts all the time, and yet they don’t rush to invest in kids. So, if I had a magic wand, I would really have them consider what their role is to our next generation,” said Olejnik, vice president at Kansas Action for Children.

KAC, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization based in Topeka, works with local organizations, state policymakers and other advocates to make a difference in lives of children across Kansas. Their quest is to build a state where every child secures the care, education and resources to thrive.

The Legislature annually produces bills aimed at the welfare of children, but KAC believes lawmakers frequently settled for status quo. The 2022 Legislature voted to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funds, which would be available for future investments rather than have immediate impact.

“You know, right now, families are surviving — not necessarily thriving,” said Jessica Herrera Russell, also of Kansas Action for Children.

The House and Senate did agree to lower the state’s food sales tax from 6.5% to 4% on Jan. 1, 2023. The legislation signed by Gov. Laura Kelly, who preferred the state’s regressive sales tax on groceries be eliminated July 1, would result in zeroing out the state’s portion of food sales tax Jan. 1, 2025.

“When the initial cut does start, it will help … with these rising costs due to inflation on groceries,” Russell said. “Hopefully, that money can go back into families’ pockets.”

The Legislature passed an economic development bill that featured expansion of the employer childcare tax credit. Since 2012, it’s been limited to certain types of businesses. Going forward, all sorts of companies will be able to deploy the credit to improve affordability and availability of childcare for their workers.

Olejnik said a wave of organizations and individuals pleaded with the Legislature to amend state law to widen access to a program designed to support workers struggling to secure childcare.

“That’s one of the successes for us this session,” Olejnik said. “A business can support their employees by either providing onsite childcare, and some businesses here in Kansas do that. It could also subsidize the cost of child care for their employees. So, they can make some level of contribution to make it more affordable.”

The Legislature declined to expand eligibility for Medicaid to more than 100,000 Kansans under the Affordable Care Act. The governor recommended expansion. Polling has indicated most Kansans support extension of KanCare to lower-income families, but resistance among some Republican lawmakers remained. They argued the program could be too costly or creation of a bigger entitlement program wasn’t good for Kansas.

Olejnik said the state ought to enlarge the category of people covered by Medicaid and invest more in delivery of Medicaid services to people with disabilities on waiting lists.

The Legislature approved, despite a veto from Kelly, a bill forbidding the Democratic governor from proceeding with rewriting the $4 billion annual contract with three for-profit insurance companies that provide KanCare services statewide. That legislation was controversial because no individual, group, company or lobbyist stepped forward to claim ownership of the bill.

Olejnik said the current state contract with KanCare providers fell short because it didn’t require disclosure of important information about availability and quality of services to children.

The Legislature did, however, adopt a bill adding Kansas to a new federal program boosting postpartum depression coverage through Medicaid from the current two months after birth to 12 months after birth. It was recommended in January by Kelly, and the House and Senate included the necessary language in the state’s new budget.

“We know that when mothers are healthy, their babies are healthy,” Russell said. “They’re on that right path to getting their health care needs met. So, this was really important.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/05/30/kansas-action-for-children-focuses-on-early-education-food-security-and-health-insurance/

Flood advisory in effect in Wyandotte County

Heavy rains came down Tuesday morning in Wyandotte County. An accident was reported about 7:51 a.m. Tuesday during heavy rains on eastbound I-670 near the 7th Street Trafficway, according to KC Scout. (KC Scout photo)
There was heavy rain throughout Wyandotte County on Tuesday morning. This accident was reported at 8:31 a.m. Tuesday on northbound I-435 near Donahoo Road, according to KC Scout. (KC Scout photo)
The exit from northbound I-35 to northbound I-635 was closed around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday after a semi accident, according to KC Scout. (KC Scout photo)

Update: The National Weather Service has updated the flood advisory to a flood warning for Wyandotte County and surrounding counties. The flood warning is in effect through 2 p.m. Tuesday. Motorists are advised to turn around and not try to go through flooded roads.

Heavy rains came down on Wyandotte County on Tuesday morning, and the area is under a flood advisory from 7:58 a.m. through 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

The advisory is for urban and small stream flooding in Wyandotte County, along with Johnson, Leavenworth and Atchison counties in Kansas and Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Clay, Clinton, Jackson, Platte and Ray counties in Missouri, the weather service said.

Minor flooding in low-lying and poor drainage areas as been reported, with a total of 2.5 inches to 4.5 inches of rain, according to the weather service.

New rains may develop this afternoon and evening, the weather service said. Rain may continue on Wednesday.

Motorists are advised to turn around when encountering flooded roads, and go in another direction, the weather service said. Most flood deaths occur in vehicles.

The area also is under a flood watch through 7 a.m. June 1, according to the weather service.

The storm this morning also included lightning and high winds.

A check of the hydrology charts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that the Missouri and Kansas rivers were well below flood stage in Wyandotte County as of 8:50 a.m. Tuesday.

Turkey Creek at Southwest Boulevard was at 51.79 feet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, where action stage is 55 feet and flood stage is 61 feet, according to the hydrology charts. Brush Creek in Kansas City, Missouri, was in the action stage at 42.96 feet at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, where minor flood stage is 47 feet, according to the hydrology charts.

Stranger Creek at Easton, Kansas, was at 16.38 feet at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, where flood stage is 17 feet, according to hydrology charts. Stranger Creek was projected to reach 18.3 feet, moderate flood stage, on Tuesday morning, according to the chart.

K-5 in Leavenworth County was closed because of flooding from Eisenhower Road to East Mary Street in the Lansing area, according to KDOT. It will reopen when waters recede.

Today, there is a 70 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 3 p.m., the weather service said. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. The high will be near 77 with a southeast wind of 5 to 10 mph becoming west northwest in the afternoon. Winds may gust as high as 21 mph. Between three-quarters and one inch of rain are possible.

Tonight, there is a 60 percent chance of sshowers and thunderstorms, mainly before 8 p.m., according to the weather service. The low will be around 61 with a north wind of 5 to 7 mph. Between a quarter and half-inch of rain are possible.

Wednesday, there is a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, with a high near 68, the weather service said. A north northeast wind of 9 mph will gust as high as 18 mph. Between a tenth and quarter-inch of rain are possible.

Wednesday night, there is a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 4 a.m., then a slight chance of showers, according to the weather service. The low will be around 53 with a north wind of 5 to 7 mph, gusting as high as 18 mph. Between a tenth and quarter-inch of rain are possible.

Thursday, it will be sunny, with a high near 73 and a north wind of 6 mph, the weather service said.

Thursday night, it will be mostly clear, with a low of 52, according to the weather service.

Friday, it will be sunny, with a high near 78, the weather service said.

Friday night, it will be mostly clear, with a low of 58, according to the weather service.

Saturday, there will be a 40 percent chance of showers, with a high near 78, the weather service said.

Saturday night, there is a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, followed by more showers and possibly a thunderstorm after 1 a.m., according to the weather service. The low will be around 63.

Sunday, there is a 40 percent chance of showers, with a highi near 79, the weather service said.

Sunday night, there is a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, with a low of 64, according to the weather service.

Monday, it will be partly sunny, with a high near 83, the weather service said.