Kansas children spared effects of poverty, food insecurity during pandemic

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 2:40 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - New data shows that while thousands of Kansas children were spared the effects of poverty and food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, now that those programs have closed kids are again at risk.

Kansas Action for Children, a nonprofit organization in Topeka, says on Monday, Oct. 2, that poverty and food insecurity among children in the state have dropped significantly since the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the new 2023 Kansas KIDS COUNT Data Book analyzed outcomes in economic well-being, education and health.

KAC indicated that children who live below the poverty line - a household income of less than $26,500 per year for a family of four - decreased by 9,000 children in 2021. Those who experienced food insecurity decreased even more significantly - about 26,000 children.

The organization noted that the improvements are linked to early pandemic-era supports that targeted children and families including increased food assistance benefits, no-cost school meals, temporary expansions of federal child tax credits and other measures. The relief was targeted at families living on low- or middle-income.

Additionally, KAC said more children in the Sunflower State became enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This reached 300,000 children throughout the past decade. The number is in stark contrast to a combined total of about 271,000 children in 2019.

Due to the public health emergency, organization leaders said KanCare enrollees were not required to submit paperwork that determined continued eligibility and enrollees were able to keep coverage for prolonged periods. However, with the end of the public health emergency in May, thousands of those children are losing coverage.

“The data is clear that measures implemented during the early years of the pandemic helped families make ends meet,” said John Wilson, President and CEO of Kansas Action for Children. “But with those programs having ended, advocates are concerned with the data trends we are likely to see in 2022 and beyond.”

KAC indicated that other data shifts highlighted in the report also include:

  • The income statuses of Kansas families have been on a constant decline since 2011, however, there are still large discrepancies between racial groups.
  • Fewer young children were enrolled in early learning programs.
  • Basic reading and math proficiency continued to drop in the last decade on par with trends across the nation.
  • Low birth weights are statistically higher among Black newborn babies compared to other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Racial disparities were also present in infant mortality rates.
  • Children without health coverage stayed steady at around 5%.

“We can build on the success of pandemic-era programs by ensuring families can achieve financial security,” Wilson concluded. “Expanding Medicaid, implementing a state child tax credit, breaking down barriers to food assistance, and raising the minimum wage are all solutions to make that a reality.”

KAC noted that data used to create the book was collected from state, county and national sources.

For a digital copy of the 2023 Kansas KIDS COUNT Data Book, click HERE.