Report says better use of federal dollars would help Kansas children and families

Kansas is missing out on billions of dollars in federal funds that could help children and families, according to a new report by Kansas Action for Children. 

The report says Kansas ranks 48th among states in the federal share of the state budget and the lost federal funding impacts a wide range of programs that affects thousands of Kansans. 

“Furthering Federal Funding to Bolster Outcomes for Kansas Kids” concludes that federal funding used in Kansas “can be strengthened and employed more efficiently to provide greater assistance to children and families.” 

Kansas could help low income Kansans with more health care, child care, food assistance and other basic needs through policy changes that would bring the state more federal dollars and in line with what most other states are doing. 

The major area of lost federal funds is the state’s failure to expand KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Since Jan. 1, 2014, Kansas has forfeited more than $3.1 billion in federal funds by not expanding KanCare eligibility and remains one of only 14 states not to access the additional federal dollars through expansion.  

“While not all of that money would have benefited children and new mothers specifically, the money would have increased health care access across the state, leading to more economic security for families. In addition, state savings can occur by shifting pregnant, Medicaid eligible mothers from the existing program to KanCare expansion where the federal funds would match more of their health care,” the report said. 

The report notes that states that have expanded Medicaid have seen a dramatic decrease in infant mortality rates. “By expanding KanCare, Kansas policymakers can strengthen outcomes for infants and new mothers,” the report says. 

In 2016, the Alvarez and Marsal state government efficiency report also noted that Kansas should do more to improve the state’s award of federal Medicaid funds. 

That report noted among 10 peer states, Kansas’ Medicaid expenditure from state funds was the second highest and its expenditure from federal funds was the lowest. Alvarez and Marsal recommended an office be formed under the governor to maximize the effective use of federal funds throughout state government but that recommendation was never acted upon. 

Policy decisions by the Legislature in previous years under former Gov. Sam Brownback have also decreased Kansans’ ability to access other federal assistance. 

In 2016, Kansas was one of four states that did not provide enough state matching funds to draw down available federal funds for child care assistance. The result was a loss of $4 million. Only nine percent of eligible children are participating in the program under Kansas’ eligibility rules. Raising the income level for eligibility would allow more families to access the program, the report states. 

Changes in 2011 in Kansas’ administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which is funded mostly be federal dollars, resulted in a sharp decline in access to the program, and according to a Kansas University study, led to an increase in children in the foster care system. In addition, Kansas spends only 16 percent of TANF funds on activities considered the core purpose of TANF to provide basic needs to families. The national average for TANF on core services is 53 percent.  

In Kansas, one in six children struggles with hunger, but the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reaches only 71 percent of those deemed eligible to receive food assistance. However, since 2013, Kansas has rejected federal funds for outreach programs and Kansas has added discretionary hurdles to the eligibility criteria. 

The report also notes that Kansas last year received a $4.5 million one-year planning grant through the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to improve Kansas’ early childhood programs. State officials are currently holding meetings to gather input that will position the state to apply for further federal investments to help implement those plans. 

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