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  • Writer's pictureRachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Survey shows Kansas voters worry about health, child care, hunger — and out-of-touch lawmakers

A February study of Kansas voters found widespread concern over rising costs and child care issues, among other statewide concerns. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)


By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — A survey of Kansans’ attitudes on lawmakers, health care and economic issues found a wellspring of support for expanding Medicaid eligibility — along with a prevailing belief that lawmakers aren’t tuned into the financial challenges Kansas families are facing and are not passing policies that help Kansans.


Nonpartisan research firm Perry Undem conducted the study on behalf of the Kansas Common Sense Fund, and with support from the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund. The study surveyed approximately 1,000 Kansas voters in February on health care, child care and hunger.


“It’s pretty clear that Kansans are feeling a significant amount of financial stress, due to the high cost of food, health care, child care and housing,” said David Jordan, president of United Methodist Health Ministry Fund. “… It is pretty striking that there’s significant agreement on the challenges that Kansans face, on solutions that could help address those challenges and on the fact that policymakers aren’t recognizing and acting in accordance with where Kansans are on these issues.”


Seventy-nine percent of voters said most Kansas policymakers aren’t in touch with the financial challenges facing average families. Seventy percent of voters did not think Kansas politicians were looking out for working families.


More than 80% of voters said housing, health care, child care and healthy food are increasingly difficult for the average Kansas family to afford. About 70% felt the average Kansas family is currently under financial strain.


“The vast majority of Kansans believe that policymakers are not listening to working people as they push through new laws and policy changes,” said Ashley All, executive director for Kansas Common Sense Fund. “Kansans agree that lawmakers should be doing more to support parents and families who are struggling to make ends meet. Kansas needs to focus on commonsense policies that make child care more affordable and drive down costs for everyone.”


Of those surveyed, 90%  were concerned about rural hospitals closing and 73% supported Medicaid expansion, which would expand state health insurance coverage for lower-income families. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 90% of the extra cost of Medicaid services in exchange for expanding eligibility to those at 138% of the federal poverty rate and below. Kansas is among 10 states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid.


Most of the estimated 150,000 Kansans who would benefit from expansion are low-income workers or Kansans suffering from chronic illness. Medicaid expansion would also unlock $700 million in annual federal funding and could save 59 rural hospitals on the brink of closing.


While expansion has been blocked by top Republican state lawmakers in the House and Senate, long-time advocate Gov. Laura Kelly, along with health care groups, has pressured lawmakers to take another crack at the issue this session. Her proposal is scheduled for two hearings Wednesday. 


The new survey, like others released in recent years, showed expansion has bipartisan support. About 90% of Democrats, 74% of independents and 61% of Republicans supported expansion. Ninety-five percent of residents said they were worried about health care costs increasing, and 87% were worried about the number of uninsured people in the state increasing.


Most people also wanted government action to help Kansans access healthy food and groceries, and opposed adding restrictions to food aid. About 76% of voters said the cost of food was a problem, and 79% supported more state programs on food access.


Most people wanted more state investment in programs that help Kansans afford child care, with 78% in favor of expansion of a child care tax credit.  Child care data in the state suggests only 46% of children in Kansas receive child care services, and that an additional 85,000 child care slots are needed to meet demand.  


This year, Kelly has recommended a $56 million allocation for child care as part of her proposed budget for fiscal year 2025. The funding includes nearly $30 million for the construction of child care facilities and $5 million for a northwest Kansas pilot program seeking to test practices for public-private child care partnerships in rural areas.


In the previous year, lawmakers attempted to roll back regulations on child care facilities to address the shortage, but Kelly vetoed the bill due to concerns that decreasing staff training and packing more children into the facilities could be damaging. The survey showed 73% of  Kansans are against legislators passing policies that would loosen qualifications and standards for child care providers. 


“There’s broad support for tax credits,” Jordan said. “But then there’s also nearly identical agreement that policymakers should not loosen qualifications for childcare providers, just recognizing that the solution is not on par with the need to invest in early childhood affordability and the need to look at creative tax credits that can help make child care more affordable.”


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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