How We Can Build a Better System for Kansas Parents
By Jessica Herrera Russell, Senior Communications Manager, Kansas Action for Children. Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Kansas Child Magazine.
This past spring, the Kansas Legislature took a significant step toward addressing the state’s child care crisis by expanding eligibility for the employer child care tax credit to all Kansas businesses. But our leaders can’t stop there.
Affordable, reliable child care gives parents the freedom to find and maintain good-paying jobs and provide for their families in the long term. Unfortunately, many parents are struggling right now, just a paycheck away from financial disaster.
Kansas’ record low unemployment levels demonstrate that parents are doing their part. But that doesn’t mean they’re making enough to get by. Nearly 97,000 Kansas kids live in poverty, and 36,000 live in high poverty areas, according to data just released by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In 2015 and 2016, Kansas lawmakers passed the HOPE Act, the ironically named bill that established a number of extreme restrictions on those who need to access temporary family support programs for food, health care, child care, and financial assistance. These measures help families build a better foundation for success, yet lawmakers have added more obstacles in their path.
This spring, legislators had the chance to remove a few of the barriers enacted by the HOPE Act. HB 2525 would have removed the state’s requirement that a custodial parent seek child support in order to be eligible for child care or food assistance. It also would have allowed parents enrolled in school to receive child care assistance and exempt them from working the typically mandated 20 hours a week.
It was frustrating to hear comments from a handful of lawmakers that demonized Kansas parents who are just trying to receive some relief — parents who are working hard to escape the cycle of low pay, long hours, and barriers to education and work opportunities. Even though there was bipartisan support for the bill, it failed to receive enough votes to move forward.
The Freedom to Thrive
The proposed changes would have given thousands of Kansans a bit of breathing room as they work toward household stability and financial security. But advocates aren’t giving up. We must continue educating lawmakers about the real challenges that parents in this state are facing. When we help families overcome those challenges, more kids will be fed and cared for in loving, nurturing environments.
Instead, Kansas parents are forced to worry about how they’ll feed their kids, find reliable child care that allows them to work, and provide other necessities that will enable their kids to thrive.
In the coming months, as you talk with candidates running for office, tell them that all Kansans deserve the freedom to thrive — and that parents shouldn’t have to go it alone. It’s beyond time that we foster a community that will help parents unlock their children’s potential.
When we support all families — regardless of ZIP code, race, or income — we strengthen the next generation of Kansans.