By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — Kansas Action for Children’s Adrienne Olejnik knows the look
of kids enduring without a sustainable food source, quality early
childhood education and benefit of routine medical care.
Her job required she look squarely in the eye politicians of the 2022
Kansas Legislature making decisions that didn’t always place those
needy children high on the agenda despite the state’s extraordinary
“I would like them to have the conversations that they have ignored
for the last several years,” Olejnik said on the Kansas Reflector
podcast. “We have too many uninsured kids. Too many kids are going
Here’s a peek at three statistics motivating Olejnik: 86,000 under
age six are without licensed childcare, 43,000 went without health
insurance in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and one in six face
“We’re sitting on that budget surplus, and I know they want to be
cautious and somewhat frugal, but they rush to make tax cuts all the
time, and yet they don’t rush to invest in kids. So, if I had a magic
wand, I would really have them consider what their role is to our next
generation,” said Olejnik, vice president at Kansas Action for Children.
KAC, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization based in Topeka, works
with local organizations, state policymakers and other advocates to make
a difference in lives of children across Kansas. Their quest is to
build a state where every child secures the care, education and
resources to thrive.
The Legislature annually produces bills aimed at the welfare of
children, but KAC believes lawmakers frequently settled for status quo.
The 2022 Legislature voted to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in
reserve funds, which would be available for future investments rather
than have immediate impact.
“You know, right now, families are surviving — not necessarily
thriving,” said Jessica Herrera Russell, also of Kansas Action for
The House and Senate did agree to lower the state’s food sales tax
from 6.5% to 4% on Jan. 1, 2023. The legislation signed by Gov. Laura
Kelly, who preferred the state’s regressive sales tax on groceries be
eliminated July 1, would result in zeroing out the state’s portion of
food sales tax Jan. 1, 2025.
“When the initial cut does start, it will help … with these rising
costs due to inflation on groceries,” Russell said. “Hopefully, that
money can go back into families’ pockets.”
The Legislature passed an economic development bill that featured
expansion of the employer childcare tax credit. Since 2012, it’s been
limited to certain types of businesses. Going forward, all sorts of
companies will be able to deploy the credit to improve affordability and
availability of childcare for their workers.
Olejnik said a wave of organizations and individuals pleaded with the
Legislature to amend state law to widen access to a program designed to
support workers struggling to secure childcare.
“That’s one of the successes for us this session,” Olejnik said. “A
business can support their employees by either providing onsite
childcare, and some businesses here in Kansas do that. It could also
subsidize the cost of child care for their employees. So, they can make
some level of contribution to make it more affordable.”
The Legislature declined to expand eligibility for Medicaid to more
than 100,000 Kansans under the Affordable Care Act. The governor
recommended expansion. Polling has indicated most Kansans support
extension of KanCare to lower-income families, but resistance among some
Republican lawmakers remained. They argued the program could be too
costly or creation of a bigger entitlement program wasn’t good for
Olejnik said the state ought to enlarge the category of people
covered by Medicaid and invest more in delivery of Medicaid services to
people with disabilities on waiting lists.
The Legislature approved, despite a veto from Kelly, a bill
forbidding the Democratic governor from proceeding with rewriting the $4
billion annual contract with three for-profit insurance companies that
provide KanCare services statewide. That legislation was controversial
because no individual, group, company or lobbyist stepped forward to
claim ownership of the bill.
Olejnik said the current state contract with KanCare providers fell
short because it didn’t require disclosure of important information
about availability and quality of services to children.
The Legislature did, however, adopt a bill adding Kansas to a new
federal program boosting postpartum depression coverage through Medicaid
from the current two months after birth to 12 months after birth. It
was recommended in January by Kelly, and the House and Senate included
the necessary language in the state’s new budget.
“We know that when mothers are healthy, their babies are healthy,”
Russell said. “They’re on that right path to getting their health care
needs bet. So, this was really important.”