How Kansas kids – and their families – could benefit from the American Rescue Plan

April 11, 2021 3:33 am

Federal lawmakers have committed to historic investments in children and families — now it’s up to their Kansas counterparts to ensure a better future for our state, writes John Wilson. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. John Wilson is president of Kansas Action for Children.

The American Rescue Plan is more than stimulus checks.

Indeed, the legislation signed last month by President Joe Biden has implications big and small for our country, and the state of Kansas. The $1.9 trillion bill aims to stimulate the economy, of course, but it also targets funds to achieve important goals for children and families.

At Kansas Action for Children, we’ve been keeping a close eye on provisions that intersect with our work on behalf of the littlest Kansans. Here are a few examples.

Child care

We’ve all seen how essential child care is for Kansas families and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, even before that, many Kansas families did not have access to high-quality child care, either because there were too few slots available or the price tag on such care was too high. Meanwhile, the child care workforce is aging, pay is both low and stagnant, and new professionals aren’t entering the field.

The American Rescue Plan finally fulfills the promise of earlier pandemic relief packages. It sends $39 billion to the child care sector (more than $50 billion if those earlier down payments are included). In Kansas, that means $133.7 million in expanded child care assistance, and $213.9 million toward child care stabilization funds, according to our partners at the Center for Law and Social Policy. Altogether, the state will receive some $347.6 million to support the field.

While the concept of child care assistance should be familiar, the stabilization funds are new.

CLASP notes the funds will be administered by state agencies and “can support providers who are currently operating or are closed for COVID-related reasons.” They can also help build up crucial supplies.

“These funds can stabilize child care programs by covering a range of expenses such as personnel costs, rent, facility maintenance and improvements, personal protective equipment and COVID-related supplies, goods and services needed to resume providing care, mental health supports for children and early educators, and reimbursement of costs associated with the current public health emergency,” according to CLASP.

The sector has been badly buffeted by the pandemic, losing one in six jobs. With this support, providers will have access to funding they need to stay open or re-open — so the rest of our economy can, too.

Health care

We’ve watched for years in Kansas as leaders refused to expand the state’s Medicaid program. Expansion has always been the right thing to do, for moral, financial and practical reasons.

At KAC, we’ve been particularly concerned because an increasing number of Kansas kids remain uninsured — an estimated 43,000 in 2019. While most of these kids may already qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, expanding Medicaid is critical to reversing the trend. Studies show that when parents qualify and sign up for insurance programs, like Medicaid, it is more likely they will enroll their kids as well. Also, when parents are insured, kids are more likely to receive regular checkups and preventive care.

The American Rescue Plan should end any debate. It adds serious money for states that haven’t yet expanded the program. For a two-year period, newly expanding states would receive a 5-percentage point increase in their federal match rate for enrollees in existing Medicaid, resulting in a much larger amount than necessary to pay for expansion.

By expanding Medicaid, Kansas could unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding. Estimates show Kansas could receive $330 million to $450 million over two years.

The plan also includes a milestone in maternal and infant health: giving states a Medicaid state plan option to extend postpartum (post-pregnancy) coverage from the current 60 days to one full year. Kansas can take several steps in preparation of the policy’s effective date, April 1, 2022.

The United States faces a maternal health crisis, where far too many women, particularly women of color, develop serious complications during pregnancy, while giving birth, or during the year after birth, and far too many die. Extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to one year postpartum is an important first step to address the numerous disparities in maternal health. However, much more action is needed, as our partners at Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families report.

Tax policy

Finally, we come to an area where Kansas has hard-won experience: tax cuts.

The American Rescue Plan explicitly says the $350 billion in aid for states and localities shouldn’t be used to pay for net tax cuts. The law doesn’t prevent Kansas lawmakers from using state dollars to pay for tax cuts — but they would have to return the equivalent amount of federal aid.

The language in the federal plan is clear: States and territories “shall not use the funds provided under this section … to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue.”

This should give Kansas lawmakers pause as they consider yet another misguided, expansive tax plan. Senate Bill 50 reduces Kansas revenue by nearly $650 million in the next few years, with one provision addressing Paycheck Protection Program loans responsible for a whopping $360 million.

Unfortunately, some are choosing a different path. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has joined other state AGs to fight this provision in court. But according to legal experts, their case has little chance of success.

As Georgetown University law professor David Super wrote in the Washington Post last month, “nothing in the Constitution entitles the states to transfers of federal funds. (Indeed, congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump spent the final nine months of last year arguing that no such aid was necessary.) And when Congress does grant aid, nothing in the Constitution prohibits legislators from imposing significant conditions on its use.”

Kansas has put nonsense ahead of common sense when it comes to fiscal policy before. Let’s not make these mistakes again. Federal lawmakers have already committed to historic investments — now it’s up to their Kansas counterparts to ensure a better future for our state.

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John Wilson
John Wilson

John Wilson joined Kansas Action for Children in September 2017 as vice president. He became president and CEO of KAC in 2019, after leading the group’s work in early education, health policy and family supports. Before his time at KAC, Wilson worked at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. As a Kansas State Representative, he worked to redefine the culture of the Legislature to make it more open and collaborative. The best parts of his day are when he’s spending time with his wife, Jami, and their two sons, Parker and Henry.