March 20, 2020

Capitol Connection is your weekly report from KAC's Vice President Adrienne Olejnik on happenings at the Statehouse and issues affecting Kansas children and families. For more updates, follow KAC on  Facebook  and  Twitter .

For Adrienne's perspective, see her  Twitter  account!
As Legislature breaks, taking stock



I want to start off this update with good wishes to everyone reading it -- I hope you're adjusting to the rapid changes affecting our daily lives. There's a lot to grapple with right now.

Our team at KAC is adjusting to working from home, many of us with our children. We are also having frequent team discussions about what KAC can do to help share the importance of policies that affect kids and families -- especially in unprecedented times like these. If you have a need, question, or suggestion for our team, please reach out and let us know. The best way is to email me directly at adrienne@kac.org.
 
We will temporarily suspend the weekly Capitol Connection because the Legislature is taking an extended break. But that doesn't mean our communications will stop -- look for much more from our newsletter, daily news roundups, and social media content.

Quick budget passage

What happened in the legislature this week? We did our best to monitor the situation remotely and use our resources to track key happenings.
 
The legislature has adjourned until April 27. At this time, members intend to return to address unfinished business, have further budget discussions, and hold a veto session. Due to the unpredictable nature of coming months, the Legislative Coordinating Council (a bipartisan group of legislative leaders) is authorized to adjust those plans.
 
Legislators had to focus on passing a budget ( SB 66) due to the uncertainty of continued operations into April and May. There's a lot to read and analyze, and we'll be doing that in coming days. Highlights include:
  • The budget passed the Senate 28-10 and the House 99-16 on Thursday.
  • We've been advocating for full state matching dollars for the Child Care Development Fund. Unfortunately, the full state match was not included in the budget passed this week. However, the good news is that legislators intend to review it again before the session is over when they consider omnibus budget items.
  • A transportation budget and plan were passed. Legislators, KDOT, and many folks have been working on a new transportation plan for the upcoming decade, totaling $10 billion. They also deleted $25 million from the transfer from the State Highway Fund to the State General Fund for FY 2021. This will reduce the transfer from $158.7 million to $133.7 million for FY 2021.
  • Language from SB 484 was included in the budget to allow the Secretary for Children and Families to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand food assistance for able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 without dependents in the household. This has been something many advocates have worked on for years, and we are thankful to legislators who helped its swift inclusion.
  • Language from SB 485 was added to amend work participation requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance to include in-home parenting skills training for a single parent with a child between 3 months and 1 year of age. This was a much-needed revision to help support infants and their parents.
I appreciated this inspirational quote from Sen. Carolyn McGinn during budget discussions on the Senate floor this week: "The services we need to provide aren't going to do us any good, if the money is (sitting) in the bank. ... We are government. We are elected to be there for (the people) when there's a crisis."
 
What's the status of Medicaid expansion?

Well, expansion still hasn't passed. Language was added in the budget prohibiting the expansion of the Kansas Medicaid program without express consent of the Legislature. Also, they included the $17.5 million allocated for Medicaid expansion to the Coronavirus  Prevention Fund of the State Finance Council if Medicaid expansion is not passed.

Between now and the legislature's intended return is a great time to reach out to your legislators (especially state senators) to share how important Medicaid expansion is to our communities and Kansans.
 
What's going on with COVID-19 response?

Quite a bit actually, and I won't list it all here. But a few key items:

Kansas --
  • Kansas legislators passed a bill that extended unemployment benefits from 16 to 26 weeks (depending on the jobless rate).
  • $15 million was approved for the Adjutant General in Kansas for coronavirus response efforts.
  • $50 million for coronavirus response was approved under the purview of the Legislative Coordinating Council.
Federal --
  • March 6, an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill was signed into law.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed this week in Congress -- it's the first national paid sick days and paid leave bill enacted in the United States. The act will provide immediate paid sick leave and paid family leave to millions of people, expanded unemployment insurance, expanded food assistance, increased Medicaid funds for states, and free COVID-19 testing.
  • Additional rounds of legislation are being considered to help businesses withstand the effects of closing or reduced business and possibly providing direct cash payments to individuals and families.
What can you be doing right now?

Well, first off, take care of yourself and your loved ones. Get outside as much as possible (while maintaining social distancing, of course). Use this time to connect with others in meaningful ways. From an advocacy perspective, though, you can:
  • Stay in contact with your Kansas House and Senate members. Share your story and the impacts of what you're experiencing. Share what you are seeing as the needs in your communities. Many Kansas policies and programs will be critically needed now. They include cash assistance (TANF), food assistance (SNAP), child care assistance and supports to child care providers, unemployment insurance, Medicaid coverage, access to needed health services, and much more. These programs are always important to our communities, but they are even more so in times of crisis.
  • Reach out to our Kansas federal delegation about the importance of policies that are best suited to be implemented by our federal government. They have more flexibility to pass sweeping legislation to help our nation and each state.
  • Reach out to existing partners in your network to plan next steps together. I know KAC will do this in the coming weeks. Our legislative session may be over as we know it -- now is a great time to be thinking of what's next on our advocacy agendas and building support for those policies.
Take care --
Adrienne