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Jan. 20, 2012
TOPEKA Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday hinted that he would support using a portion of the savings from his proposed elimination of the state’s earned income tax credit to reduce long-standing waiting lists for services for the disabled.
In a late morning press conference, Brownback was asked if he planned to use the earned income tax credit savings to increase rates paid to the state’s Medicaid providers or to ease the program's eligibility restrictions. The governor replied, “No, but we have waiting lists for Medicaid programs.”
Today, more than 4,800 developmentally disabled adults and children are on waiting lists for Medicaid-funded services in community-based programs. About 1,600 of those are receiving some services but waiting for others.
At least 3,250 people with physical disabilities are waiting for services.
The Brownback administration has proposed doing away with the earned income tax credit and using the $90 million in resulting savings to underwrite other programs for the poor, including a $30 million expansion of the standard income tax deduction for low- and modest-income families; $30 million to be spent on assistance for needy families; and $30 million added to the state’s Medicaid program.
The governor apparently was suggesting that some or all of the $30 million for Medicaid might be earmarked toward reducing the waiting lists. An aide broke off the news conference before additional questions about his remarks could be asked. A subsequent question to the governor's press secretary seeking explanation or confirmation of his intentions with respect to the waiting lists garnered this response that referenced not the tax plan but the governor's proposal to expand Medicaid managed care.
"The KanCare plan is designed to improve the outcomes of persons with disabilities by providing wrap-around services for vulnerable Kansans that focus on the whole person," said Sherriene Jones-Sontag in an email to KHI News Service.
The earned income tax credit is designed to benefit low- and modest-income working families. The governor's tax plan would only eliminate the state portion of the credit. The larger federal credit would remain intact. The governor's plan also would eliminate the deduction for child care expenses.
Brownback officials have said the administration's tax plan would benefit low-income families because it would create jobs and free up money for social service programs, including Medicaid.
Advocates for poor have criticized the tax proposal, saying that many low-income workers and their families are not eligible for Medicaid or the other social services that would potentially gain funding, so they would lose more than they would gain.
On Friday, the governor conceded that the two groups – those benefitting from the earned income tax credit and those on Medicaid – would not be a “perfect match.”
But he said, a “fair analysis” of his tax reforms would show that they would “create a job-growing atmosphere” that would benefit most Kansans.
“The best thing we can do in all income categories – whether it’s low-income, high-income, or middle-income - is to increase work opportunities so people can get jobs,” he said.
Social service advocates said they would oppose tying the governor’s tax plan to the waiting lists, should that actually emerge as part of the administration's proposals.
“We appreciate the administration’s attention, however we would not be in favor of the working poor being targeted to pay for the waiting list,” said Matt Fletcher, a spokesman for Interhab, a state association representing most of the state’s community-based programs for the developmentally disabled. “Plus, thousands of direct support workers (for the disabled) are eligible for and take advantage of the earned income tax credit. This would negatively affect them.”
Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas, a group that works with the physically disabled, wondered why the governor wouldn't propose eliminating the waiting list instead of calling for a relatively large ending budget balance.
“Why are we taking from the poor?," she said. "Why are we not taking from an ending balance that’s somewhere between $300 million and $400 million?”
As the governor held his press conference, a Senate tax study group heard testimony opposing elimination of the earned income tax credit.
Sister Therese Bangert of the Catholic Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth was among those urging lawmakers to retain the credit.
"The refundable Earned Income Credit in Kansas is part of that inherent fairness in a world that is often not fair for many of our brothers and sisters," she said.
Others groups giving written or oral testimony in support of the credit included Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Children's Service League, the United Way of Greater Kansas City and United Community Services of Johnson County.
Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Goddard Republican who serves on the study group said he wouldn't vote for eliminating the credit.
"I do not believe this would be good for the working people in my district," he said. "I will not be supporting it."
Also on Friday, House Republicans introduced their own tax plan that varied somewhat from the governor's. But they also called for elimination of the earned income tax credit.